I could never have imagined how my life would change as a soldier in the United States Army. I had always been a driven individual who never saw a challenge too big, until 20 July, 1992. The day changed the future of my life forever. The day I was struck by lightning, for the first time.
As I was at work, a ferocious southern Georgia storm blew in. The sky was very menacing, purple and green clouds so low it felt as though you could reach out and touch them. As I stood there staring, transfixed by the colours, I saw lightning strike and hit the razor wire on a fence, and then it stuck a tree, splitting a large branch in half.
In the next moment, lightning struck me. Entering my feet, it traveled up through my body, and I remember feeling as though I were just set on fire. It tossed me through the air and on to the ground, and I felt the air whoosh out of my lungs as it exited the top of my head. I felt as if it had just blown my head off my shoulders.
In that split second of time, everything I ever knew, changed. I had to learn to read, write, walk and talk again. I was 24-years-old and felt like I was a five year old again – my brain was unable to think straight and it had trouble communicating with the rest of my body, as it didn’t feel like it belonged to me. I couldn’t remember who most of my family or friends were, and had no idea how I would ever find myself or my memories again.
But this was just the beginning of my story.
On 19 July, 1993 as I was ending the one-year mark of my first lightning strike, I was told to be a soldier, be brave and go home to watch the storm. I did as instructed – I stood on the metal threshold of our home with the French doors wide open and the storm brewing strong overhead as the rain started hitting me... and I was struck again. I was thrown about nine feet backwards into our home, and I was so in shock and frightened that this had happened to me again.
I became incredibly afraid to leave the house. This second strike set in motion a long-term battle with PTSD, depression, anxiety and fear. On top of all the emotional issues, I had so much damage to my body, which needed many surgeries to repair. My left foot was reconstructed with four-and-a-half inches of tendon removed, all of which had been stretched from the force of the lightning entering my feet, to give me use of the foot again. I had all ten of my toes amputated due to trauma of blood vessels and nerves. They did twelve surgeries on my jaw to replace and repair the bones and joints so I could have function to open my mouth and chew food again.
I have spent the past two decades trying to redefine my life after lightning. From the young woman soldier I was that day to the woman of survival, motivation and inspiration I am today, it has not been an easy road of recovery.
I am still missing so many pieces of my memory prior to the lightning strikes, but I have found ways to move myself forward in a positive way. I have never given up on trying to be me again. After relearning to write, I found it instrumental to journal my thoughts and progress. I have gone on to have two books published.
My goal has been to inspire others who may be going through recovery, surviving a trauma, or learning to redefine their true self again. My intention is teach them to never, ever give up. It takes work and perseverance to become a survivor from any aspect of trauma. I continue to do public speaking for many motivational topics because those are the survival pieces I was searching for during my recovery and was so often unable to find. I believe every tool I can share with another person suffering from a traumatic experience is worth the life of pain I have suffered.
I always tell people: “It doesn’t matter if you have a paper cut or an amputation, because one person’s pain cannot be compared to another. If the worst pain you have ever felt was a paper cut, then it may feel like an amputation to that person.”
It is the duty of a soldier to never leave another behind. I have redefined that meaning in my life and have committed to never leave another person trying to survive their life, behind. In no way has it been an easy road for me, and it may not be for you either, but the fact of knowing there are others who have survived makes the knowledge of not being alone, easier to conquer the fear of taking the first step onto your own healing journey.