By Justine Hemmestad
My car was hit by a bus 27 years ago in California. I sustained a severe brain injury – but my PTSD has long outlived my physical struggles. A Veteran approached me about a month ago as I was walking into Walmart with my 14 year old daughter because he was raising funds for something to do with PTSD. Wearing one of my oldest daughter’s Bagram shirts (she served in Afghanistan) must have made him believe that I would listen. I looked him in the eye, though I have trouble seeing which makes things scarier. I was thinking at first that I wouldn’t be scared of him because he was a veteran, but he was approaching me too quickly and from the side (and the rest of my surroundings disappeared) so I took off running into Walmart. My daughter came in after me and asked “Mom, why’d you do that? He said, ‘Thanks for your time’ like he was mad”. So I felt guilty the rest of the day. This is the trouble with assuming. Both the veteran and my daughter took my action as rudeness, though his actions were a trigger for me.
They took my actions as rudeness
When I first got out of the hospital after my car/bus accident, my husband took me to the mall so I could get out. I was still in a wheelchair, still paralyzed on one side of my body (one of my eyes drooped while the other was open wide and one side of my mouth drooped), and a little girl looked at me, screamed, and went crying into her mother’s arms. Even to this day its hard not to think of myself as that person who scares little kids away because of how I look; even though I look “normal” now I still carry that psychological burden of the little girl’s scream. I felt like Frankenstein.
The trouble with assuming that we know someone’s story
On the other hand, my assigned study partner in one of my classes is an officer in the military. He was completely missing from our discussion this week. I was starting to worry, because we have a major presentation to do next week. But today he re-appeared and apologized. He explained that one of his soldiers had tried to commit suicide and he’d been helping him with resources, etc. I was feeling frustrated with my classmate before he told me, which makes me no different from the veteran that scared me outside of Walmart. This is the trouble with assuming. People can’t assume the worst about someone else because that’s what they’re used to in the past. We can never assume that we know someone else’s story.