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A Personal Story

Please read the transcript and answer three questions. Need this back today in a few hours.

I am a licensed clinical social worker, and I am on the faculty of Excelsior College, School of Health Sciences.
I have worked closely with people suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome for over 15 years in both individual therapeutic settings as well as critical incident debriefings.  I am quite grateful today to have the opportunity to talk with a special guest.
Our special guest is an individual, who has experienced PTSD herself, and she will remain anonymous in terms of identifying information but she has graciously agreed to talk with us about her experiences.
So, let’s get started:
Thank you so much for talking with us today.

J: You’re welcome.

CO: I am sure students would be interested in hearing a little about why, what’s your interest in PTSD and why you agreed to volunteer and take some time to talk with us.

J: Well, when I went through it I did not even know that such a thing existed.  It is only in hindsight that I know it was PTSD.  I think if we bring awareness to things it is helpful to anybody who can listen to us.

CO: I would agree with you, and I think that really sums up very nicely a lot of the reasons that we developed this course.
I’m curious: You said that you really weren’t aware of it at the time.  Did you have any general awareness about post traumatic stress?

J: No, I did not.  I just thought I was losing my mind.  Being able to just get up and put one foot in front of the other was a very difficult thing.

CO: Which is very classic, it sounds like very classic symptoms of someone who’s really been hit with that debilitating, or this, debilitating disease and issues.
I guess rather than me continue to ask a lot of pointed questions at this point, if you wouldn’t mind, could you share with us a little bit of your story and a little bit about what happened leading up to the PTSD and when you finally did recognize something was wrong?

J: In 2002 [sic], my husband of 28 years tried to commit suicide for the first time, and he continued to try different methods until 2002 when he completed suicide [Editor’s Note: Suicide attempts began in 2000.].  And it is a very traumatic thing, not only for me, my family, my children; it is just a very stressful time.  I didn’t really know how to deal with it. And I was seeing a psychologist.  I was taking medication, something to help me sleep, something to help me get up in the morning and be alert.  But I found myself after a while, after several weeks, and I was driving up a one-way street the wrong way and I just started crying because I wasn’t really sure what I was going through … I knew what I going through, but I wasn’t sure how I was handling it.  And then I got more counseling.  I probably was in counseling for six months if not longer, and off medication, before I actually moved back to this area.  I was living in another state at the time; I moved back to this area, and I found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and I got involved with that.  I did walks with them, my children got involved, and now I am an outreach volunteer.  I think the only reason I do it is it helps me heal, and it helps the people that I meet.

CO: I can only imagine, that is wonderful that you found a way to re-channel some of that grief and loss and all of the horror that you went through into helping other folks.  It has to have some really important healing qualities to it, I have to imagine.

J: Yes, it does.  When you meet other people that have been through the same thing, like I was saying earlier, it’s like a club that you don’t want to belong to, but you have a bond with all the people you meet, and that’s very helpful.

CO: Yes, it has to be. It is wonderful that you found that and you are contributing to it in the way that you are now.  So when you think back to the early stages, you experienced and lived through just a horror of a trauma that most people can’t even imagine, really; it sounded like there was maybe some, in terms of the impact on your emotional well-being, that the time leading up to your husband eventually completing a suicide was a factor.  It sounds like it was more than, the suicide sort of finished you off, in terms of a process.  Is that right?

J: Yes, that is correct.

CO: In that process, earlier before your husband’s suicide, did you realize you were beginning to deteriorate emotionally?

J: Yes, I did.

CO: You did, yeah.

J: Not only did I live with him, I worked for him.  So, I was with him all the time.  And there were days when I would go grocery shopping and come home and wonder if he was still going to be alive in the house.  It went on like that for almost two years.  And that was very difficult.

CO: Wow.  It is.  And like I said, for anyone who hasn’t lived anything like that, you can’t even really completely imagine it.  You talked a little about it, at one point realizing you were driving down a one-way street the wrong way.  Can you talk a little bit more about some of the other symptoms in the time period leading up to his eventual suicide?  Were you sleep disrupted; were you anxious all the time?

J:  I was sleep disrupted.  I wasn’t anxious all the time; I was anxious a lot of the time.  I didn’t sleep well at night because it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

CO: So, not real restful sleep as a general rule.

J: Yes, correct.

CO: Yeah, OK.  Can you pinpoint, do you think, where you realized or you began to have this awareness that, ‘Gosh, I think am suffering with symptoms of PTSD.’?

J: I was actually, prior to him committing suicide, I was in counseling between the first time he tried it and then after he succeeded, I was in counseling for a very long time, and I think that was helpful.  But I knew, I used to walk around with an 800 number in case I needed to get out of the house because many times it becomes, a suicide is a homicide.  There is a homicide attached to it.  And that was very stressful, walking around with this number just in case I needed to get out of the house in a hurry.

