‘All I could think was, ‘How can I have PTSD? Isn’t that just for veterans?’ One traumatic event had changed my life forever.’: Community raises over $15k for trauma survivor in need of service dog

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of sexual assault and suicide that may be triggering to some. 

“All I could think when they gave me my diagnosis was, ‘How can I have PTSD? Isn’t that just for veterans?’ One traumatic event had changed my life forever. I was always on-guard, fearful, and angry. I was a shell of a person.

I started passing out when I was just 15 years old in the summer of 1987. We thought it was a ‘fluke,’ at first. I was at cheerleader camp and my potassium was low, no big deal. But it would prove to change my life and not in a good way.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

I spent years passing out and going to doctors all over the South and no one had answers for me. Oh, they tried. They diagnosed me with anything from migraines to heart conditions, but none of their diagnoses or medicines worked.

I learned to live with it and I graduated high school and went on to college. So many times people would find me passed out in stairwells or parking lots at my university. It was debilitating, but I was determined to finish.

After college, I went on to marry my soulmate and have two beautiful daughters. They were forced to live with my condition because they not only lived with me, but loved me.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

My husband found a doctor in Houston, TX who thought he could help me. This man was amazing. He had several degrees, could speak 5 languages and was very revered in his profession. He was convinced that I was having mini seizures and he started me on seizure meds. The meds were brutal. They made me sick, tired, grumpy, and the list goes on. I kept with the meds because I thought it was going to cure me forever even though I was paying $1,200 a month for them.

In 2008, at the age of 35, my husband made the decision to take me to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL to try to get answers. They did a week long continuous EEG depriving me of sleep and food. The last day we were there, a Neuropsychiatrist visited me. She asked me if I had ever experienced trauma. I was very reluctant to tell her anything, but my husband, Tim, encouraged me to come clean. I shared that I had been raped and we figured out that the passing out started not long after. She told me that my condition was caused by the rape; that any time I saw, smelled or heard anything that caused the fear I felt from the rape, my body was going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. My body chose ‘flight’ with the passing out.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

I started intense therapy with a counselor using the EMDR method and it really seemed to help for about 3 years, but I started passing out again. I underwent a lot of therapy, experimental injections, and even ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). Some things would help for a while, then I would start passing out again.

Finally, in 2019, I found out about a trainer that could train a service dog to help me. I was so excited and I truly thought I had found the answer to my lifelong problem. We found out the cost would be $15,000 and we weren’t quite sure how we could pay this.

Then, some great friends and our wonderful community of Crossett, Arkansas made it their mission to bring home a service dog for me. So many had seen my struggles and they wanted me better. They set about raising the money through GoFundMe, raffles, bake sales, dinner auctions, etc. Not only that, many businesses and individuals made donations. It all came together and they raised well over the money needed and surprised me with a black lab named Everett.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

Everett was beautiful and sweet, but he had an enormous amount of anxiety. For someone with PTSD, more anxiety is not good. I found myself not going out because I would dread what Everett would do or how he would act. I was getting more withdrawn instead of better, so I made the hard decision to return Everett. I was devastated. I felt like a failure and I truly felt like my health would never improve. Even though there was a dog promised to replace him in 8 months after he was trained, I felt hopeless.

In the summer of 2019, my husband was sent for deployment with his claims business and I was spending a lot of time alone. We lived out in the country and I could not drive or work. I was extremely depressed and lonely. I finally thought everyone would be better off without the trouble of worrying about me. I decided to end my life.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

After a day of drinking antifreeze, I was found that night by my daughter. I was sent to the emergency room of my local hospital and then med flighted to a bigger hospital 2 1/2 hours away to receive dialysis and save my life. God wanted me to live because I not only survived, but I had no permanent damage to my kidneys.

The road to recovery was hard. I had disappointed a lot of friends and family with my suicide attempt and many people just couldn’t understand. I had to work hard toward recovery and building trust with those that loved me. I was dreading getting another service dog because I had such a bad experience with Everett. I had just resigned to a life of hardship.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

But Scuba Steve was brought to me in January of 2020 and my life has never been the same. He calmed me, he loved me, and he protected me. He was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen and he completed me. I no longer felt fear when he was by my side. He comforted me when I was alone and he was trained to use a device to alert my husband when I needed help.

Courtesy of Felicia Toler
Courtesy of Felicia Toler

It has been a year with Scuba Steve and I have only had 3 spells since having him (the least I have ever had in 34 years of my illness). Today, I am happy and content. I travel now with my husband for his business and Scuba Steve comes along. My life has been enriched by this beautiful animal and forever changed. Who knew that a service dog could change someone’s life completely? I now do. Dogs truly are man’s (and woman’s) best friend!”

[If you need help, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org to live chat with someone 24/7. Help is out there and you are not alone.]

Courtesy of Felicia Toler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Felicia Toler. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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