As many of you know, by reading the title of this post, May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. There are so many stigmas around mental health and mental illnesses that oftentimes people don’t seek out the services that they truly need when they need them. We watch loved ones sink into depression and self medicate to cope with their emotions because they may feel like they will look weak or fear being judged if they ask for help. In reality, it takes a lot of strength to admit that you need help with something. I have listed some hotline numbers at the end of the post if you, or someone you know, needs to speak to someone. You can also download a toolkit from the link above.
Before you start thinking that this could never happen again let me share with you that it is estimated that 1 in 5 people will suffer from some kind of mental health issue. The problem is that so many of us are so good at hiding mental health issues as there are often not any kind of outward symptoms to start with. However many of us are dealing with an emotional pain that hurts just as bad as any physical pain that anyone can endure. Everything can change in the blink of an eye!
Here is a story from one of the worst times in my life. I felt like sharing this in case anyone else feels like they are alone around this time of year or any time of year. This time of year has been especially hard for me for the past 15 years now. There was an event that happened back in 2004 that changed my life forever.
We had recently moved into our new home and we were just really getting settled in. The landscapers had done an awful job when our house was first built so we had a load of dirt brought in and leveled out. Also, the carpenter had recently finished up our front porch which was the perfect place to sit and relax. Over Easter weekend I had just finished plugging the new dirt with grass plugs and had redone the flower beds around the house. It was looking as close to perfect as it could without a full lush lawn.
None of this really has anything to do with what happened other than the fact that life was really good, it seemed to really be going in the right direction at that moment. We had a new house, a new church, a new job, my kids were healthy, and we really had no cares at the time, well there was one fear that I had but everyone had assured me that the odds of this happening were very slim. I feared that someone from the highway would end up in our yard. We had planted some small saplings that would grow quickly to help provide a bit of a break for the chance that this might happen.
All of that changed early on Easter Monday though. It was a foggy spring morning and the fog stuck around a bit longer than usual. The kids were sleeping in a bit as they had no school and I had gone back to bed to catch a little more shut-eye too as I didn’t need to go into work until later. Our peaceful morning was about to become one of my worst nightmares.
Just as I had closed my eyes I was jarred awake. I heard a car horn followed by some sounds and the whole house felt as though it had been jarred off of its foundation. It terrified me even though I didn’t know what had happened. My whole body was immediately filled with a sense of dread.
I quickly jumped out of bed and headed to the front door, a small voice told me to remain calm and to grab the phone before heading out. I quickly grabbed the phone on my way through the kitchen and dialed 911 before I had even opened the door. When they asked me what the emergency was I had to tell them that I wasn’t sure but I thought someone had hit our house.
Just typing that out sends chills through me right now. I often relive those moments again and again and I feel the same emotions I felt that day when I opened the door. I found a pickup truck smashed into our front porch. The porch had stopped it just a few feet from one of the children’s bedroom windows where they were sleeping. Yeah, goosebumps again.
I won’t go into a lot of details about the condition of the vehicle or the house. The truck had gone off the road, for reasons uncertain, and came down a steep embankment where it clipped a phone pole. The vehicle then flipped several times coming across our yard, one time it hit the well which had jarred the whole house, before coming to a stop at the front porch.
My first concern was for my children and after seeing that that section of the house was intact and undamaged I was able to concentrate on the driver. Again I’m not going into detail other than to say that he was not conscious. Somehow I was able to open the driver door that had been smashed in but was unable to communicate with the young man. I tried to remain calm and relay as much information to the operator on the other end of the line.
Thankfully a woman who lived up the road, and worked with EMS, stopped to assist. We followed the directions given by the 911 operator and helped as much as we could before the firefighters arrived. They were able to extract him from the vehicle and had him airlifted to a nearby hospital.
Once they left there was a barrage of questions from the troopers, reporters, and onlookers. I had to shut the door and refuse to answer questions from anyone other than the law enforcement. This is when I realized that I was a mess and my feet were embedded with broken glass. When the trooper came to the door I asked about the young man but he had no updates and he was concerned for me as I seemed to be in shock.
