Late last Sunday night/early Monday morning, I forcibly met a wicked realization, "Holy crap! I have PTSD," I screamed as it all hit me. Let me explain.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined by the National Mental Health Institute as:
An anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
The symptoms of PTSD include:
Sufferers may experience frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. They may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled.
First, you need exposure to a terrifying event. As a Raider fan, where do I begin?
A little background: Thanks to excellent parenting, I have been watching football since my mother snapped me out of the womb in 1977. The first game I remember watching is the 1984 Super Bowl featuring the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers--or as any good Raider fan knows it, "The Super Bowl After The Raiders Last Super Bowl Victory." A bad break, but that's just the beginning.
Looking back, on the period of Raiders' history I have witnessed, it is blurred memories washed under endless waves of trauma.
The Marcus Allen ordeal, Bo Jackson's injury and the ensuing debacle against the Bills in the AFC Championship Game, Todd Marinovich, Joe Bugel, Art Shell, the tuck rule, and the Barret Robbins Super Bowl fiasco are just a few of the horrific incidents and moments.
Each of those events inspires their own and unique trauma. For example, I curl into the fetal position and mutter "tuck," every time the refs go under their tent of horror for a review.
As traumatic as each of these events are, none of them are the source of my most current, prolonged and frightening bout with this wretched disorder. It was, after all, in the aftermath of this past opening NFL weekend that I laid sleeplessly in bed, while coated in a cold sweat, listening to that voice in my head say over and over, "We must be the dumbest team in America." Ducking and flinching as the image of Bill Callahan bobbed up and down and floated across my mind's eye, my flashbacks grew in intensity.
I was taken to the season opener in 2003. Forced to relive it...again. The rematch of the previous years AFC Championship game. A game that saw the Raiders travel to Tennessee only to lose 25-20. While the score was close, it was apparent that the recent run of Raiders success had met it's end. The offensive line had not recovered from the loss of Robbins. Rich Gannon was sacked four times and the running game was nonexistent and more than anything, there was a dark cloud hanging over an aging team.
As the game unfolded to these grim realities, I began getting washed away in fear. I was in rabid denial of the inevitable fate that things were slipping and wouldn't be fixed. Then, like any devoted fan, I began yelling at the TV.
"Every offensive lineman should be put on waivers! Rich Gannon should punch Bill Callahan in the throat! The game has passed Al Davis by! God has forsaken me! I am going to head butt a moving vehicle! Tom Cruise is a jackass!"
So, eight years later, as these awful flashbacks and my terror subsided, my mind raced for a source for my irrational fear. Let's see, exposure to a terrifying event...check. The threat of grave physical harm...check.
Having spent some time being educated on and working with people suffering from PTSD, it became apparent that the source of my current issues were landing under the criteria of this disorder. How had I not recognized it sooner? I had suffered from this each year since that lame day.
My symptoms have grown in intensity as the Raiders have lost every season opener since then. Each year seemingly starting with hope and ending in disaster. Each year the Raiders are etched deeper and deeper into the butt of sports jokes, while becoming permanently tainted with the funk of disaster.
This year was the tipping point. I was overwhelmed with fear and paralyzing panic. The symmetry was too pronounced--the same opponent, the same setting, the same woeful offensive line. And it was not just the symmetry, my expectations had set me up for my bout with sanity.
While every year arrived with hope that things were changing, this year it seemed to go beyond hope. Change felt like a reality that had already arrived. There were no questionable free agent signings. There were no head scratching draft picks. The team jettisoned it's overweight drug addled QB/cancer.
There were signs of progress in training camp and then the team looked solid in the pre-season. There was no off-season distractions or drama. Richard Seymour even signed his franchise tag early and led everyone into camp as he emerged first from the rookie bus. This was it, I thought, a new era of Raiders football had begun.
As Week One rolled around I was confident. This was a different team, with a different attitude. I wasn't carrying expectations of playoffs, although I wasn't ruling them out, but what I was carrying was the expectations that this team would be different.
I expected to stop having to put up with my non-Raiders fan friends giving me crap, for the media to stop mentioning them as an afterthought or whipping boys and for other teams to stop looking forward to playing them. I expected a team that didn't get blown out while looking overwhelmed and unprepared. In short, I expected a team I could be proud to root for.
I felt confident that this season, the feelings of a dying franchise that surrounded the Raiders would come to an end and it was going to come to an end, right where it started--in Tennessee. At least, that was the state of my thoughts before Week One.
Then the kickoff happened and it started quickly unraveling. The Raiders gave up big plays, they looked lost and unprepared and they couldn't protect Jason Campbell. They got stupid penalties, looked unmotivated and got blown-out, 38-13.
The symmetry was unnerving. It was all happening again. The memories of seven years of failure were raining over me and I had no umbrella.
As the game ended, I got a text from one of those aforementioned friends, "I'd say something about your team, but I feel like I'd be ripping on the kid with developmental disabilities."
My reply: "I don't care about the Raiders. I don't care about you and football is stupid."
Laying in bed trying to diagnose myself, it went something like this: "Symptoms: experience frightening thoughts and memories, emotional numbness, especially with people they were once close to and sleep problems. That would be check, check and check.... Holy crap! I have PTSD. This blows."
The crazy thing is, the realization doesn't change anything. Here I am, ready to jump right back into that abusive relationship. The Raiders have promised they'll be different, I tell myself.
I have also successfully rationalized the loss. The Titans are a really good team. It was a horrible match-up for the Raiders. The Titans were primed for a big start to the season after last season's early failures. Their crowd was a huge factor on the Raiders young team, etc, etc, etc.
So, I expect things to change this weekend. I expect the Raiders to look like a new team against the St. Louis Rams and prove that the opener was just an aberration in what proves to be a season of change and improvement. I am a little more skeptical than I was, but hopeful nonetheless.
If, in the off chance, the Raiders do lose on Sunday, there will be no rationalizing, there will be no more expectations of anything except another season of fear. And to prepare for that, I have already begun looking at:
Effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder are available, and research is yielding new, improved therapies that can help most people with PTSD and other anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives.
Authors Note: PTSD is a very serious condition that affects countless people. Many of whom, don't even realize they have it. The preceding letter groupings are not intended to make light of this serious problem. They are intended to make fun of my sports affliction and silly little world. My heart goes out to anyone really suffering from PTSD.