Most days I have PTSD. Some days, PTSD has me.

Heads up—I’m told this isn’t an easy read. 

“I bet you’re wild in bed, aren’t you? Oh, you’re uppity. I see you’re not wearing a wedding ring–makes sense with an attitude like yours no man wants to handle you.” Someone said those things to me today.

The VA triggers me. It’s weird to write that sentenceto say those words. I said it out loud after sitting in my truck in the underground parking structure at the Washington, D.C. VA, writing a long email and then sobbing through a phone call with a friend and fellow female veteran.

The actual physical structure of the Veterans Affairs hospitalgoing there for appointments–causes a level of anxiety I didn’t recognize before todayor didn’t acknowledge

I’ve ignored it, overlooked it, not spoken about it in general because I felt like somehow I was part of the problem.  It’s not me, though. It’s not just me. It’s not. It simply cannot be.

Walking into the VA, through the atrium and towards the bank of elevators is like walking a gauntlet. Cat calls–actual, honest to goodness cat callscomments, compliments, propositions.

It’s like walking down Bronx’s Fordham Road in the summer, except worse because the VA is a place I go for healingnot harassment.
If you live in the Bronx you learn to ignore the onslaught of voices as you walk to or from the train.

I arrived at the VA today a few minutes late for a noon speech pathology appointmentI’d sent an email when I hit a traffic snag saying I was late, but still felt guilty. I am so excited to be working with this pathologistI hate seeming like I don’t respect her time by being late.

I parked underground and before I reached the elevator I buttoned my shirt all the way to the top. I was wearing layerstwo tanks and a flannel. While my tank tops didn’t expose my cleavage, they were fitted. I admonished myself for not wearing a hoodie, like I usually do, buttoned up and walked towards the door.

Traffic dude checking IDs said helloI ignored him because it irked me when he said, “Thanks beautiful” when he checked my ID as I drove in.

What’s wrong with me that it bothers me to be called beautiful?  Am I too sensitive?

Crossed the street with a woman, older than me, stately, African American, walked with a cane. Slowed to match her pace, said hello, discussed the weather.

Long line on the sidewalk for the food truck parked at the curb. Saw a flow through point where people were cutting through the line, stepped towards it, said “excuse me, sir,” to the 40 something dude decked out in Wizards gear.

“Damn, girl, you smell finewhere you going?”

I JUST fartedwill you please excuse this dear lady walking through with me? Mmmm’kay. Thanks.

She looked at me, took my arm and said, “You sure handled him alright.”  

Sigh.  Yes ma’am. I guess I did. Pass more people. Talking, relaxing, congregating.

I reach the decision point: hit button and walk through handicapped doorand the half dozen or so dudes standing literally right there, against the frame as you enter, or walk through the revolving door and have a bit more breathing room as I enter the building.

My friend is still beside me, so I hit the button and walk in behind her.  

I said goodbye as we passed into the atrium. The atrium was different todaythere were more people than usual, which is saying a lot because it’s a busy VA. Someone was playing the piano and the space between the security table and the elevators was full of tables and booths and artwork andpeople.

Too much.  I escaped into the elevator. Kind fellow named Floyd (it was written on his shirt) confirmed I was going to the basement, pressed the button.  I remarked about the increased activity in the atrium and he smiled. “An awareness fair or something.” Ok.

Bear with me, this is almost over.

Left the elevator, picked the hallway with the fewest men in it and headed towards my appointment.  I checked in, apologized for being (6 minutes) late and she smiled. “No, she in’t here anyways–she’s on vacation.  Your appointment is next week.”  Fck. Me. Running. Well. At least I wasn’t late. 

Yes ma’am.  You need any admin tasks done or anything, since I’m here.  She stared, realized it was a joke, smiled and said no.

Stopped in to ask my case worker a question–this is a new thing, a caseworker. It’s like having a VA concierge.  It’s kind of crazy. He knows things, makes calls, sets appointments, calls me to remind me about appointments.

Amazing. He’s been “on my case” ha! since I visited the ER after I fell down the stairs in January.

That fall put me on the TBI and PolyTrauma radar and he’s a TBI social worker and, well, now I have a con-sig-lee-air-ee.