Looking back, I probably was in shock but I refused to admit it. All I could think about was praying for that young man and his family. I couldn’t imagine getting that call. I really couldn’t even believe what was happening as it seemed like a nightmare. I had calls from my husband and the insurance agent to deal with not to mention more reporters who had somehow gotten my home phone number. It’s crazy how much (mis)information they got without ever talking to me.
I tried to pull myself back together and I tried to stay calm as the kids started asking questions. It was quite scary for them as well even though they didn’t realize the full gravity of the situation. The youngest was wondering why the man had a bloody nose and was laying on our yard. (She had bad dreams about this for quite a while.)
We went on to our routines as I took them to the babysitter and then took myself to work. The accident was the talk of the town and everyone seemed to be talking about it all day long. All I could do was pray, I was really no good at work that day but my coworkers offered me a lot of support. I kept thinking it was just a bad dream and that I would wake up at any minute but I didn’t.
When we went home I realized it hadn’t been a bad dream as the house and the yard was a mess. It was not a very pretty site, I didn’t even want to go back to the house again. Later that day I received a phone call saying that my house was on the local news. I flipped on the TV to see the horrible wreckage and I learned that the young man had not survived his injuries. I broke down again and again. I was a horrible mess and I felt so bad about being so upset. I mean I hadn’t even met him before this and I knew his family was going through one of the worst days of their lives.
Later that week his parents visited me, unexpectedly, and brought me one of the plants. I had picked up everything that had been strewn across the yard including his glasses. I had not thrown it away but had saved everything in a couple of baggies that I had tucked away in the house. I didn’t have a plan for these items but something had told me to save them and I was glad I had.
I brought the bags out to them and his mother was glad to receive them. She explained a lot of the little things and she cried over some of them. She had some questions for me as I was the first one to find him and I answered them for her. She seemed to find some relief in my answers and they both thanked me for everything I had done, even though I truly felt like I hadn’t done enough. She had also told me that most of the family had been able to make it to the hospital to say their goodbyes which brought me some relief as I had prayed so desperately.
We never met again but that meeting helped me so much however it still didn’t get rid of all of my guilt. Why did I have guilt? I felt that maybe if I had pushed the issue of my fear about someone hitting the house then maybe this could have been prevented. I felt guilty about not doing enough even though I knew I did all that I could at the time. I have replayed those moments again and again in my mind. There was so much guilt about so many things.
I even felt guilty about having a solid concrete porch, which we later learned had absorbed most of the impact and had saved our house from substantial damage, as I felt that maybe it might have caused less damage. It had also saved my kids from possible harm. I believed then, and still do, that God has a reason for everything and there was a purpose for this terrible incident. Later I did find out that the majority of his injuries had occurred prior to his striking the porch.
Not only did this change the lives of his family and friends but it also changed my life forever, in the blink of an eye. I don’t live with the feelings of guilt anymore but I was diagnosed and treated for PTSD after this event. I can’t tell you the crazy nightmares that I have had in the past but I can tell you that they have become farther apart nowadays. This time of year always seems to spike a rise in them as my mind knows what happened even though many of those around me have forgotten or have no idea.
There are so many little things that can bring on a wave of emotions right now. Things like his favorite candies that had been strewn across the yard, a certain style/color pickup truck, or the mention of someone with the same name. There are other things too like foggy mornings or sometimes it’s just a feeling but I know that my God is good and He will lift me up and out of this fog. He blessed us with emotions unlike any other living creature on earth but the downside is that oftentimes we feel too much. Some of us just can’t stop feeling when something traumatic happens and things can get really bad.
If you happen to be one of those people please don’t hesitate to call one of these numbers listed below. Remember that you are not alone in whatever it is that you are facing no matter how big or how small it may seem. Trust me when I say it helps to get it off your chest because I know that this has indeed helped me.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline
Also known as, the Treatment Referral Routing Service, this Helpline provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish.
Disaster Distress Helpline
Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after any natural or human-caused disaster. Call this toll-free number to be connected to the nearest crisis center for information, support, and counseling.
Veteran’s Crisis Line
Connects veterans in crisis (and their families and friends) with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential, toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.
Assists employers and union representatives with policy development, drug testing, employee assistance, employee education, supervisor training, and program implementation.