Saturday, November 22, 2008

PTSD Testimony

Yesterday a retired marine officer told me that my 25 year struggle with PTSD and my work with it now qualifies me “as an honorary Marine because,” he said, “you adapt, improvise and overcome”, which is the Marine mentality, too. I can’t tell you how, well… Honored that made me feel. The work we all do is hard and can feel so isolating, but we are all, civilian and military alike, facing the same struggle, feeling the same symptoms, wanting the same relief. I salute all of us struggling to improve. Every small victory is one in the overall battle. Fight on!

Which reminds me…. Have you decided to pursue joy? Have you been considering it, just a little? At least tell me I’ve got you thinking.

If you’re still not sure you can trust me, how about testimonial from someone else? J. is also a vet and someone who has made great progress in his own healing partly by following something that brings him joy: magic.

J.’s Desert Storm tour of land duty ruined his feet so that he can no longer bear weight on them for any extensive period of time. After 6 years and 11 surgeries he is disabled and PTSD, and yet: defining a new life for himself. He has used the pursuit of his joy of magic to progress his PTSD healing. I’ll let him tell you in his own words:

I was a magician and asked to make a trip to two VA hospitals to do magic for the veterans. It was more or less close-up magic and going from room to room. I thought the idea was great and I can do comedy like you would not believe. The first hospital we went to we visited a hospice unit, spinal cord unit, and a unit for veterans that were ill and too old to be at home because they did not have anyone to take care of them. That was one of the biggest emotional roller coaster rides of my life. I noticed when we went room to room that the folks were enjoying the bed to bed magic and laughing. That was like a major turn on for me. I left the hospital that day feeling better than I ever did. Since I was in the middle of all these surgeries at the time, my comrades pushed me around in a wheelchair. I was not allowed to place any weight on my feet.

The next step was to go to a hospital where I knew was going to be a lot different as we were going to visit the warriors that lost legs and arms. For me it was both educational and once again, the magic proved to make these folks laugh. I was doing very blue humor and some great close up magic and these folks were eating it all up. As selfish as it sounded, the magical entertainment was as therapeutic for our warriors as it was for me and I was getting a real boost.

Inspirational, no?

One of the major impacts of the pursuit of joy is the fact of its ability to distract us from our PTSD demons. It's not enough just to be busy. We're all busy with work, family, friends, etc., but it doesn’t always do any good. Sometimes the stress of being busy can complicate things further. For myself, I was on a crash course of busyness for a long time, thinking that if I kept running I could leave the demons in the dust. Let's just say, that didn't work so well. Demons are faster than the speed of light. And they're tireless, so while I crashed and burned each time and then sank deeper into PTSD, they shook with hysterical laughter that I actually thought I could escape them.

Stop running. We cannot escape PTSD through a score of medications and destructive behaviors. We can escape it by transcending it; that begins by finding another focus for our minds. It begins with turning our attention toward the present and the future in a positive, self-supportive, joyful way. It means engaging with the untraumatized self. That self can be brought back to the forefront of who we are. It lurks there, in the shadows of fear and it is up to us to coax it back out into the light. Joy can do that. Joy is like offering a kid a lollipop – the eyes light up, the mouth waters, there’s an uncontrollable energy that bounces in the body.

Do something that reminds you who you were before the trauma occurred. The pure you. The unafraid, inexperienced, uncynical you who looked at the world as if it were good and held tremendous possibility. Can’t think of anything? No problem. I can't remember much of my pre-trauma self or my life before either. In that case, it's time to construct the new you. Do something that brings you joy – pure, unmitigated, face-stretching smiling joy. Walk toward that other self you know can - you want - to be.

Move toward the experience of that ascent of the spirit, even if it’s just for a second. What will you do? What makes you feel giddy and indestructible? Take a (small) step toward that. Act on it. Begin NOW.

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