GREENFIELD — As he prepared to offer a prayer for the military during Thursday’s National Day of Prayer service, Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin announced to the crowd gathered outside the county courthouse that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Griffin, wearing a T-shirt with the phrase, “PTSD: Not all wounds are visible,” told the dozens of people in attendance he wanted to be the face of an illness that often evokes fear and misunderstanding.
Prayers for the military usually focus on those who are deployed, said Griffin, a U.S. Army Reservist. He asked that those gathered also keep in their thoughts members of the service who have returned but continue to suffer from their experiences.
Griffin said violent acts committed by some PTSD-sufferers have led the public to believe everyone with the disorder is a threat. It’s a stereotype he said he hopes to break.
“… PTSD is sort of becoming the pitbull of the military veteran community,” he said. “I’ve had a growing sense over time that there need to be more public faces that say, ‘I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I am functioning well.’”
Matt Wickham, associate pastor at Brandywine Community Church, asked Griffin to say a military prayer the day before the service after the planned speaker had a family emergency.
Wickham commended Griffin for sharing his own struggle.
“I think his personal vulnerability there really made it personal and poignant,” he said. “I thought it was a brave thing for him to do and a wonderful thing to pray for.”
Griffin did not share details of his diagnosis with the crowd but told the Daily Reporter later Thursday his PTSD relates to a parachuting accident during a training exercise in 2007.
Griffin leaped from the plane without a problem, but the jumper who followed him jumped too quickly and ran into his parachute, which caused it to start to collapse, Griffin said.
As Griffin worked to maneuver himself out from under the other jumper, his parachute began to swing wildly back and forth.
“I went from one life-threatening condition to the next,” he said. “I had come close to fixing the oscillation when I hit the ground.”
Griffin did not break any bones but was ordered to undergo physical therapy and said his back pain has persisted since the accident.
But it was the overall experience – not the landing – that he said scarred him emotionally.
He was also affected by the experiences of his comrades, one of whom suffered a fracture after a rough landing the morning before Griffin’s own accident.
“It was really a few hours of continuous worry and anxiety and a period of about two minutes of severe anxiety and very convincing belief that I was going to die,” Griffin said.
Griffin said he was diagnosed in 2007 with anxiety but didn’t receive a PTSD diagnosis until years later.
Griffin was deployed to serve at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2012, and he said his contact with the alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, who are detained there, triggered his feelings of anxiety.
“When I would talk to them, I had this unavoidable image that would come to my mind of people jumping from the towers on 9/11,” Griffin said. “(The psychiatrist) said, ‘You’ve drawn a subconscious connection between your anxiety relating to your jumping accident and those who died jumping on 9/11.’ ”
Griffin, who is running for re-election in the primary on Tuesday, also reminded the crowd that Election Day is just around the corner.
Afterward, he said he did so not to draw attention to his candidacy. If anything, he said, his revelation Thursday could hurt his campaign efforts.
“I just acknowledged that those who have prejudices against (people with PTSD) might not want to vote for me now,” he said.
Griffin said he went forward anyway because he had prayed about his presentation and felt led to share his story.
“I spoke about it with the intention that I’m not making a statement desiring to draw attention to myself,” he said. “I’m trying to draw attention to the illness.”
His opponent in Tuesday’s election, Brent Eaton, did not attend Thursday’s ceremony but expressed concern for Griffin after hearing of his diagnosis.
“My family wishes him peace and prayers and hope and strength in successfully dealing with this,” he said.
Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Retta Livengood said she was taken aback by Griffin’s story and admired his honesty.
“It was a total surprise,” she said. “When you’re a public person as he is, to share that piece of your own self is very brave to do.”
WHAT IS PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered after a person experiences a traumatic event. It has most commonly associated with combat exposure, but it also has been linked with child sexual or physical abuse; sexual or physical assault; accidents; and other life-changing, emotional events.
Four factors usually are present in people who suffer from PTSD: Reliving the traumatic event; avoiding situations that evoke memories of the event; negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and something called “hyperarousal.” Symptoms of this condition include being jittery or always being on the lookout for danger.
Experts recommend therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. Certain medications used to treat depression also have been shown to improve the condition.
Source: National Center