taken ill, Rodney-Haapala returned state-side to check on him. While she was safe in the U.S., the hospital where Rodney-Haapala volunteered was hit by a suicide bomber.
When her tour was complete, Rodney-Haapala thought a brief break in Kuwait would help decompress her. She underestimated as PTSD took hold of her almost immediately when she returned home.
“It was hard to be in small spaces and in big crowds. I would get shortness of breath. It was just a feeling of…like I was dying inside,” says Rodney-Haapala. The adjustment did not affect her children as her parents offered to further care for them as Rodney-Haapala enrolled back into school. But during the summer, as her kids resumed life with her, Rodney-Haapala lived a lie.
“I put on a façade that I was ok. But I think my oldest daughter knew. My kids are understanding. They look out for me. I honestly don’t know where or who I would be without them,” reflects Rodney-Haapala.
As her symptoms progressed “Nobody in my unit said anything. They thought I was having behavior problems,” says Rodney-Haapala. “I think one of the reasons why people ignore PTSD, especially with women, is because if they don’t see it, then it’s not a problem.”
In 2005, she eventually sought help with a military psychologist. She was placed on sleep aides and anti-depressants.
“I didn’t like being on the meds. I didn’t feel any better. I just felt out of it,” says Rodney-Haapala.
As she did her own research, Rodney-Haapala had a hint about what was going on, but because of a rating system conducted by Veteran Affairs and how her therapist broke down her symptoms, it would take several years, until her birthday in May 2012, for her to be officially diagnosed.
In the midst of her anxieties, life after Iraq ushered in a second marriage and a third child for Rodney-Haapala. However, the second marriage crumbled and Rodney-Haapala pressed on with life with her three kids. Her plans to teach photojournalism have not been derailed. PTSD is just a part of her life, a norm that she manages masterfully.
“I want people to know that I’m functional. I enjoy life and my family. Despite my experiences, I look at them in a positive light. My life is more fulfilling. I’m able to be an advocate or give voice to other women veterans, especially women of color with PTSD.”
Rodney-Haapala’s “Incidents” will be exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. until May 19. To view Rodney-Haapala’s work visit her website.
Tiffany E. Browne is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @TiffanyEBrowne.