Post Traumatic Recovery
For the last 3 months, I’ve been battling Post Traumatic Stress.
Allow me to clarify that I do not have the Disorder—I don’t need medication, I don’t have uncontrollable flashbacks, and I have a sense of propriety and awareness in my surroundings (meaning I can still remember my place when speaking to my boss.) But the after-effects of my near death experience, which I feel that I have expressed my feelings about ad nauseam, has been much harder to deal with than I anticipated.
I was really proud of myself for getting back into the airplane a month after my accident. It felt like a quick turn around, which it was, and I felt like it showed I wasn’t going to let a tiny little thing like falling out of the sky uncontrollably and almost dying four times in twenty eight seconds prevent my recovery. I was told I was making good progress with the event, I was going through the stages of trauma recovery at the rapid rate, and I was excited to be back into doing what I loved so quickly. My first two flights were good—I experienced no tears. I was able to think about what happened without re-living it, and I was happy to be cruising around the air. But in my first flight back where I had to do Stalls, I cried at the rudder shakers. You see, that’s what warns you the plane is about to stall (lose the airflow over the wings) so a safety mechanism shakes the rudder pedals at our feet to warn us. While it was hard to face that reaction, I saw it as a good sign that I was able to compartmentalize my high work, and go down to 1,000ft and do landings and emergency procedures without incident. But this is where the problems began. I expected to cry once or twice when I did the maneuvers that were similar to the accident. I was told it was normal. But my Command’s reaction was to sit me down with a Marine who then told me to get my shit together because I only had two flights left until my checkride and I didn’t have time for tears. Oh, and do I still even want to be doing this?
Yeah, I want nothing more than to keep doing what almost killed me, but I’m recovering from trauma, and I hate to say it but I’m a girl and sometimes I cry—it’s normal. But for the Instructors, somehow it wasn’t normal. And I have been walking a really awkward tightrope for the last three months where I’ve only received conflicting messages:
“I’m here for you if you need it—Shut the fuck up about the bail out.” “You’re not acting like yourself—You walk too tall and talk loudly and don’t knock on other peoples doors and you think you’re special.”
“You did what most other people can’t do—Do you even still want to do this?”
“Keep your head down and don’t draw attention to yourself—But sir, I can’t walk into a room without people noticing even before the bailout.”
“I wanna go home and see my family—No, this will get you ready for the fleet, but I might consider a three day weekend.”
I have a headache again just typing it out. It was frustrating because, while I recognize my trauma was not only mine because everyone else suffered, I’m the one that lived it. I have been taken out of context multiple times when it comes to consideration for my life and where I’m at: My support system lives 1,000 miles away from me. What happened to me scares my peers, so they don’t know how to talk to me about it. Some of them who weren’t my friends even blamed me for it, after I told them to give me space because their close proximity gave me anxiety. That was hard to hear, and upset me. My instructors don’t know how to listen to me about it, and frankly, it’s awkward to ask. Some avoid making eye contact with me, and when a few do make jokes, they’re really inappropriate about me being “unlucky.” I’m not married with a wife and kids, I only have a dog to go home to, and I’m a single lesbian in a small-ish city in Texas. I have emotions and new personality traits that I’ve never had in my 25 years of life: anxiety, anger, little tolerance for unimportant aspects of life, and disinterest in the things I used to love like CrossFit. Food didn’t taste good but I ate it, and I was waking up fairly consistently at 4am my time, too, for awhile—which made things worse because it was that moment that I wanted to roll over to someone to hold me, and while my dog is great, he’s furry and doesn’t have thumbs. I was having a hard time with the fact I felt my accident coming—A week before the plane fell out of the sky, I almost got in a car accident, and in my last therapy session I said I felt like something bad was going to happen to me. I was writing my letters to my loved ones in the event of my death, and telling my best friend all about who I was so that I could have her tell everyone about me after I was gone. I saw myself in a hospital after a car accident, or freakily enough, I saw myself falling through the sky. It wasn’t the first time I had freaky-good intuition—Two months before, I was tossing and turning for two weeks, contemplating reaching out to someone because she was on my mind in a heavy way. Then I got an email from her that I felt coming all along. I had said goodbye to my family the night before my accident. It’s still hard to think about, and all of the coincidental circumstances still give me chills. All of that was happening while I was trying to make sense of an event that almost killed me and what my new purpose in the universe is. I’ve never felt so alone.
So about 5 weeks ago, I regressed. I was screwing up small things which was frustratingly unlike myself. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to quickly get through the training pipeline and not just finish, but do so well and without drawing unwanted attention to myself. My close friends were good to me, but weren’t always there when I did “reach out” by texting them to hangout. There were times I cried in the gym and no one noticed (only another member who’s a mom had enough intuition to pick up on my mood variances.) It was frustrating, and made me a monster. I didn’t know what I needed from others, but I knew it wasn’t what I was getting and I lashed out at a few people who didn’t deserve it. I felt like a selfish, whiny, asshole and I didn’t want to be, and saying this is hard because I know it sounds like I’m being ungrateful, it’s just that despite my co-worker’s best attempts to “be there for me” they were getting it all wrong, and it was fucking me up worse.
So now I’m taking a break, and focusing on not being in such a hurry, and letting the healing process take however long it needs to. I’m in a much better place now, but for those who read this and have someone in their life that has been through a trauma, or is depressed, being there for them and reaching out to them is the best medicine. I wish I had a better note to end it on, but I’m not done with getting through this yet, though I’m optimistic about what the future holds for me.