To date, I have had half a dozen events in my life that I would truly consider “life changing”.
The first time my then future wife really smiled at me.
The day I found out I was going to be a father.
The day I got sober.
The day I found out I was going to be a father again.
The day one of my best friends was murdered.
And finally, the day a girl got hit by a truck under my watch.
This post is going to be about the lattermost, and how it has affected everything since.
Before I dive in, I think it important to understand a bit about who I am, in order to better understand how this event has affected me.
I am a highly sensitive introvert. A Myers-Briggs INFP. One of those “love and light” hippies that cares about everything… To a fault sometimes. An empath. But most importantly, a protector.
Because I am so deeply bothered by hurt and unkindness, I go out of my way to prevent them wherever possible, often, at great cost to my own well-being.
People feeling safe around me is incredibly important to me. Ya dig?
With that said, I have worked at a small charter school for ten years as “Campus Aide III”. Maintenance and student supervision. I like to say, “I spend half my day keeping an eye on the kids, the other half, fixing all the stuff they break.”
One of my many duties, is morning crossing duty. A duty that I take EXTREMELY seriously.
I am a crossing guard on the main thoroughfare of our town, at one of the busiest times of day, and in ten years, had never had an injury under my watch. A fact that I was quite proud of.
The morning of April 7th, 2015, I set about my job as usual. Unlocking gates, opening bathrooms, putting flags up, and getting up to the crosswalk by 7:30 for crossing duty.
Around 7:40 or so, a group of kids needed to be crossed.
I waited for a break in traffic, held up my stop sign, walked slowly out to the middle of the street to give drivers time to see me, did one last check … both lanes of northbound traffic were stopped, the turning lane was stopped, the farthest most southbound lane was stopped, and the nearest car in second southbound lane slowing to stop.
So I waved the kids through.
As they walked out into the crosswalk, chattering about this and that on their way to school, with not a care in the world, I suddenly heard an engine that was obviously not in the process of lowering RPMs. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see a pickup that had seemingly come out of nowhere, rushing past me, with no intention of stopping, and time slowed to a crawl.
I felt the wind of the truck passing me less than two feet away, screamed at the kids to stop, and as the truck entered the crosswalk, there was a split second where I thought it was just a close call.
Then I heard that sound.
…and saw her things explode into the air as she disappeared under the hood.
My world shattered.
A ’65 Ford pickup, going at least forty miles an hour, just hit one of my students dead on, right next to me, and I could do nothing but watch in horror as she was drug and mutilated under his truck for what felt like an eternity as he finally came to a stop, 50 feet or so from the crosswalk.
I threw down my sign and coffee cup as I sprinted to her mangled body, crumpled in the middle of the street.
I won’t go into any more detail other than it was the single most horrific thing I have ever seen in real life.
When the first officer showed up, and I felt I could, “stand down”, I walked over to the sidewalk and just lost it. Panicked, hyperventilating, sobbing uncontrollably for Gods knows how long.
She was airlifted to our nearest trauma center in critical condition, immediately underwent surgery, and though she suffered some major injuries, is going to live.
I got a ride home and spent the rest of the day in what looking back at, I can now call a state of shock.
I was an utter mess. The event would replay randomly in my head, causing a huge anxiety spike each time. Cars scared me. People walking by outside on the street worried me. I was in a constant state of high alert. Easily started. And when something DID startle me, it took waaay longer to recover from than it used to. Then, certain things, like the sound of sirens, would send me into a full blown flashback panic attack. When I say “flashback”, I don’t just mean an uncomfortable memory. I mean, I fully feel like I am at the scene of the incident. Panicked, trembling, hyperventilating, and sobbing uncontrollably. Completely reliving the full gamut of emotions as though I were still there. So I stayed home for the rest of the week.
The following monday, I wasn’t any better, but deep down in the back of my head, I felt like I would be able to just push it aside for work. Keep it under control, ya know? Maybe hide in the bathroom or something if I needed to meltdown, but still do work.
I was sadly mistaken. I had no control at all.
Just being there made my baseline anxiety levels skyrocket. I was a nervous wreck. Every little thing was a trigger.
Kids running by… flashback.
Kids yelling… flashback.
General school commotion… flashback.
I spent half of the day right back at that damned crosswalk… in my head.
After that, the severity of my situation really set in, and with it, depression.
I am completely fucking broken, and don’t know how to move forward.
I let my boss know that I’m going to need more time, and got Worker’s Comp rolling. I got home and had an emergency call with a therapist, who said that she doesn’t usually recommend it, but in this case, I should see a doctor and get some medication. Great, but I’m in crisis NOW. So I called a Crisis counselor… who said the same thing. See a doctor and get some meds.
My first day back to work resulted in me going to the E.R. to be put on Xanax.
So… where are we now?
Well, EVERYTHING is different. I feel like I blew a fuse in my brain, and it affects every aspect of my life.
My baseline anxiety levels are lowest at home.
So I try to balance leaving the house as little as possible, with not becoming a shut in.
Even at home, things that used to just make me a little anxious, now make me a lot anxious. So though I may appear calm on the outside, I’m on the verge of a panic attack… often.
The incident still replays randomly in my head, causing a huge anxiety spike each time.
When I am startled, it takes forever for me to calm back down. Not even just startled. Pretty much anything that causes any type of excitement, takes me a long time to recover from.
I’m struggling with self worth.
I feel hyper sensitive. I hear and see every little thing, all the time, which is really not as cool as it sounds. There’s no break. I can’t turn it off. I have to close the blinds, turn off all the lights and tv, and put on earmuffs and sunglasses just to catch some peace.
Then the triggers…
So. Many. Triggers.
The biggest one is sirens. Firetruck sirens specifically. The moment my brain recognizes it as a siren, I am immediately thrust back into the incident. Running toward her broken body laying in the street. Pure terror.
You know that sudden rush of panic when you drop a glass, but before it hits the floor? That. It’s that feeling, but constant. The glass never hits the floor. The panic just stays. If I had a pressure gauge, it would be redlining all the time.
Then there’s also the sound of certain engines.
Things rushing past me on my right.
Sometimes, even just being startled.
I’ve had flashbacks sitting at the table, eating dinner with my kids when a siren went by. Sitting in the passenger seat of my wife’s car when someone tried to cross the street. Casually talking with my wife in the garage. Waking up from a nap. So on and so forth.
I am in a CONSTANT state of high alert, it affects every aspect of my life, my family’s life, and that absolutely terrifies me. I WANT help, but right now, it’s a bunch of “hurry up and wait” as things get bounced back and forth through workers comp.
So, I wait.