By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC
Last week, a woman who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being abused as a child was featured here. This week, a reader of this column through Facebook, Caroline Wood, shares her different and unique experiences with PTSD. An estimated eight million Americans right now have PTSD.
The National Institutes of Health defines PTSD as an anxiety disorder “some people develop after seeing or living through an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death.” Symptoms can include bad dreams, strong and unwanted memories of the event, emotional numbness, angry outbursts, feeling on edge, intense worry or guilt, and avoiding thoughts and situations resembling the trauma.
Said Wood in a telephone interview, “I grew up in a small Ohio town. My father had been in the military as a paratrooper, enjoyed flying, and built an ultra-light plane. One beautiful morning, he had a flight of about 15 minutes and was heading toward home when he crashed into some trees and died. I was videotaping the whole thing in our backyard.”
Soon after the accident, Wood returned to “life as usual” and avoided talking about her father or the accident. She became emotionally numb to life. After high school she joined the Air Force, in part, to run from her memories, she said. In an odd twist, the Air Force chose her to be an air traffic controller and after ten years put her in charge of developing pilot and air traffic controller safety standards at 26 airfields.
The parallels between her job and what had happened to her dad ultimately brought on so much anxiety she could not perform her job. She was having severe insomnia and intrusive nightmares. Her supervisors and co-workers knew something wasn't right, but she “didn't have a name for it yet,” she said. In 2007, a psychologist diagnosed her with PTSD and in time she left military life.
She said, “I look at (having been an air traffic controller) as a divine comedy of sorts because I don't think any other career in the world would have prepared me for having to face up to and deal with the accident.”
Since then, she has been able to significantly reduce her anxiety through counseling. She said, “Dealing with the grief of the accident has been hard, but it's nice (now) to have my whole life back in perspective again.”
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