06/12/2014 12:38 EDT | Updated 08/12/2014 05:59 EDT

It's Not Only Soldiers Who Get PTSD - I Know Because I Have it

JOHN GOMEZ via Getty Images

I experienced terrible trauma during my childhood. Thousands of Canadians have endured life-altering experiences which have resulted in depression, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, an inability to hold down a job, suicidal tendencies, as well as successful suicide attempts.

I've spent time working on a psychiatric ward. I have witnessed patients sitting with their skull gripped in their hands; trying to quiet the nonstop screams that blast in their heads all because of one situation which was so gruesome and impossible for their mind to process that the post-traumatic stress now prevents them from living a normal life; a life in which red hot anguish scorches every nerve in their body, preventing them from doing something most take for granted such as holding a newborn baby; something most expect as part of the human experience: peace of mind.

I know PTSD. I live it. I am assailed by the images every day; images which have made me fall to my knees as flashbacks so vivid and ugly wrapped themselves around my eyes like a blindfold. The incident plays on a constant loop in my broken brain, sometimes slowing down long enough to allow me a moment to breathe; other times the nightmare so real I forget I'm no longer that young child pinned underneath a grown man.

I have quite literally spent 30 years of my life trying to quiet the voices; begging them to whisper; urging them to stop pounding me with a stress unlike anything I can describe. This pain which consumes me every second of the day, and has me clutching my head to squeeze out the visions of a moment in childhood gone very wrong, is part of me now. Living without it would be a blessing, but the stillness of breath which would accompany it would leave me wondering if someone was playing a cruel joke on me.

For several years now, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has played front and centre in the media as our soldiers have returned battered and beaten from tours of duty overseas. As the ex-wife of a military man who did tours in Somalia, Rwanda, and two in Bosnia, I understand the lifestyle and the commitment these men and women have for their country when they embark upon this responsibility. I can sympathize when I read accounts of veterans returning from their time overseas, suddenly gripped with loud gunshots reverberating in their heads in the dark of night. I know of people who have been released from the military because the PTSD was so that they would never be able to hold a weapon again. Some are not even able to hold themselves upright for the constant assault of their senses.

However, as I read yet another picture post on Facebook in which the picture shows a soldier sitting by himself, forlorn and clearly lost from reality, the caption read, "Share if you care for our band of brothers and sisters dealing with PTSD." Not normally one to engage in controversial topics on a forum such as Facebook, for the first time I could not help myself in replying,

"How about if we share for all of those, myself included, who are dealing with lifelong PTSD? I respect what our soldiers have done for our country, but some of us have endured our own hardships which have resulted in a lifetime of PTSD, and are being haunted daily by our own demons which we did not sign up for. Sorry for being controversial, but I think it's time that PTSD became a disorder that affects humans of all walks of life, not just those who signed up to serve our country, but also those of us who didn't sign up for the nightmares."

I don't write this to disrespect those who have served our country, but rather I write it in hopes that PTSD will be seen as something which does not only belong to the military. Knowing it has been a long, hard road for these veterans to get the help they require to hopefully one day rejoin society, I feel that they at least have gotten this much, and slowly their plight is making the news, along with a huge impact on social media.

For those of us who did not sign up to fight a war overseas; for those of us who were taken from our homes in the middle of the night and have had to endure horrors of our own; for those of us who were jumped by a group of men and gang raped; for those of us who know the nightmares, the flashbacks, the inability to cope in society, I hope that even though our PTSD isn't as publicized due to the stigma, due to the fact that we were not willfully fighting for our country, I hope and pray that slowly, in time, we too can have people posting pictures and captions stating, "Share for all of those who suffer from PTSD."

Let's stop making this disorder exclusive to military members, shall we?


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