Can Changes to Mind & Soul Manifest as Physical Health Changes? We continue to examine a reader’s questions about the possible esoteric side of the PTSD journey. The third question was: Could these [esoteric] changes to the mind and soul take on a physical aspect of let’s say health issues?
PTSD can generate pain on three levels: Body, Mind, and Soul.
Physical Pain: PTSD sufferers tend to have more headaches, insomnia, muscle pain, and general body aches. I’ve seen some PTSD sufferers who also have fibromyalgia, which is a chronic painful condition that can be disabling in and of itself.
Mental Pain: PTSD can affect us in psychiatric or psychological terms as regards our emotions, reactions, moods, and self-medicating behaviors (drugs, alcohol, porn, infidelity). Symptoms of depression are not unknown for the PTSD sufferer.
Soul Pain: And, of course, PTSD can affect our soul. This area can also overlap with the mental pain that can come with PTSD. One may enter despair and lose hope. Issues of trust and the ability to sustain deep relationships are also challenged. One’s PTSD soul wound can also raise issues of theodicy, that is, questions of why we suffer. Depending on one’s prior spiritual formation, they may end up denying God. Issues of infidelity, porn addiction, thrill seeking, reckless sex, drugs, drinking problems, discarding relationships, and acting out as if nothing matters anymore, are all aspects of the soul wound. These symptoms may also overlap with the physical and mental pains of PTSD.
Learning and (Hopefully!) Maturing From My Own Pain Journey
At the risk of hubris: As I write this, I have had PTSD for nearly 28 years. Combined with my PTSD, I also get to enjoy chronic pain and a few other disabilities. While God did not cause my trauma, or any of my physical illnesses, or my PTSD, God welcomes my sanctification journey. In this journey I can discover what is truly important and what is merely ephemeral. If I risk it, I can seek to discover who I am in terms of core authenticity.
This sanctification journey never ends if I am doing what I am supposed to do. One can never get enough of God. Discovering and experiencing more of God reveals to us that there is still more of God’s ultimate love and goodness to explore and understand. People who think they know all there is to know about God display their naiveté or self-delusion. A couple of years of Bible study and theology courses cannot exhaust the infinity of God. They should, if properly taught, reveal the opening steps of a lifelong journey. We can never exhaust the mystery that is God.
In this journey, which can remain painful, God allows me the grace to be able to use my suffering in productive ways. That grace does not mean I will necessarily be healed of what ails me. But it does encourage me so I can become less violence addicted. It means I can grow into a compassionate person.
Choosing: Image & Likeness vs. Health & Wealth
Being a cripple in America has allowed me considerable time for introspection (it has also allowed me the opportunity to be knocked to the floor when I foolishly went to a shopping mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas).
The track record of violence, ill health, despair, and PTSD has given me a lot to pray and think about. That history has given me a lot to repent of. As a result I believe I am more compassionate now than if I had been in perfect health or financially wealthy.
I have failed to placate the Twin Gods of Secular America: Wealth and Perfect Health.
Ironically, this “failure” has allowed me the opportunity to seek the God of the wilderness, the God of people who suffer, the God made known to us both in nature and by revelation, the God of the Creation, the God of relationships, the God who made you and I in the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1).
Dancing in spite of PTSD Pain
Yet the pains don’t vanish just because I no longer worship at the altar of wealth and health. It still hurts, on several levels, but, as the saying goes…”meanwhile, I keep dancing.” And therein lies what PTSD sufferers/survivors need to notice. We can still explore and worship God regardless of our financial or health catastrophes. God does not reject us because we don’t make enough money or we can’t run (or in my case walk) the 100 meter sprint. If we risk it, we’ll discover that God loves us more than we could have ever imagined.
The journey remains a daily, sometimes hourly challenge. For many readers, you too share your own unique versions of this sanctification journey. You also know what it is to be in chronic pain, whether it is of the body, the mind, the soul, or some combination of all three. We discover that God loves us anyway.
Regardless of how crippled and in pain we may be, we can still choose to do something of value.
If I am no longer able to teach part-time, I know I still have value…and so do you.
