USD Magazine Spring 2013
“He had been on patrol and lost his foot to an (IED). For some reason, his bloody boot symbolized all the trauma patients that I’m taking care of — the vision of his boot, the sound of painful cries and the smell of death are my senses … I find life in these senses, and it reminds me of what is really important in my own life. I am still glad I deployed and I hope I will always remem- ber these feelings.” The journal, she explained, was essential in helping her put her memories back together. “When you’re in fight-or-flight mode, an electrical charge gets attached to that mem- ory,” Stanley explains. “But with PTSD, the memory gets chopped up and rearranged in your brain in the wrong way. So later, when you think of it, the electrical charge causes your body to respond. Prolonged exposure therapy allows you to put all the pieces back together the right way.” Stanley also found it helpful to paint — she drew a particular Marine’s face over and over again. But what was most help- ful was creating a video to illustrate her jumbled thoughts. The song that plays in the background, by the band Evanescence, feelings, i felt like i was getting my leg broken and reset — over and over again.” at first, i actually felt worse. every time i talked about my
is called, “Wake Me Up Inside” — a fitting title, given her quest to quell the numbness. The lyrics help tell her story. How can you see into my eyes / Like open doors? Leading you down into my core / Where I’ve become so numb / Without a soul / My spirit sleeping somewhere cold / Until you find it there and lead it back / Home / (Wake me up) / Wake me up inside / (I can’t wake up) / Wake me up inside/ (Save me) Call my name and save me from the dark / Save me from the nothing I’ve become. The video she created shows flashes of her memory — the good, the bad, the real, the imagined — all tangled together in a mass of confusion that perfectly depicted the chaos in her head. “One minute I’d be happy, hanging out with friends and then it would flash to my trailer blowing up,” she says. “It showed my husband what I was thinking and feeling and it helped my therapist understand why I felt a loss of myself.” Eventually, she started to feel better. “After a while I had hope that I would be happy again and feel good inside again,” she says. “I have setbacks, we all do, but after a while it gets easier and easier — and now I can go out and speak to hundreds of people and share my story.” Stanley retired from the military in May 2010 after two decades of service and enjoys her work with veterans in La Jolla. No mat- ter where she goes, she can often be seen with her service dog, a 2-year-old English lab named Willow, who’s part of the At Ease ser- vice dog program at nearby Camp Pendleton, which places dogs in the San Diego area. “What a dog does for PTSD is amazing. She picks up on how I feel when helicop- ters fly over and comes to sit next to me,” Stanley says. “She wakes up and is happy to see me. She makes me remember that every day is a new day. I learn from her to live in the present and not in the past. That’s a good lesson in life!”
Stanley sought help on a couple of occa- sions. Once, with a chaplain, and another time she tried to talk with her supervisor. “I shared with him that I had a few problems, that I couldn’t sleep,” Stanley recalled. “He started tearing up. He gave me a look that I knew meant we just couldn't go there. He had his own issues. It’s just something we don't like to talk about so we didn’t.” Over time, Stanley realized that PTSD was robbing her of her memory. Once, after a long day at work, she came home to study for board exams. She studied for a few hours and, after she closed her books, she couldn’t remember a thing. For the next two years, she continued to hide her PTSD. She did a good job covering it up, but began pulling away from people — taking odd shifts at work, shopping in the wee hours, heading off for long walks by herself and avoiding people whenever possible. She felt empty inside, numb. She knew she had to get help when a patient died unexpectedly and she, surprisingly, felt nothing. That was 2009, midway through her tour. Stanley knew it was time to take action. She found a therapist and dove into treatment. She started with prolonged exposure therapy, recording her memories and listening to them six, seven, 10 times a day on her iPod. “The first month, I actually felt worse,” Stanley says. “Every time I talked about my feelings, I felt like I was getting my leg broken and reset — over and over again. It was hard bringing up those memories and I couldn’t do it without breaking down.” Stanley is grateful that she kept a jour- nal throughout her time in the military. One entry in particular describes her dedi- cation to her profession, her patients and her country. “I took care of a patient tonight and I know I will never forget him,” she wrote.
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