Digital Photograph, Jean-Marie Lee, 2018
JML-PLOGS poetic commentary is below
My Experience with Grief and PTSD
This post is for Mental Health Awareness Month. Specifically, I want to describe how I dealt with PTSD after Hurricane Katrina. It’s important to raise awareness that the violent stigma of PTSD is not accurate. Most individuals living with PTSD are nonviolent.
People who have known me my whole life seem to have never really noticed anything different about me after Hurricane Katrina. I mostly isolated myself to heal. The few who saw me just before Hurricane Katrina hit and those that saw me in the hours, days, months, and years after — know the mental trauma — I faced. It’s been 13 years since Hurricane Katrina and I hope the victims of recent storms are treated with compassion and dignity.
I had to grieve my losses with Hurricane Katrina in several different ways. I did not lose any family members or pets in the storm. What I lost was all of my material possessions, my job, my home, and my spot in graduate school at the University of New Orleans. I had moved to New Orleans three weeks before the hurricane hit. Like most New Orleans students and residents— we all lost the “lives we were living.”
Part of dealing with this grief was rebuilding a new life and recouping what could be salvaged. Fortunately, I did have a network and support system to help me bounce back. I went to counseling. I got a new job and reapplied to graduate school. The depression part of my grief was mostly managed with medication. I can honestly say, I don’t care for hurricanes or hurricane season. My family knows I cannot deal with the annual disasters and I avoid the gulf coast during hurricane season.
My family is no stranger to mental illness and I have dealt with mental health issues my whole life. Most mental illnesses are manageable with counseling and/or medication. It’s the trauma coupled with vivid memories and grief that create abnormal behavior. The abnormal behavior can range from outbursts of anger to simply never wanting to leave your house. People living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are actually rarely violent.
To explain my own life experiences with PTSD— I could not buy groceries. To give the pathology of this behavior— it stems from seeing stores empty for weeks after Hurricane Katrina— seeing the evacuation “run on gasoline” and watching news broadcasts of people I knew— people I rode the bus with— stranded in front of the Super Dome in New Orleans.
Yes— I can buy groceries now. Recovering from this took a lot of therapy and patience. My PTSD manifested itself with full blown panic attacks and anxiety about food. I’d go to the grocery store and fill a cart with groceries and leave the store because I could not be in the store anymore. There were times when I literally broke down in tears because I just could not be in the store. I wasn’t violent and I didn’t hurt anyone or anything. I just could not be in that moment — in the grocery store. My mental state of being in the present moment would flash to fear of starvation and memories of people being hot, hungry, and suffering. I would abandon my cart and after leaving the store I could not even calm down enough to go back to finish shopping. Trust me— I know this is strange behavior.
So, you may be wondering if people made fun of me regarding this issue or how I “overcame” this fear. Yes— mostly just family members made fun of me for my food habits. Others were probably thinking— “just another day at Walmart.” And to get over this grocery shopping issue— a nurse took me grocery shopping for several months. We made a list of things to buy and I actually had to buy all the groceries on the list and check out and I put the groceries away. This probably sounds like a juvenile task and it’s humiliating to admit that with all my education— I could not get this task done effectively for a very long time.
What helped me get back to being able to shop without the fear of a total apocalypse was time and practice. Every time I made it through grocery shopping with my nurse it formed a new memory of being in a store without any trauma. I can go grocery shopping now. And I’m not a total hoarder of canned goods — but it’s important to say “getting back to shopping” did not happen over night.
Thank You for reading this post about PTSD and Grief. I hope you are able to appreciate the nonviolent aspect of my experience with PTSD and compassionately accept that PTSD does not simply mean — “getting mad,” brutal violence and people being killed.
Thank You for your continued
prayers and support! XOXO! JML
In Honor of Saint Dymphna
Patron Saint of Mental Health
On her Feast Day May 15th 2018
THE INTERIOR CASTLE
Saint Theresa of Alvia
LETS BRING PEACE EVERYDAY
Plog Post: Tuesday, May 15, 2018