The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Getting the sense knocked into me

Photography major Diana Martinez practices “Phototherapy” at the Capitol Parking Garage in Sacramento “I’m a visual Storyteller. I capture life as it unfolds through the lens of my camera. One shot at a time.” said, Martinez. (Diana Martinez [email protected])

Has anyone ever suggested: “You need some sense knocked into your head?” Apparently some of us do need it. For me, a blow to the head was tragic, but it also led to a new beginning.

The traumatic experiences in my life have impacted, shaped and molded who I am. I strongly advocate for mental health because, without it, I would not be here today. Photography has become phototherapy. When I’m holding a camera to my face, everywhere I look, I see a story. It’s my niche.


Eight years ago, at the end of a rainy and dreary day in Washington, D.C., I walked out of the Cannon House Building, from a reception with Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-CA, 14th District, San Mateo. As I descended the slick stairs, I slipped and fell down six marble steps that did nothing to cushion my fall.

Late U.S. Rep. John Lewis had witnessed my accident and called for help. When I regained consciousness, I was sitting face to face with a very large gun strapped across the chest of a federal police officer. He was trying to talk to me, but nothing made sense. Three men in black suits carrying backpacks rushed to my aid. My head throbbed and was swelling by the minute.

The men in black were Secret- Service doctors coming to my rescue. They rushed me into an unmarked ambulance and waited for a city ambulance to transport me to George Washington University Medical Center. While waiting, I recall thinking how good-looking they were. I noticed the pin on the lapel of one of the men and reached for it. I was so determined to grab it, he laughed. That’s my clearest memory of the event.

Air force veteran Diana Martinez surrounded by Secret-service Physicians, assessing her condition on the steps of The Cannon House Building in Washington DC. (Diana Martinez [email protected])
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When I arrived at the hospital, emergency staff surrounded me, cutting off my clothes, surveying my body and poking me with needles. My left-frontal lobe had received most of the impact of my full body weight. It was described as a shearing injury, similar to shaken baby syndrome.

Two days, later I realized I was all alone — everyone I’d traveled to D.C. with from San Francisco, had gone home. My belongings disappeared from the hotel. I was released from the hospital five days after the accident. I was alone, without money or the clothes the EMTs had cut them off of me. A kind and concerned lady gave me $20 and a new sweat-suit for my trip home. Additionally, I did not have any balance from the impact to my head. I could not stand or walk far without support. I couldn’t afford a skycab, so instead I walked through the airport pushing a luggage cart without any belongings.

The organizer of the group I was with had managed to get my flight rearranged. Upon check-in, I made it clear that I can not tolerate aisle seats because of my PTSD symptoms. However, the flight was fully booked. I had to sit on the aisle.

From the moment I stepped on the plane, I had a bad feeling. I sat down next to an older woman eating a salad that smelled awful. I did not handle it very well. I was agitated and vulnerable, which led to me jabbing and kicking the lady whom I later discovered was a physician. As a result, I was placed in the rear of the plane with a bruised face, swollen like a basketball.

The plane stopped in Denver, Colorado, where I transferred to a connecting flight. When I disembarked, Denver Police were waiting at the door. I was taken to a deserted waiting area to speak with F.B.I agents who questioned me about the incident during the flight. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that my head injury needed to be re-evaluated based on my behavior. I was soon transported via ambulance to Denver General Hospital (DGH).

When I was discharged, I sat in the DGH Emergency waiting room for several hours. I didn’t have money for transportation, I had no belongings and was unsure how I was going to get home. If that wasn’t bad enough, the airline didn’t allow me to board their airplane from Denver home. As a result, I waited even longer.

Shortly after I got home, I realized the way my husband and I communicated was unhealthy. My words were those of an abused woman, and I was done. Twenty-four years of a toxic, dysfunctional marriage is no way to live. I knew there would be a way out very soon. The accident and resulting TBI was it. The accident literally knocked sense into my head and gave me the ability to see the world with a whole new clarity.

It was a 20-hour trip home, fresh out of the hospital with a traumatic brain injury. I prevailed and finally made it home, but I was not prepared to face the reality of my new life. I looked the same on the outside, but utter chaos rampaged through my brain. That became my new normal.


I’ve navigated life with mental health challenges since I was 17 years old. I was very naive when I enlisted in the Air force, where I trained as an aircraft mechanic. I loved it and hated it at the same time. I experienced traumatic events in the military that have caused hypervigilance, severe anxiety and irrational behavior. I’m a survivor of the Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Still, I do not regret my military experience.

I have chosen to use my experiences to advocate and raise the voices of others. That was the reason for my trip to Washington, D.C.—to lobby Congress and garner support for Congresswoman Speier’s bill to restructure the reporting system for MST assault. I believe that advocating for mental health is not only essential for survival, but to allow those who struggle with mental health issues to thrive so they can truly heal and have a life worth living.

Once I was back in Sacramento, I found a new freedom and desire to start over. I decided that I would take a different path, armed with the wisdom I’d gained from the mistakes of my past. A week later, I packed up my belongings and left my husband and my home for good. I chose to brave the unknown—still recovering from my fall with a walker in tow.

I landed in a halfway house for veterans in Richmond, California, a high-crime area frequented by vagrants. Drug dealers hung out across the street. I lasted about a month while I waited for another bed to open at a veterans shelter on Treasure Island. Basically homeless, I was very happy scooting my walker around San Francisco. Three months later, I was in my own place near my daughter in Fairfield, Ca.

It took time, but my parents embraced my mental health hygiene. Despite all my challenges, I didn’t give up. After six months of physical therapy, I no longer required a walker.

When I turned 56 years old, I decided it was time to experience the world in a new way. I told myself to get off the couch and put down the remote control. After all, how many times can a person watch reruns of Dr. Phil?

The Veteran’s Administration’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program provided me with the opportunity to get an education. I decided, “What better way to recapture youth than to go to school with young people?” I gathered my courage and made a big leap of faith. I was committed to rise above, tackle the barriers along the way and define my life’s purpose.

Airman Diana Martinez in the cockpit of a T-38 “Talon” jet during aircraft mechanic training at Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul IL. “Despite the negative experiences in the The Air force, it was the greatest choice I’ve ever made. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I love my country. I’m a Patriot to the core,” said Martinez. (Diana Martinez [email protected])

I enrolled at City College in 2017, where I’m now a photography major. City College’s Veterans Resource Center has been instrumental in helping me navigate through higher education. I owe a debt of gratitude to Jake Hughin, Veterans Resource rep, for his support. Jake shows endless dedication and commitment to make the VRC a safe place for veterans who deal with similar issues, helping to provide access to resources and supportive services. Most importantly, it was a soft place to land with like-minded people.

I would have given-up on education without Counselor Kia Davis, who works at the disabled services program for students (DSPS) or Tamera Knox and the photography department tutors. They have helped me face my challenges head-on. However, word and photo advisers at The Express, Jan Haag and Randy Allen have made a monumental impact in my educational career. The accommodations provided by these allies have given me essential tools for my success as a student.

The ninth anniversary of my injury is May 13, 2013. I reflect back on the eight years that have passed and realize it’s like the motto to a news show, “We don’t make it up; we live it.” In my case, I capture it now in photographs because I’m a storyteller, and it took getting the sense knocked into me to figure it out.

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    Chip WhatleyJul 12, 2021 at 7:33 pm

    Peace and much love my friend. You’re an inspiration. Bless you.