He’s good, too. He saw me in the hallway and said, “You don’t have an appointment today.”

Heh. Told him I messed up the actual week.  No worries.

Asked my admin question.  Left. 

Elevator.  Same bank, so I come out in the same place on the ground floor, because I get lost if I don’t. I’m in the back right corner, facing the opposite side, not the front, looking at my phone and the African American Vietnam Veteran aged man standing in front of me, facing the front of the elevator says, quietly, “Damn. With that hair all wild like that you look like you just had a real good time in bed.  I bet you’re wild in bed, aren’t you?”

I ignored him.  Looked up, but not at him.  Nurse on the elevator, with headphones in, gave me a look, complete with raised eyebrow, that said, “He ain’t right.”

All of a sudden I’m perspiring and all I can think about is getting off the elevator. In a flash, I think of the elevator at the Bronx VA in 2014 where, as a VA employee in the hospital for a medical appointment for myself and not wearing any employee IDjust a vet, I had an anxiety attackseemingly unprovoked.

I was in the elevator with three men. None of them said a thing to me and I had a flashback to rape night–the night I was still a teenager and three black classmates, all Marines, all the same rank, raped me in a motel room outside of Camp Johnson. That’s something I’d processed and locked way more than 20 years ago. Something I’ve written but haven’t shared in it’s entirety.  That elevator episode led to some much needed therapy and, combined with frustration about the say do gap in my position description, caused me to resign my position at the VA several months later.

Please don’t freak out please don’t freak out please don’t…

It was a quick ride–one floor–and the doors opened into the cacophony of the awareness fair (Floyd’s words) right there in the lobby.  Steeling myself, I waited for that old dude to get off the elevator firsthe didn’t.
I walked out, with him close behind me and he leaned in, laughed and said, “Well? Are you wild in bed?”

I stopped, turned to face him and growled, “You’re rude, you’re not funny and besides being a dirty old man, no one wants to hear your commentary.”

His response?  “Well damn, you’re uppity. I see you ain’t wearing a wedding ringmakes sense with an attitude like yoursno man wants to handle you.

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped.  He walked away, I walked in small circles for a minute, stopped at the Center for Women Veteran’s table, grabbed a flyer and walked out of the VA. I thought briefly about going up to the third floor for group acupunctureit’s a walk in thing. It’s amazing. 

There’s no way I was getting back in an elevator and I was too upset to find the stairs. 

No eye contact.  No smiles, NO chance for anyone to engagenot slow enough to help anyone.  Just out to my truck as fast as I could.

I asked a woman in the parking lot to take my pictureshe was confused but I told her I was about to send it to a friend and tell her something awful had just happened.  She obliged. Sad, isn’t it? I felt compelled to document what I was wearing, prove I hadn’t invited the unwanted commentary. I’m not posting a photo because I know his behavior wasn’t ok, no matter how I was dressed or how unkempt my hair was.

I sent my friend Jaime a text, started to write an email to the case managerif I don’t tell someone what just happened, I might implode.  Jaime called as I was typing and, as I started to tell her what happened, I broke down and sobbed. I felt like a jerk for crying, and when I was done, I think I made a joke to that effect.  She said it happens all the timeit’s why they redesigned the atrium so there weren’t rows and rows of chairs people had to walk past to get to the elevators. It’s why she opted for care outside the VA.

When I was calm, I finished the email to my case manager:

It feels like walking gauntlet every time I walk in or out of the VA hospital. I vacillate between avoiding eye contact altogether and speed walking to my truck or appointment and waking like a civilized human being and making eye contact and returning polite greetings.

It’s always patients—not employees—often when I come to the VA I have a similar encounter—some dude feels like he’s got a right to make a comment about my body, my presence, my gender.  For a long time it’s why I DIDNT use the VA. And now, I’m getting great care —and still leave feeling terrible.

  • I feel terrible because I yelled at an old man.
  • Because I’m white and I seemed rude to an old black dude.
  • Because I’m younger and healthier than he is and therefor should have brushed it off.

When I first saw Dr. S she asked if I was in therapy for MST—I told her I’d been to a group orientation but it was too stressful to sit in a room with a bunch of men and contemplate having a conversation about being raped —by a group of men.

