The other day I had a successful, productive day: I worked for about 25 minutes. They were good minutes, each one, well employed. In my past, working for “only” 25 minutes would be an embarrassment. These days, I can honestly ask and assess if I’ve been true to myself and to my abilities.
Some days I have to admit that I had not been true to myself. When that happens I have to be double careful:
Carefulness #1 is to not allow myself to become immersed in self-guilt and abandon any future hope of authenticity and the continual discovery of meaning.
Carefulness #2 is that I must risk the spiritual maturity to know that my previous flaws and failures need not define my future. My PTSD, limitations, or disabilities are not material for moral judgment of success or failure.
In Short: I must allow God’s grace to continue to heal and inspire me. Regardless, if the lack of productivity was due to either my failure or my limitations, God’s grace heals my soul no matter how it got wounded.
PTSD wants me to forget about God, deny I have a soul, and only measures “success” in terms of quantity and dollars. PTSD wants me to deny that “success” truly lies in healthy relationships, love, and creativity.
As my physical issues continue to limit me ever further, God’s grace reminds me that I still have value. It would be nice to be able to put in the long hours that add up to the productivity model that American culture demands. I sometimes am snared by the traps that PTSD and the management-obssessed set for us. PTSD wants numbers, metrics, data. By those measures I am labeled a failure, a waste of time, resources, and space. They try to count me as a failure.
An authentic life, however only needs God, love, healthy relationships, and creativity. Those are the elements of a lifetime plan that matters.
PTSD would have me brand myself as a failure because some days I only have 25 good minutes to work with. On really great days I get a couple of hours of “productivity.” That time is usually consumed in teaching my current crop of undergraduates or trying to help people understand they always have value and to not give up.
If I start to feel “unworthy” or “worthless” because I have not done as much as my education and training suggests that I should do, it is usually PTSD trying to pull me down and dance on my face.
The real question for me revolves around this: Am I risking authenticity and discovery in my prayers, actions, sacrifices, and anxieties of my day? Given that I am a PTSD survivor and am also increasingly physically limited do I dwell on my lost mental, physical, and spiritual abilities in ways that further harm me, in ways that allow PTSD to dig into my soul? Or, do I explore my possibilities? Do I seek the positive, life-giving opportunities still available to me?
Many of those life-giving opportunities orbit around one of the gifts our Creator blessed us with: Creativity. In Art, is Life.
We can find meaning and expression of our PTSD journey through creative acts. For several years, before I could verbally articulate anything about PTSD, I drew pictures, did a little painting. It was work to learn how to draw, but it was a journey worth making. It gave me a purpose when the common culture and PTSD said I had no worth. Many of those drawings saved me, they kept me alive.
Time after time, the act of creating art served as a vehicle of grace.
This grace kept me alive. It allowed me to explore my pain and loss in ways that did not require words. In the time I was actively drawing I was not a Rembrandt, but the drawings were not rendered in order to make a living, they were drawn to keep me alive.
The drawings were a form of dialysis for my soul.
It did not matter if they were “good” or not, they kept me alive in a difficult time when few of us, myself included, knew that PTSD can corrode our souls and ruin our relationships.
Finding some window of creativity in a day is important.
Whether it is music, poetry, writing, or taking a walk where we are open to the splendor of the Creation: in Art is Life.
In the past few months I have had some days that gifted me with a few hours of ability, and there have been days when half an hour felt like a gift, and a few days where nothing “productive” happened at all. I should qualify that last clause: There was nothing any outside observer or the management-obsessed person would have seen as productive. But even days where I produced nothing, I was still allowed some grace to know that all life has value, that God does indeed love us.
Each new day can be an exploration of grace if I allow myself to feel its presence.
You have value. PTSD and the management-obsessed will try to tell you otherwise, but they don’t love you. God does.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z