The Dark Side of PTSD

The toughest struggle of my life.

I’ll never forget what happened the night of January 12, 2008. I was exactly a week away from my twenty-first birthday, and my boyfriend and I were at a popular hotspot in Hollywood — a multi-level, outdoor shopping and entertainment venue. The only purpose of our trip was to claim a credit card my boyfriend had left there the night before, and I promised him we’d make the night fun, regardless. Credit card, check. Laughter, check. Once we decided to leave, we were on the bottom escalator heading towards my car when we heard a loud scream. I looked up to a man falling. He fell from four stories above and landed next to me on the parallel escalator. I’ll never forget the sound his head made as it hit the escalator steps, and I’ll never forget stepping over his wrecked body and blood in hopes of helping him. Moreover, I’ll never forget the words, “He expired.”

These horrific details stuck with me and replayed in my mind as the trauma consumed my absolute being. My struggles were impalpable. I didn’t know this man, but I was the last person looking into his eyes when he died. Soon after, I was diagnosed at twenty-one years old with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with Panic Disorder. Months later, I could still barely peel myself off the couch, and my relationship with my then-boyfriend absolutely crumbled. If I left the house, I faked a smile and kept my pain silent. Years later, I still battle with my emotions, and I rarely discuss this side of me…this dark side. I have days when I feel as if no one can imagine what I’ve been through, and I have days when I just can’t stop my mind from showcasing appalling images. My struggle with PTSD has definitely improved with time, but every January 12th, it’s reliving the trauma all over again.

At the time of the traumatic event, I was working as a professional actor in Los Angeles. As I dealt with my agony, I began to reprioritize my life. Acting no longer became the forefront, and I realized I wanted to help people in pain. At twenty-five, I enrolled myself in college, and at twenty-nine, I transferred to Columbia University in New York City. I’m a psychology student, with hopes of eventually getting my master’s in social work. Now at Columbia University, I’m understanding (even more so) just how important it is to keep my mental health in check.

Since arriving at Columbia University this past August, the school has dealt with a number of recent student suicides. Just this week, I received an email addressing the issue, detailing the future plans of assessing mental health of students and providing extra wellness resources for those in need. Along with these resources, the school already provides counseling and psychological services, but my question is…what happens to the students who just don’t want to talk? I remember hating to talk about my pain when I was first diagnosed, because I knew I’d just cry…and I didn’t want to cry. Eventually, I realized the importance of talking. I needed help, and I now know the gravity of discussing my trauma. Mental health needs to be discussed more, but there’s always the issue of who doesn’t want to talk.

To this day, I still have a hard time discussing this part of my life, but at least I’m talking…or writing! While finishing my studies at Columbia, my days are jam-packed, and I constantly have to remind myself to take breaks and allow myself to be okay with not accomplishing every single task planned for the day. I remind myself to get enough sleep, and if I have days where I feel down, I work hard to pick myself back up and find something positive in the day. I took steps and continue to take steps daily to better myself and my mental well-being. I don’t know what it takes to get other people in a better place, or to even start talking, but I think Columbia has taken the first steps. As for me, I know January 12th will come again, but I know I’ll keep fighting.

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