CO: Yeah, I can only imagine that has to be difficult and wear on you.
Was it hard to find help? It sounds like you got counseling early and then you continued to get some more help later. Was it difficult to find resources?

J: Actually it wasn’t.  He was a doctor.  So, through people I knew and people that knew of the situation, they reached out to me, they decided, or suggested, I get counseling.  So I had counseling for a long time.
And I think if you didn’t, if I didn’t, I don’t know where I would be now emotionally.

CO: That is a really important point that you just raised, which is a lot of what I see in the folks that I work with and the families I work with.  I work in rural social work.  The folks that I work with are all in small towns and a lot of them are very isolated and folks usually don’t have much a sense, first of all, that they are at a point that they need help, and second of all, where to even go or how to get it even if they needed it. So, it sounds like you had a little bit of help there in the sense of being married to a professional — a doctor — and having folks who recognized that you needed to get some help.

J: Prior to this, we had a patient, a husband and wife where the husband tried to commit suicide, and I got involved in that, and I actually found help for the wife.  So it was, I don’t know if it was meant to be or I don’t know, but that helped a lot.

CO: OK, that makes sense.  So when the, sort of the other side of the, if we go from the build up to realizing you had such emotional and psychological damage from all this, which only makes sense, anyone who went through something like that would, so now you are in this process, it is a journey, I’m sure, it’s not one stop, where you’re volunteering, you’re helping, you’re doing .something.  How are your symptoms? Would you say your symptoms peaked at some point and you’re now, I don’t know, 50 percent better than you were at your worst point?

J: Yes, my symptoms did peak. I think I peaked when he committed suicide.

CO: OK, I was wondering about that.  Thank you for saying that.  That was sort of like the climactic moment for you in this big build up?

J: Yes, it was. It was.

CO: So, what’s helped you, what’s helped you heal and take this journey of recovery instead of just kind of collapsing and giving up?

J: Well, like I said, I was on medication, and I was going to counseling.  It was counseling one-on-one.  And then joining and becoming a member, not a member, but joining the, I was actually on the board for the Suicide Foundation for a while but then it was too much, too many meetings, too much, and now I just volunteer, and that’s good because when I talk to people it’s helping me heal.  And I don’t think I’m completely healed, it is a very long journey; I don’t think I have completely healed, but I can deal with it, and I am in a better place in my life than I was before.

CO: OK, well, that is wonderful to hear.  Thank you.
Is there anything that you think that’s important for us to know, for students to know, for any of us to know about anyone in similar circumstances whether it may not be a suicide, but it may be some other tragedy or traumatic event that just leaves somebody really in rough…

J: I think you need to reach out.  


J: I don’t know if it’s just for professionals, from professionals, or people who are going through what you are going through, if you reach out to each other, it’s very comforting, and I think that helps a lot.  Because when you are going through this you think you’re the only one going through it, and you don’t realize how many people out there are going through the same thing or a very similar thing.

CO: That is so, I am so glad you said that because that is so common for this type of distressing emotional impacts on an individual, on a person or a family, and it is for all — almost all — really all the different types of emotional health and mental health wellness kinds of issues.

J: Yes, it is

CO: Did you in your own journey and in now the work that you are doing with others, are you finding any amount of stigma? Do you find that some people …

J: There is a lot of stigma attached to it, and I don’t think that is a good thing.  I know when I was growing up if anybody that we knew committed suicide it was a big secret.  Even years ago, cancer was a big secret.  We didn’t talk about it.  And the more we talk about it, the more we can help.

CO: Right.  I thank you for stressing that.  I think that’s a wonderful thing for all of us who participate in this video or listen to this and watch this video to take away and just really hang on to, and you brought it up in a number of different ways to, to reach out and to connect are so important.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?  Is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you think is really an important part of this?

J: I really can’t think of anything.  Can you?

CO: No.  It has been really very helpful for me to hear because we in, throughout this course students are looking at post traumatic stress from a variety of different standpoints: They’re looking at what creates it, what is it, what are the symptoms, and then what can you do about it, and you touched on all of those, and I really appreciate that.  Thank you.

J: You’re welcome.  I just think that you are not alone and the sooner you realize that the sooner you can get help.

CO: My last question was, ‘What would you like to leave us with?’  That’s it; that’s beautiful. So thank you very much.  I appreciate it.  I really appreciate you taking the time.  It has been really nice to talk.

J: You’re welcome very much.
What symptoms of PTSD did “Jenny” experience? What actions did “Jenny” and others take that reflected resilience? Was there more that could have been done? Please provide specific examples. What factors (e.g. internal, familial, environmental, cultural) promote – or hinder – healing for people who have endured either ongoing trauma or one-time traumatizing events? 


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