I’m not in therapy right now and I think I need to be—but I don’t want to come to the VA for anything more than I have to–sad, because I appreciate the care I get. The idea of 75 minutes in traffic to walk the gauntlet and then have therapy where I dig into trauma only to walk the gauntlet again and go home seems like it’d do more harm than good.

Can I sign up for therapy outside of the VA if I find a provider who takes Choice?

And so.

I’m done crying—and whining. (Literally)

I don’t even  know why I’m telling you this except to say I want to believe the VA is a place I WON’T be harassed or cat called or disrespected—a place I can come to heal.

Thanks for listening (or reading, as it were) and thanks for always being so helpful.

He called about 45 minutes later.  Apologized. Expressed dismay. Couldn’t imagine what that was like. Said we can set my appointments up for TeleHealth so I don’t have to walk the gauntlet every week.  I’m not sure how effective speech pathology will be remotely, and I have a series of other appointments where I need to physically be IN the building, but I was calmed by his suggestion. Kicker? That commotion the atrium? Today was military sexual assault awareness day. Yeah. And I ran from the building, panicked.

And so, what is my point? Do I have a point? Do I have to have a point? A call to action?  How about this? If you see veterans being assholes to other veterans at the VA, say something. It’s tough sometimes, I imagine.  The kicker?  I’m the type of person who stands up for other people, in most situations, but I didn’t have the fortutude to do more than call him a dirty old man and run out the door.

USMC. WM. MST. TBI. PTSD.  So many acronyms.  I hate acronyms.  I’m a writer, an aunt, a sister, a  friend, a veteran, a grower.  I’m a U.S.  Marine.  Yeah. I was raped. And yeah. I lost someone to suicide. And yeah. I’m dealing with it in a whole variety of ways. I love on my nephews, I garden, I volunteer, I stay in touch with friends.  I surround myself with people who challenge me to be better, smarter —more.

I tell people most days I have PTSD, some days PTSD has me.  Today was definitely some day.

Tomorrow is a new day and that old asshole from the elevator?  I evicted him, since, as a wise friend said, he doesn’t pay rent and doesn’t deserve any more space, any more of my time.

Writing,

JH

13 thoughts on “Most days I have PTSD. Some days, PTSD has me.

  • June 26, 2018 at 5:39 pm
    Permalink

    Wow, I read this and completely related except I just keep my head down when it happens to me. It is always a male veteran way older than me and seemingly more disabled than me. I feel if I defend myself I’m being rude to an old broken war veteran, so I say nothing. But your story made me realize, although I’m not really old (I’m 41), I am a broken war veteran myself, having served in Iraq in 2006, a year after being sexually assaulted at a remote duty station by an officer. I hate crowds. I don’t know if it’s because of the close proximity I served in being in the military with other people, but I hate them. The VA hospitals are the worst it seems, which is one of the reasons I stopped care at the Ann Arbor VA. The entry into the main hospital is through the parking garage and it’s a huge hallway with tons of veterans and I have suffered comments and just put my head down and walked away. I am now seen in a local VA clinic in Lansing and although the care is substandard and I still have to drive to Battle Creek for major appointments, I still go although I don’t seek my main medical care through the VA, I use my Retiree Tricare. I don’t want to go but I have to in order to gather additional evidence for my back disability. I always sit as far away as possible from anyone. My last appt, I did this as I always do. It was last month and warmer weather finally showed up so I was wearing Columbia hiking shorts, an MSU hoodie and a ball cap. Every time a new patient walked in I cringed hoping they wouldn’t sit next to me as there were quite a few seats empty. What do you know, an old veteran comes and plunks right down beside me and proceeds to say loud enough for all the men in the waiting room to hear (I was the only woman), “I knew those gorgeous legs didn’t belong to a man and I was right, how are you today sweetheart?” Needless to say I was humiliated and when he got up to go to the bathroom, I moved as far away from anyone I could. I hate that and it has discouraged me from any group therapy and the VA won’t provide me with individual therapy. It sucks what we have to go through just to get care. I don’t say anything because I just think they are as bad as the military at acknowledging it happens. Maybe next time I won’t.