The pain and the journey have made me a better teacher. I am still sort of able to teach part-time, although that ability continues to diminish at an alarming rate. Due to my joys and sorrows, my experiences, I can better explain theology to my students with the insights I have gained over the last 28 years. While I did not seek out these pains, they have made me a better teacher, while paradoxically limiting my physical ability to teach. I am sometimes able to give better advice or show someone their range of options because of the journey I have been on myself.
At the same time, there are quite a few things from which my pain has disqualified me. If your hands shake with tremors the way mine do, then you are probably not going to find employment as a diamond cutter, or a guitarist, or a spot on a bomb disposal team. Regretfully, I am not able to take walks in the park and enjoy nature. My poor health is not your problem – and I am not trying to whine at you (really!). I offer it to help illustrate that while there may be graces in the PTSD journey it does not suddenly turn us in to marathon runners or triathlon winners.
Those graces don’t make all of your disabilities vanish. I may be able to be of some use to people with my academic teaching, spiritual direction, and this website, but at the end of the day, I will still be in pain and dreading the nightmares that have often come to visit me.
Given our pains, we can still seek grace, discover our more authentic selves, learn and exercise compassion and forgiveness, and be at peace.
I still have a long journey to go, I need to mature more. Can I be more compassionate, more understanding, and more merciful? You bet!
Regardless of Physical Age, We Can Still Mature
I remain a little embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out that I don’t know everything. Grace, authenticity, compassion, forgiveness, and peace are aspects of divine perfection. I do not claim to have them all down; I still have a very long way to go. But I am comforted in the knowledge that I can seek to understand and embrace these virtues, become a manifestation of them, in my lifelong sanctification journey.
I know I will never exhaust these virtues, because they come from God, and God is an inexhaustible source.
Do I still suffer? Yes, I do. It always hurts and my PTSD symptoms still make me unable to be fully productive and I lose days at a time to illness. Sometimes my PTSD makes me very difficult to get along with. PTSD can cause us to anger more easily. Sometimes I am angry even as I recognize the anger as a PTSD symptom.
Click this link for more information on PTSD and Anger.
A common mistake is that people think we can be rid of all our pains: physical, mental, and spiritual. It would be nice if we could, but the real question is this:
Given that we have PTSD and the pain it causes our body, mind, and soul; can we still strive to be open to God’s grace in our lives?
Those three pains will not only damage us individually, but they also damage our relationships. PTSD hopes those pains will cause us to despair and give up on ourselves and others. If we become isolated in that way, we will eventually kill ourselves. Thus, in our pain, and in our journey, we need to always seek God. We may feel forsaken and abandoned, just as Jesus himself cried from the cross, but we know God loves us and values us.
We need to always remember that PTSD need not permanently damage our ability to love others. It need not permanently damage our lovability. We need not abandon life, love, and relationships due to PTSD. The PTSD soul wound seeks to damage our ability to trust and love, but we can heal from that soul wound. It need not isolate us forever.
In Sum: We Can Learn and Heal From Our PTSD Pains
Overall, I sought to try and answer three questions about PTSD and esoteric experience. As is usual with my thoughts and writing, I went all over the map. I inflicted more of my personal pain story on you than I usually do, but pain is something I have long experience with. Please forgive if I came across as hubristic or whiney, such was not my intention. Hopefully, I have answered the questions sufficiently to keep us all interested in the Light and Life that is God.
We can learn from our pain. We can learn from the pain of others. We don’t learn from self-inflicted pain if its purpose was to generate an esoteric experience. If received involuntarily, then pain can be something we can learn from even as we legitimately try to diminish the amount of pain we suffer.
We can learn from those who have experienced these challenges before we ourselves encountered them. Those people can be “wounded healers” who give us knowledge and hope. In their example we know that we too can just not survive our PTSD-induced pain, but we can actually thrive. They can “walk point” for us as we sort out the new dimensions of our life. Over the years, if we don’t permanently despair, we may become the wounded healer for others.
Our PTSD-induced pain is there; seek its abatement if possible. Seek Joy!
Regardless of our PTSD and pain situations, there is still joy in life and we should seek it as we are able. For example, while writing this essay over two days I purposely interrupted my writing with two different activities:
1. Prayer, and then
2. Play times with my parrot and tossing the glitz ball for my cat – it was fun.
The pain is real, no doubt about it. But there is always joy if we dare look about us: find it, create it, and embrace it!
Semper Pax, Dr. Z