“I Was in My Own 15-year Battle,” Rita Carpenter Discusses Living with PTSD
When Rita Carpenter first arrived at Monarch she was at her breaking point. She got a ride from a relative to an outpatient office because her car had broken down. It was the last straw. She was already a victim of domestic violence and suffering the loss of both of her parents, while raising a teenage son and concerned about how he, too, was handling these circumstances.
“When I first got to Monarch, I was a mess. I was crying at the drop of a hat. I didn’t know which way to go or what to do,” said Carpenter.
Just hearing a certain song or someone saying certain words would trigger a feeling of being overwhelmed for Carpenter. Things started changing for the better once she had her first outpatient appointment.
“After I was assessed and prescribed medication that worked for me, I got in and saw a great therapist. She walked me through different steps to help manage my anxiety and cope with things,” said Carpenter.
Carpenter and her son, whose name is not being used to protect his privacy, would both be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD can manifest after you have been through a trauma. A trauma is a shocking and dangerous event that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. The clues to a diagnosis are found in how someone is coping with a trauma. People can experience the same trauma, but cope with it differently.
“It’s hard to go through life and not experience trauma,” said Amy Dellinger, an outpatient therapist at Monarch who treated Carpenter and her son. “Anytime someone comes in with a PTSD diagnosis, I like to talk to them about it and try to educate them on it because there is a stigma that post-traumatic stress only happens to people in the military,” said Dellinger.
PTSD is not uncommon. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that PTSD affects 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S., which is almost eight million Americans. Other traumatic events that can lead to PTSD are assault, accidents or natural disasters. Symptoms include intrusive memories like flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance, dissociation and hypervigilance.
Symptoms in children can differ from those in adults. Excessive attachment with adults can be a sign, something Carpenter experienced with her son, who refused to leave the home to protect his mother.
“Sometimes it happens directly to us, sometimes it can be what we witness, even just what we watch on television,” said Dellinger. “Just because someone goes through a trauma doesn’t mean they will have PTSD, it depends on how they cope with it,” she added.
Dellinger said the best way to start coping with trauma is to talk to a professional like a therapist, since talking about it with friends or family members can sometimes trigger symptoms for them as well. Carpenter decided to share her story so that others know there are better ways to manage symptoms and there is hope.
“I’m glad I went to Monarch, I recommend it to anyone who is having a hard time coping. They care and they will help. People who have PTSD sometimes don’t realize they can have it. Trauma can bring you down, especially so many things happening at once, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope for you,” said Carpenter. “I didn’t think I had PTSD, because I haven’t experienced war, but I also didn’t realize I was in my own 15-year battle,” said Carpenter. “I came out with some battle scars, but I’m getting through it,” she added.
Dellinger said Carpenter and her son are continuing to see her for follow-up sessions, with a goal to discharge him from treatment once he starts high school in the fall. He is more social now, and his grades have improved. He is already planning and focused on getting into college at N.C. State in four years to study Veterinary Medicine.
National PTSD Awareness Day is June 27th.