    Reply
  • May 3, 2018 at 10:54 am
    Permalink

    I did it. I reported. Thank you for your support and encouragement. Your post gave me the resolve and the anger/rage at discovering I am not the only one experiencing this behavior from fellow Veterans helped motivate me. Please know your post helped a Sister Veteran.

    Reply
  • April 27, 2018 at 2:54 am
    Permalink

    Most days I have it; some days it has me. Today, all it took was a long walk and I was four years ago. Maybe that’s why I clicked on this link today. Maybe it sounds silly but I really do dream of a world in which all of these stories describe the past- and not the present. Where we’re telling our children and grandchildren how it was- not how it is. Where so many are not assaulted out of work. Where the military gets rid of the problem- instead of the solution. Where they aren’t teaching men entitlement, aggression and hatred toward women- and citizens can’t get involved directly because… national security secrecy? Where they lose the ‘Harvey Weinsteins’- instead of every woman in Hollywood. Because that is how it is today. But hopefully tomorrow will be another day. A better day than today. With a great deal of solidarity and support for one another, I have hope that it will be. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
  • April 26, 2018 at 6:42 am
    Permalink

    I seriously just lost my breath reading your intro. I had the same issue, at the same hospital. If it burned to the ground I would dance in the ashes. It didn’t improve when I went to another one up north, but that place in particular is really horrid. I would wear the nastiest sweats I had with the hood up trying not to be seen. Back into corners. Try to look angry so everyone would leave me alone. Every trip to those places was a massive dose of anxiety, and bringing someone with me didn’t help. It still makes me so angry and scared. This is the first time I’ve read about someone who’s experience matches my own so closely. I’m not sure thank you is the appropriate sentiment, but it’s the best I can think of.

    Reply
  • April 25, 2018 at 7:10 pm
    Permalink

    I’m so sorry you’re having this experience. I also find the VA retraumatizing and triggering, for a variety of reasons. If you have not yet looked into counseling at a local vet center (if one is locally available to you – this is a Center that is affiliated with but not run by the VA, and not a satellite office either), I highly recommend doing so. I’ve been seeing a counselor at my local vet center for about the past year and have made progress with my own PTSD that I thought was no longer possible. There are far fewer days when PTSD has me now, and the act of going to appointments is not triggering. Miraculous!

    Reply
  • April 25, 2018 at 4:51 pm
    Permalink

    Wow!! I feel like your story is my story, too. I can relate on so many levels. I, too go to the DC VAMC. I, too, feel like it’s a gauntlet walking in and out. I went Tuesday for a C&P for a secondary condition to my MST/PTSD and had thrown on some yoga pants and a Tshirt that I got for running in a Veteran sponsored event. As soon as I got there, I realized I had made the wrong outfit choice. It was lower cut than I thought it was but by no means sexual. I have tits and unfortunately, I cannot hide them – as much as I try to. I’m so used to the stares and the looks but I NEVER make eye contact with anyone. I have made that mistake too many times. Regardless, the top that I was wearing, my crazy curly hair, and my height usually means that anyone can speak to me any kinda way. I’m overly kind because I, too, used to work at the VA and I still have the customer service mentality so even if someone says something rude or looks way too hard at my tits, I just smile and say have a good day. Needless to say, with all the looks I received, and the type of appointment it was, I got in the car and drove as fast as I could to get to my dogs.

    I get fearful in crowds, especially crowds of men and the VA is always packed. I always take the stairs, no matter what because I have the same response you do. As much as I have faith that no one is out to hurt me, I am terrified that someone is going to make me feel uncomfortable in the elevator and I’ll have a panic attack. However, I am almost as scared in the stairwell because it’s so empty and anything can happen but it’s usually trafficked, so that’s my fail-safe.

    I know that you’re right when you say that we have to address it; however, what will that change? These are typically the same old men that sit in the waiting room speaking loud enough for everyone to hear that they thing Ivanka Trump is “fuxkable” but Melania is….(you fill in the blank). I get more triggered in the waiting room because this is the type of conversation that always happens and it makes me sick. I don’t want to involve myself in the conversation because I’ve then allowed them into my space but to not only be looked at like a piece of meat, I constantly hear *some of the older Vets* talk about how we are a piece of meat.

