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Through the Looking Glass

IMPORTANT UPDATE AS OF JULY 29, 2016: Taking a look back at my mental health hurdles and accomplishments during the short duration of this mini-documentary is astounding. I made much progress in a few months; however, I would like to present where I am at now versus two years ago. Approximately two months ago, after about 10 sessions of EMDR (Eye Movement Disorientation and Reprocessing) Therapy, I am officially no longer diagnosed with Complex-PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While I still have lingering complications that come along with PTSD, I am ecstatic to say I have started my first on-air position directly after graduating from the University of Kansas in December of 2015. I’ve been working as a morning show host and as a DJ for three stations at Great Plains Media, for about two months! I’ve been able to reduce and even entirely rid myself of many medications I previously needed. To put it concisely–I am better than I ever conceived would be possible. I hope that my struggle, along with my success to overcome it, helps even one individual who sees this story and/or documentary. Thank you for visiting, and I would love to hear your feedback!

-Terran Smith

PSTD IN THE PRESS:

The United States Census Bureau recorded the population number at 316.1 million as of 2013. Of more than 2.3 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, approximately 460,000, (20 percent), have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study confirms one out of every five is the astonishing prevalence of PTSD in said military officials and troops.

Experiencing trauma doesn’t automatically give someone PTSD. In fact, more than half of the nation’s population will experience trauma at some point. Of the entirety of the US population, about seven to eight percent have or will have PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.

Mass media and the consistent coverage of PTSD increased awareness in recent years, specifically with regards to war veterans. It is true, as found in the National Center for PTSD, that intentional traumas, including combat, are more likely to cause this disorder; however, it is imperative to remember the infinite intentional trauma scenarios, (i.e. kidnapping, domestic violence, childhood abuse, etc.), unrelated to war veterans in order to prevent further stigmatization of said population and to stop overlooking the individuals that make up more than 93% of the population of persons with PTSD.

LIFE BEFORE MY DISABILITY:

The first thing I ever remember was the jar of translucent, red marbles. Each piece of glass had an intricate shape, and clouds passing in the sky, watching them kept my undivided attention. My mom used this fascination as an opportunity to see just how much she could teach her tiny toddler about numbers and mathematics.

The marbles, used as a visual aid, each represented one of my friends, as my mom explained. After a few problems of addition and subtraction, I remember the moment I understood what my mother meant by “two times two.” In that sitting, the hunch that I was different from most children my age was confirmed by my mother’s face; it contorted with complete astonishment as I grasped the concept of multiplication and division at the ridiculous age of two.

I attended school a year early, skipped second grade, participated in the gifted programs, yet I still wasn’t being challenged enough as a child. As I neared age 10 in late 2001, already overwhelmed by my parents’ recent divorce, the immense boredom from lack of stimulation became too much to take any longer.

THE STORY OF MY TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE:

My parents decided to find a school that would better accommodate my needs for my fifth grade year of elementary school. After a series of academic testing sessions, I was accepted to attend a private school designed specifically to educate individuals who are either gifted learners, or are simply unable to learn in a traditional classroom setting.

Accelerated Schools, located in Olathe, Kan., included grades four through nine in the same classroom. One of the students who rode the same bus as myself was named Tyler, and even though I was barely in the double digits, my age didn’t stop his 14-year-old mind from creating a delusion of a relationship between us. This delusion would start with vulgar harassment, and unfortunately resulted in my rape as an innocent child, as well as the diagnosis of PTSD more than four years later.

DEALING WITH MY DIAGNOSIS:

Although I happen to be one of the lucky 50 percent of the individuals who have this disorder to actually be diagnosed with it, I treated the symptoms the only way I knew how for a very long time–by masking them with medicine. During the past five years, I lost the presence of myself as an individual as prescription drugs and the side effects they had on my behavior replaced my identity one part at a a time.

It was a little more than a year ago when I came to the realization I needed to decide whether to allow this disability to take complete control over my existence, or to take back the reins on my own life. On December 1st, 2013, I quit smoking cigarettes, lost 40 lbs. by February 1st, 2014, trained my dog, Tootsie, last spring to be my service animal, and even moved into an apartment without an roommate for the first time.

The steps I took before Fall semester of this school year were undoubtedly positive; however, PTSD itself is not treated with medication, only the symptoms it causes are. Because of this, when the condition is left untreated, it greatly worsens over time. I felt my self as a whole slip through my fingers as I hit rock bottom early in August of this year. It took me until the beginning of October to see beyond my pride and into the hypocrisy of my behavior versus my beliefs.

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH:

I’ve represented myself as an advocacy journalist throughout college and the two years and counting that I’ve had this website because I truly do love to tell the public informative stories that give something back to help others and the community overall. It was the moment I thought about my audience that I realized how phony I was being, not only to myself, but to every individual I claim to represent on this blog.

With my career, credibility, and conscience all hanging in the balance, I decided to make a change for the better, seek improvement through self-exposure treatment to the things I have been avoiding for so many years, and to document the struggle along my path to happiness for all friends, family, acquaintances and audiences to see. Additionally, I made the difficult decision to withdraw from almost all of my courses for the semester in order to fully dedicate myself to the healing process.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD:

Since I began progressing through treatment a little over two months ago, I’ve lowered my prescription medication dosages greatly, am returning to school next semester with about 15 credit hours left to graduate and have honestly accomplished improvements more vast than I could ever have imagined. However, the amount of work and struggle it took along the way were just as frequent.

Exposing myself to situations I would normally avoid is the most successful, long-term treatment, but in most all cases causes symptoms like flashbacks and anxiety attacks to become more likely and more extreme. Other than the uncomfortable symptoms that intensified from exposure treatment, the reduction of my medication, namely Xanax, had adverse physical consequences I can only be thankful didn’t hurt me.

Whilst lowering my prescription of the highly addictive, controlled substance called Xanax, I experienced withdrawal from my body’s built-up dependence to the drug, and actually went into convulsions whilst experiencing a seizure less than a month ago. Thankfully my boyfriend, Joel, was around at the time; it goes without saying that incident scared the hell out of the both of us.

ONE DAY AT A TIME:

The challenges I’ve faced were mental, emotional and physical. I may never be completely free of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what’s important is the constant effort I make to become a healthier, happier and more helpful person.

Many people believe that we never truly stop growing as individuals. This milestone in my life’s journey taught me it is, in fact, true that we never stop growing if we try, but it’s also true that if we stop trying, we never grow.

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The Lawrence Public Library Reaches Out to KU Students

Each student at the University has his or her own, unique way of studying. As midterms and finals arrive, students face the same question: Where should I study? With five campus libraries, there are plenty of resources to choose from.

“It would be nice to have the resources of a library without having to go to campus libraries, especially during vital times such as finals,” Cassie Jones, junior, said. “It’s overcrowded with students, and unreliable with Internet access from overloaded servers.”

 KU libraries aren’t the only facility to provide one-on-one assistance, conducive study environments and overall willingness to help students.

“We don’t have the same resources as KU, but you can tap into the catalog with your KU card and our staff is ready, willing and able to help with many questions,” said Director of the Lawrence Public Library, Brad Allen.

The Lawrence Public Library reaches students at the University through social networks, pooled community resources and collaboration with KU.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the community getting to know the people in the town, and what they want from their library,” Allen said. “I’ve also been up on campus a lot collaborating more with KU.”

The facility currently works with the Honors Program, First Year Experience Program and the KU libraries to give students experiences outside of campus life, feel more involved in the community and continue to improve this resourceful study area.

“We’ve been working with the Honors Program to let people know the opportunities we have so they can pass those on to students,” Allen said. “In the six months that I’ve been here, we’ve already got new volunteers from the Honors Program; that’s been a great partnership already.”

The LPL facility itself provides a multitude of resources for students studying during midterms and finals, says Marketing Director Susan Brown. 

“I think there’s a bunch of things that would appeal to KU students,” Brown said. “The first is our space; we have lots of tables to study at, meeting room space on the lower level, a gallery, and an auditorium free for public use.”

The facility also has free Wi-Fi connection, wireless printing, regular printing, and live-chat online with librarians during open hours. Social networking has become important to all organizations, and the LPL is no exception.

“Our social media is a great way to get a feel for what we do,” Brown said. “Following us on Twitter or Facebook is a great way to see what’s going on in the library or the town in general.”

Along with services offered at LPL, one of the facility’s main goals is to provide a productive learning environment for students.

“We’re working towards this library being a place students can collaborate more, and just have some quiet places to study,” Brown said. “Especially during the evening, we have lots of quiet space for groups or studying alone.” “Plus, there isn’t that tremendous mid-term impact the librarians experience on campus.”

During her first years of college, Jones tried studying at many campus locations including: the Underground, the Union, Watson Library and Anschutz Library. It was a good opportunity for me to discover what kind of learner I am, says Jones.

“In high school I loved studying at public libraries and thought I’d give campus libraries a shot too, but mostly it was full of talkative groups,” Jones said. “It was really distracting.”

Campus libraries include quiet zones, but Jones says even those areas lead to side tracking.

“The quiet zone is honestly a joke because even if you’re in it, you still have people that are disrupting you,” Jones said. “It’s like a social zone, but it’s a library.”

Although she now studies at home, the reliable Wi-Fi connection, smaller crowds and online resources provided by LPL appeal to Jones’ ideal study atmosphere.

“A productive study environment for me entails a quiet, secluded area, where I can sit down, get in the zone and get stuff done,” Jones said. “As well as being private, I need consistent Internet access because everything is online nowadays.” “I would definitely study at the Lawrence Public Library because it offers the environment that allows me to focus.”

Comparing College Student Study Habits at the University

There are countless study environments for college students to choose from. Two KU students explain the study habits they personally find the most productive and why.

TRANSCRIPT

TERRAN SMITH: From study groups at Anschutz to studying alone at home, each student has a different way of learning that is best for them. Junior in visual arts, Cassie Jones, tried studying at various campus locations, but realized that they weren’t the most constructive environment for her.

MS. CASSIE JONES: I like studying in my room because it’s private, I can close myself off from distractions. I can kind of create my own stable study environment.”

SMITH: For other students, studying at home is a recipe for procrastination. Junior in English and senior in History, Marcus Puga, finds his apartment counterproductive for focusing, and explains why he chooses to study at Anschutz library.

MR. MARCUS PUGA: It’s a different environment than my apartment. When I’m there it’s just like I’m home—can’t really study.

SMITH: Puga says along with the helpful environment of Anschutz and other campus libraries, a sense of student community also adds to his reasons for studying there.

MR. PUGA: It’s nice to be on campus and study and realize that this is what you’re going to school for.

SMITH: Every student has a different way of studying and learning effectively. Whether that be at the campus libraries or at home, Jones says it’s something that each college student must figure out on their own.

JONES: I think it’s, it’s part of finding whatever you’re comfortable with.

SMITH: This is Terran Smith reporting for Lawrence Non-Profits

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