PTSD - 94 Northridge Earthquake

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of the '94 Northridge earthquake. I remember it like it was yesterday.

We lived in the San Fernando Valley, just a few blocks away from the epicenter in Northridge. It was a three day weekend, MLK day to be exact. We took advantage of the holiday by spending the weekend in Vegas, and drove home in the wee hours of Monday morning. We climbed into bed about an hour before the quake hit.

It was a new moon. There were no lights. I've never seen such darkness in the night. The only sounds after the initial quakes were screams and cries for help. I can't describe it all, it was too intense. Our apartment was badly hit, people were trapped. Many of the residents were elderly, disabled, or both. We went outside and spent about an hour trying to rescue our neighbors and their pets. Then we collapsed in exhaustion at my step-mothers house, afraid to be at the apartment any longer.

Before the quake hit I had scheduled my implant surgery. After the quake however, all offices and hospitals in the valley were damaged and needed evaluation and repair. My surgeon postponed my appointment until early March. I was one of the first elected surgeries to be performed in the valley after the big quake. We were still experiencing large aftershocks. 

I knew at the time that the quake had affected me, my mental state. I suspected that I had PTSD but told myself that I was strong enough to fight it. The real test was during my recovery. I experienced extreme panic attacks for the first time in my life. I remember when the surgeon was removing my stitches that I had to turn my head and take deep breaths while feeling nausea. For some, this would be a normal reaction, but not for me. I've never shied away from any medical procedure. I always watch when they take blood. I am not squeamish! Even the surgeon commented and said that he was a little concerned at how I was doing, that I did not appear well. We blamed the stress of the quake.

Of course the quake had a lot to do with my mental state, but in combination with the foreign objects I had just introduced to my body it was like a double whammy. My recovery was much longer than anticipated, which probably should have been my first clue that something was wrong. We continued to experience major aftershocks as the earth was settling. One 5.5 aftershock sent me running into our courtyard in fear. I literally grabbed my breasts for fear of them falling out! I've never experienced pain like that. I was still on bedrest, just days after the operation, and here I was RUNNING out of my apartment in fear for my life. Our landlord had run out as well and she rushed over to me putting her arms around me as I sobbed. I cried because of the pain, the fear, the constant and overwhelming anxiety that I was now experiencing, and for my apparent weakness at not being able to handle it all. I just sobbed in her arms. 

I was experiencing a new me, one that I didn't recognize physically or emotionally. Unable to deal with the changes I did my best to ignore them, brush them off, and hope that I would wake-up from this surreal experience. That never happened. Gradually I physically healed, and gradually I accepted that I had changed. 

This picture is of an apartment building that was down the street from mine. I remember walking over to it as we surveyed the damage in our neighborhood. We had to see these images daily for the next few months, or longer. Constant reminders.

Although the events in the book are personal, this isn't my story; it's our story. We've all been there: shamefully sucking-in our tummies to impress others, or using our sexuality to advance our careers because our intelligence or talent come second. Chapters from the book will be released in no chronological order, organically pouring out of me as emotions and memories resurface. Thank you for being here. —Kristen