    Oh well. Thanks so much for your terrific writing. I felt compelled to respond only because while I was reading your story, I thought it could easily be mine. You are strong, intelligent, and admirable. Thanks for your strength. I hope things work out for you on the outside. I finally sought mental health completely independent from the VA. I pay out of pocket and she doesn’t accept insurance but it’s totally worth it to not have to deal with the VA mental health experience.

    Stay strong!! I need you!

    I, too,

    Reply
  • April 25, 2018 at 1:15 pm
    Permalink

    It’s been 40 years since I earned my EGA and I’m almost 60 years old. It still triggers me to go to the VA hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. I used to have to ride the DAV van for the 50 miles from my home. Usually I was the only female and those trips left me traumatized for days in spite of the fact I put my earbuds in and turned up the volume on my iPod. Today I have a friend drive me and I get some of my care st the small VA clinic here in town. Being in the VA system still brings out the feeling of being trapped that. I had while on active duty. When I was younger I responded just like you and it breaks my heart that you’re going through this in 2018. You’re not alone little sister, Semper Fi.

    Reply
  • April 25, 2018 at 11:34 am
    Permalink

    I have gone through very simular experiences – MST, working at the VA and going through the “gauntlet.”
    I’m not the greatest of writers but I feel like you wrote what it’s like for me as well. I have complained so many times about comments said to me by male veterans with nothing done. I didn’t go work today because I feel like I couldn’t take it today. I’m triggered almost everyday and about ready to quit. I’m 80% SC for PTSD,heart,asthma and headaches. My primary care provider quit months ago and I haven’t seen one yet. They say they are trying to hire another women’s health provider. Told me they wouldn’t schedule me till I get one. (I work there BTW!). That makes it harder to push for anything because I don’t want to ruffle feathers.
    I have been 30 hours straight right now.

    Reply
  • April 25, 2018 at 10:44 am
    Permalink

    I remember you. I remember coming over from the wing and into a “real Marine Corps unit” the only female in a group of males – a couple of whom were not so happy to have me, a WM. You were one of the first Marines that I met there. Knowing the guys in my unit, you knew what I was up against-way before I did. I remember how you cheered me on, encouraged me and looked out for me. I appreciated that more than you could imagine.
    Thank you for sharing your story-thank you for your courage.

    Reply
  • April 25, 2018 at 9:38 am
    Permalink

    Me too, sister. Me too. I have been out 24 years and its been at least 20 years since I saw a VA healthcare provider. I was either mistaken for a nurse or a family member while I was there for hours waiting on appointments and I faced a barrage of conversations with men I did not want to speak with who questioned my disability, my service, and my lack of interest in them. I hate the fact that although I was an officer for my local DAV chapter and am now a member of my state’s Women Veterans Advisory Board, I will not go to the VA for care. I fight for veterans, women veterans, yet I do not feel accepted or comfortable by the largest provider to veterans. They tell me over and over again how it has changed over the course of the 20 years since I last saw a provider there, but I just can’t.

    Reply
  • April 20, 2018 at 8:06 am
    Permalink

    Dr. Charles Faselis is the DC VA Hospital administrator. I was tempted to tweet a link to what you wrote here to him and realized that’s not very respectful of you. I want him to change how his hospital is run: gauntlets of sexual harassers should be unacceptable to him in his own hospital. I’m sad and angry for you. In my 5 years active duty (I was a 6123), I feel lucky that I didn’t experience MST. I hope you never have to experience that BS (sorry for the acronym 😉 ) again. Incidentally, I wonder if your concierge could advocate for you (and veterans in general in DC) by bringing the problem(s) to the attention of hospital management for you? Offering to make a small change w/ in his purview is great, but as your advocate and a member of hospital staff, he may be able to do more.

    Reply
  • April 19, 2018 at 8:16 pm
    Permalink

    That sounds awful. I hope things get better for you.

    Reply
  • April 19, 2018 at 5:05 pm
    Permalink

    That cut deep. I’m sorry. As a nale. As a fellow veteran. As a human. I am sorry. You’re story has me crying. My daughter is 8 and is laying next to me. She’s concerned. And I am afraid for her. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *