Story and photos by Jen Baird
Nine years ago, life was pretty normal for Randy Riddle, who grew up in Vandercook Lake. He had an ideal life with his wife, Jennifer, three kids Bailey, Abagail, Erin and baby Courtney on the way.
That all changed on Aug. 16, 2008, when Randy and his son Bailey who was 8-years-old at the time, were in a serious accident when a motorcycle they were riding on was hit by a Ford F-150. The accident left both Randy and Bailey in serious condition.
Riddle doesn’t like to talk about the accident, but he does share how the traumatic brain injury and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are having lasting side effects.
“About two months after Bailey was released from the hospital was when I first started noticing PTSD symptoms,” he said. Riddle didn’t know what was going on — he just knew that he wasn’t the same as before the accident.
“I started being more watchful, more vigilant and more protective,” He says. Riddle also began to notice that he was developing symptoms of agoraphobia, which is a fear of places and situations that might cause panic, helplessness and embarrassment, which caused him to not want to leave his home.
Riddle has not even been able to work as a result as the symptoms have grown more and more consuming.
As one might imagine, living with these issues hasn’t been easy, and has changed the dynamics of his family.
Most people associate PTSD with men and women in the armed forces, but it can be caused by any traumatic event in a person’s life. Riddle began treatment for PTSD and agoraphobia at the University of Michigan. “Initially, that’s where we were hospitalized, so that’s where I went for therapy,” he said. U of M is a teaching hospital, so making progress in his therapy was hard for Riddle. “I’d begin to see one doctor and would get used to him, get started on a cocktail of medicine and the next thing I knew, he’d be gone. He had to go on to a new job because [the doctor’s] schooling was done.”
Over the years, Riddle has continued to struggle. “It’s like my brain is a padded room and there is a rubber ball that is constantly bouncing around and it never stops. With the PTSD, it’s an emotional overload. I’m over-vigilant, and super-protective. So it’s like my senses are on overdrive.”
People with PTSD have extreme difficulty relaxing, so life can be exhausting. “It’s a need to protect my family, and knowing that I’m not able to do that,” he says.
“Even taking a shower is stressful. I can’t see outside the curtain, the door is closed, and by the time I’m done with my shower, my nerves are so wound up, I’m shaking and sweating like I never even got in the shower to begin with,” said Riddle when giving an example of how he’s always on edge.
“It just became overwhelming, mentally and physically. Especially the things I was putting my family through.”
Riddle said that on the darkest day of his life, he just wanted it to all be done. “That dark day, I think it also became the brightest day of my life because I was about done with everything.” But at that moment, in the freezing cold weather while he was out hunting, “The sun broke through the clouds and the warmest breeze came along, and I just broke down.” He knew that he needed to change everything. He says that was his start back to a stronger faith in God.
“I never forgot or lost my belief. I questioned ‘Why did this happen,’ but I never lost my belief,” he said. “I found a local church that I’m now active in. Tuesdays and Sundays are my days at church, and those are my best days.”
With his new outlook on life, Randy wanted to find something to help with the depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. This led him to search for a service dog to help, led him to a non-profit organization in Williston, Florida, and called Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs. The organization provides service dogs to assist people with various disorders including PTSD, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, and mobility issues.
“No recipient is charged for their dog, which cost $22,000,” says Riddle. However there are expenses associated in getting there, and for room and board as well as providing insurance on the dog as well as the vet care.
“I just don’t want the cost to be a burden on my family,” he said. To offset the cost, Riddle and his family are doing fundraising.
When discussing the importance of service dogs to people with disabilities, Riddle says its life changing. “It provides a sense of security,” he said. Riddle hopes that in receiving a dog he will be calmer and less stressed.
“I don’t know how these dogs do it, but they just get it. They know exactly what you need and when you need it. They can wake you up before a nightmare begins. They just know.”
Riddle said he is also hopeful for a newfound closeness with his wife and family. “It will be nice to be able to take my wife out on a date and not rush back home because of anxiety.” He is also hoping that with the aid of a service dog, he will be able to go out in public, continue to coach and be active in the community without needing medication to calm his nerves.
He’s ready for a new life. “I will never be normal again. But I’m ready for a new normal.”
Part of the program with Guardian Angels is the recipient must somehow give back by helping raise awareness of the organization. Riddle states that he is excited about getting the call to go and meet his dog. “When I get better with the help of my dog, I want to go to schools and do speeches on PTSD awareness.”
He also dreams of starting an organization for PTSD to help people deal with “the unseen wounds.”
If you would like to help Riddle in his fundraising quest, stop by the Exponent and purchase a PTSD awareness band.