By Sandy Long
Coming across I-72 westbound yesterday morning, I saw emergency vehicles on the eastbound side ahead. When I got up next to them, there in the middle of the lanes was a sheet-covered body. It was not a good way to start the day to see this in the dawn’s early light.
PTSD used to be called combat fatigue and came to be understood most in soldiers returning home during WWII and then Korea. It is the residual from traumatic incidents or occurrences that one suffers such as battle, abuse, abject fear or accidents where one feels out of control. The easiest explained example of PTSD symptoms is someone being gun shy; one jumps or over reacts adversely to a loud noise after say, being shot at another time. Physical symptoms are increased heartbeat, anxiety, nausea, sweats, flashbacks to what caused the PTSD in the first place, nightmares, high stress levels and depression.
PTSD may be caused by accumulative incidences; this is what affects truck drivers the most. Added to the constant stress caused by traffic and tight schedules, seeing horrendous accidents or assisting as first on the scene to accidents or seeing the sheet covered bodies can cause accumulative PTSD. Because of the isolation of the job, the trucker may not be able to talk about whatever it was they witnessed to work thru the emotions. If truckers have been in a serious accident themselves, PTSD may kick in if they see a similar accident.
People can show some strange behaviors that are caused by PTSD. My late brother would tell me of seeing a horrendous wreck with dead bodies and then laugh. He had PTSD for years after serving three tours in Viet Nam and being a trucker added to it. Laughing after relating something terrible he had seen was his way of coping, it was a release for him, but if you did not know him, you would think him callous or hard hearted…he was not. If he heard a helicopter too closely or a jet would go over too low, he would hit the dirt or go into defensive mode, classic examples of PTSD.
I was in a major wreck in 2000 where I was pinned in the sleeper for a couple of hours in the dark. I still to this day do not know exactly what my position was when I pulled myself up, I could look down at my ex pinned behind the steering wheel. When I am tired or stressed, if I think about that, my mind goes into a loop reliving that wreck…and I get scared all over again.
Some PTSD is normal after an incident where you are scared or feel out of control and normal PTSD will ease with a little time. However, PTSD that stays around or shows up years after the event can be hard to deal with; but it can be dealt with.
Treating PTSD takes dealing with the emotions that you did not feel at the time, this might take seeing a professional. Talk therapy is the most common form of treatment for PTSD, using anger management, depression strategies and coping techniques. For truckers, the need to talk about what they see during the day that affects them adversely is very important, for instance, my writing about seeing the sheet covered body is a way for me to deal with seeing it so it does not build up in my mind and turn into PTSD.
PTSD is a very treatable mental illness and nothing to be ashamed of. If you think that you might be suffering from it by having continued nightmares, anxiety, depression or stress when you see or remember bad things, then by all means do not hesitate to see someone to get some help with this disorder. As with any mental illness, there is no shame in having it, only shame, in this day and age, if you do not get help with it.