Post Traumatic Stress has been in the news lately, triggered by the Fort Hood, Texas shootings earlier this month. We're reading more and more about suicides in the military caused by this severe, much misunderstood anxiety disorder.
You don't have to be in armed forces to struggle with and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress – it can affect anyone at anytime.You may remember my friend who calls herself Storme. She told her story here a year ago.
Last week, for the fourth time, she bravely faced one of my classes to tell her story of how she became a social activist.
For three years, Storme has worked diligently to ensure that frontline workers including paramedic, firefighters and police officers, who run the risk of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in their professions, can claim benefits from the Workplace Safety Insurance Board just as they can if they break an arm on the job.
Storme was raped by a superior in the back of an ambulance while on a training course six years ago. She was so severely brutalized and terrified, afraid she would lose her job and see her career destroyed, she stayed silent. She wasn't able to report her assault for 15 months. She continued dragging herself work, but inside, she was falling apart.
Finally, when she broke down and no longer could face going to work, she decided to go to the police.
"Why did you wait so long?" they asked.
That's the whole point about Post Traumatic Stress – you never know when it's going to hit you or what the trigger will be, she explained. Often it hits long after the "trauma" – possibly days, more probably, weeks, months, even years. Everyone is different and it's horribly debilitating.
"I spent 18 months wrapped in a blanket, fully-clothed, in bed," she said. "If I had broken an arm, I would have been fully compensated. But after an investigation, my claim was denied. I had to pay WSIB back the $10,000 they had initially paid me."
She has not yet been able to return to work after facing down The City of Toronto, Toronto Emergency Medical Services, the criminal justice system, the Human Rights Commission and the WSIB, which has denied her claim twice. She's currently preparing for a third appeal.
"This isn't right. This has to change," she told my class. With the help of a lawyer, she contacted her MPP Cheri DiNovo and together they redrafted the legislation concerning WSIB claims to include cases of PTSD for frontline workers. At the beginning of December, it is anticipated that their Private Member's Bill will have it's first reading in the Ontario Legislature.
Storme started alone, but she has rallied the support of the Toronto and Ontario police, fire-fighters and paramedics associations and their unions, The Tema Conter Memorial Trust, plus hundreds of her colleagues – men and women – who have experienced PTSD.
"This probably won't help me, personally," she told my students. "But it could help frontline workers with PTSD in the future. This cannot go on."
More than any lecture, any film, any text, any activity in my class, Storme's presentation brings to life the challenges of social change, how it happens and the courage it demands.
"We're going to put the word 'rape' back in the criminal justice system," she said to another one of my classes earlier last week. "It's not just sexual assault. That's too neutral."
As they left the class, each of my students shook Storme's hand and thanked her.
Often, one student will stay behind and share her personal story. Too many times, young women will confide in Storme about how they've suffered after being raped. They don't know what to do or where to turn. A fraction of rapes are reported to police. The statistics are wildly out of sync with reality.
These young women share the horror of how their minds are shattered by the experience, a year later or several years later, often on the anniversary of the assault. Anniversaries are often their triggers. Some of these students are failing their courses because they can't concentrate on their studies, miss classes repeatedly and neglect assignment deadlines.
They hug Storme. They cling to her. They feel guilt and shame. They feel, somehow, that she's fighting for them. And she is. She's fighting for all of us.