Why am I doing this: Starting a Business when I have no idea what you are doing!
In 2019 I began my journey of starting a flower farm. I have zero experience in running a business, limited budgeting skills and even less experience growing flowers. Even the flowers in the landscaping around my house are listed has “hardy” because I felt they would have a better chance to survive. So, why in the world would the idea of starting a flower farm seem like the right path for me? To answer this in one word, trauma.
Most everyone has been through a stressful event their life; however, a traumatic event is marked by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death. Our response to a traumatic event varies but some may include feelings of fear, grief, and depression. Physical and behavioral responses may include nausea, dizziness, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns as well as withdrawal from daily activities.
Responses to trauma can last for weeks to months before we start to feel “normal” again. However, if the problems become worse or last longer than one month after the event, we may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
That’s me, I have PTSD.
I have had PTSD for nearly 20 years, admitted it out loud to others for about 4 years and I have been on my recovery journey for about 6.
While serving in the United States Army as a Military Police Officer, I was struck by shrapnel from an Improvised Exploding Device (IED) while serving in the Iraq war. A piece of shrapnel from the explosion struck me on the left side of the neck hitting me in the back of the head and cutting forward about 6 inches toward the front of my throat. The fact that I was looking away from the explosion at the time, saved my life.
Whatever the event; war, rape, theft, death… some of us hold onto these events forever even if we do not want to. I have actually been asked, “Can’t you just let it go?” Thanks, but no, I cannot. I want to, but it haunts me like a ghost. It is always on the forefront of my thoughts and isle triggered by daily experiences, sights, and smells.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into three broad types: re-living, avoidance, and increased arousal.
Symptoms of re-living include flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the event (me). Emotional reactions can include feeling guilty, extreme fear of harm, and numbing of emotions (me). Physical reactions can include uncontrollable shaking, chills or heart palpitations, and tension headaches.
Symptoms of avoidance include staying away from activities, places, thoughts, or feelings related to the trauma or feeling detached or estranged from others.
Symptoms of increased arousal include being overly alert or easily startled, difficulty sleeping, irritability or outbursts of anger, and lack of concentration (also me).
Other symptoms linked with PTSD include panic attacks, depression, suicidal thought and feelings, drug abuse, feelings of being estranged and isolated, and not being able to complete daily tasks. I recently learned other traumatic events that happen in your life after the original event, can cause increased symptoms or flare ups from old “wounds”.
So how does trauma lead to starting a business?
For me it was the acceptance of my PTSD and the journey of recovery that has led me down the path toward starting my own business. About 10 years after my experiences of war, I reached out to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Even with a large scar across my neck, paralysis to the side of my face and symptoms of PTSD, I was not sure I would be accepted into the WWP because I had not lost a leg or arm or was not severely wounded. WWP asked me to reflect on why I was not considering myself a wounded warrior, I was injured in war and was given a Purple Heart. Honestly, I could not really answer them at that point.
Accepting that “wounded” is interpreted by each person differently really helped me learn that my traumatic event, although war related for me, is no differently interpreted by the body as something like sexual trauma as an example.
Our bodies have a system that prepares us to fight or flee from the danger as a way of surviving. This system has kept humans alive from predators for centuries and is the same system that attempts to keep us safe today. However, when the danger becomes overwhelming, we are terrified and there is no hope of escape, the body ‘shuts down’ and freezes. A person may pass out, go limp or take their mind elsewhere…this was also me.
When the bomb exploded, I went limp and my mind went away into a Forrest Gump movie. You know the part when Jenny prays with Forrest “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly, fly far, far away” was on a loop in my mind. Over and over again. I still cannot watch the movie.
Memories from trauma are stored in the brain differently than other memories. The freeze response is not a conscious decision, it is an automatic body response over which we have no control. Again, this was super hard for me to accept. I know it is a natural response, but as a service person if fight is not your response it can bring on emotions of guilt or shame.
Sometimes living with the trauma is harder than the event itself. An event can last seconds but the recovery can last a lifetime. I have a saying, “being a soldier is easy, being a Veteran is hard”.
After the first WWP event, I attended counseling services for the first time through the Veteran Affairs Clinic. I was going through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a form of psychological treatment demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems. Numerous research studies suggest CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications.
For me, not so much.
I could not finish the program due to the physical symptoms I was experiencing, extreme anxiety, shaking and extreme emotional distress to name a few. After a session I was so overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted I was out of it for days. With a family at home and a fulltime job, it was too much so I stopped going. I felt I had failed, yet another limitation due to my PTSD.
However, what I did realize from experiences with WWP, I truly enjoyed being outside and being with other veterans. So, I sought out other organizations and other activities that connected me with veterans and the outdoors: Wounded Warriors in Action, Wounded Warrior Project, Warfighter Scuba and Warriors Never Give.
After years of recovery intentions, I have found recovery is a lifelong journey. Because additional traumatic events can also cause PTSD to flare or become worse, I cannot stop with a just few activities throughout the year. I thought very hard and for many months about what resources I have available here in South Dakota. What can I do to continue my recovery on a day-to-day basis that will help me and maybe at some point, others like me?
TADA, flower farming! I own a few acers, and specialty crops like flowers can produce on small parcels of land. As I mentioned in the beginning, there will be a bit of a learning curve, but it will allow me to be outside, give me purpose and control over my activities.
I am moving into year 2nd of my business and I have many things to learn, but I am so excited to take this journey of discovery and recovery. I hope you join me!