Saturday, February 7, 2009

PTSD Advocacy

We struggle with PTSD every day. We seek the treatments. We learn the symptoms. We work the system to get healing results. Who better than we to spread the word about PTSD so that others recognize and validate its presence? (This is, ahem, also a good way to practice bridging the gap.)

This week, both Kellie Greene and I are speaking out.

Over on Celebrity Psychings (the fabulous mental health blog with a celebrity twist written by the rockin’ Alicia Sparks) I gave an interview about PTSD in relation to the upcoming PTSD character on Grey’s Anatomy. Think that sounds like a fluffy piece? No such thing on CP! Check out the interview for an in-depth consideration of PTSD in television and film.

The rest of this post I’m turning over to the voice of Kellie Greene. You remember her, right? She’s the survivor who went on to use her anger to help herself heal – and do some other really wonderful things…

Hi everyone! Last month Michele posted an interview we did together regarding my personal experience with PTSD. During the interview we discussed a rather unconventional thing I did in an attempt to overcome the negative memories associated with the trauma that led to my diagnosis of PTSD. Michele was intrigued and asked me to write a guest blog about it.

As you know from the previous interview, on January 18, 1994 a stranger raped me in my home. I was diagnosed with PTSD about 6 months later. The next three years were focused on putting the pieces of my life, and myself, back together. In September of 1998 the rapist pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. I had done everything I could do to ensure the rapist was caught and held accountable for the crime he committed. There would be no appeals because he waived these rights when he pled guilty. The ordeal was over. Or so I thought.

As January 18, 1999, the fifth anniversary of the rape grew closer I found myself reverting back to old behaviors: uncontrollable thoughts of the rape, flashbacks, nightmares, unable to sleep, the inability to concentrate, and being extremely moody. I had spent the last 5 years of my life in and out of therapy to ensure I would be able to move forward, but the anniversary took me right back to the exact moment of the rape. It angered me. I knew I needed to do something or else for the next 50 or so years of my life (depending on how long I’m here) I would spend every January 18th reliving the rape.

I finally decided I needed to do something that would help me reclaim the day for myself. Once again I found myself inside the counselor’s office. She suggested I write everything down and then have a burning ceremony in the back yard. Yeah…..No! It felt like a waste of time to burn something I wrote. Another suggestion was to bury it my back yard. Again…..No! If I was going to bury something like that it would have to be in my neighbor’s yard, not mine. So I thought and thought and thought and it finally came to me: SKYDIVING!

I chose skydiving for three reasons: 1) You scream when you hurl yourself out of a perfectly good airplane and those screams replaced the ones from the night of the rape; 2) Hurling towards the earth at 120mph for 60 seconds created an adrenaline rush more powerful than the fight or flight sensation the night of the attack; and 3) On a tandem skydive you’re strapped to a tandem master, usually male, and this helped me to be close to people again. It worked. January 18th is no longer the day I was raped. It’s the day I go skydiving!

News of my skydive spread through the survivor community inspiring others to reclaim their lives as well. The impact it was having inspired me to create Operation Freefall: The Two-Mile High Stand Against Sexual Assault®… the boldest, highest-altitude and most daring event organized to put an end to sexual assault. The event has grown from one drop zone in Florida in 2000 to over 24 locations across the country. Over 1,500 people have skydived, mostly survivors of sexual violence, raising nearly 2 million dollars for anti-sexual violence organizations across America including the organization I started, Speaking Out About Rape, Inc.® (SOAR®).

When I made that first skydive I had no idea it would grow into a national event. It was simply a way for me to turn a negative into a positive. And I can honestly say that I no longer dread January 18th. In fact, it’s one of my most favorite days of the year, right after my birthday and Valentine’s. So, if you are having trouble with an “anniversary,” think of ways to create a new memory for yourself. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as skydiving, but it should be something you would only do for yourself once a year. Turn it into a tradition!

This year Operation Freefall is scheduled for Saturday, April 25, 2009. You don’t need to be a licensed skydiver or a survivor of sexual violence to take part (although the money you raise does go to support survivors of sexual violence). If you’d like to participate, please visit the website

Blue Skies,
Kellie Greene

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