In the last couple of months I’ve learned more about how to live the day that follows after a rotten PTSD-wracked day. Usually, the waves generated by a bad PTSD day will try to flood the following days. Even if we find a “boat” to ride out the waves, sometimes those PTSD waves still splash over the side and soak us. Is there any hope?
It is worth keeping in mind:
Just because I got soaked does not mean I have to drown.
I am trying to be less controlled by my PTSD this year. As I babble this down on to the keyboard, we are a couple of weeks into the New Year (Already!). So far, it seems to be a tied ballgame. Some days I am dominated by PTSD, other days I manage to not be too strongly controlled or influenced by my PTSD. Yet, the day after a bad day is especially challenging. The PTSD-Identity tells me that I am now so vertically-intercoursed after yesterday’s failures that I should just throw in the towel, give-up, and quit. Quit what? Quit Everything!
What does that word “everything” mean to you?
For me, it covers a lot of ground. For me, the word “everything” in this context includes such things as my abilities, goals, physical health care, mental health care, spiritual health care, relationships, prayer, diet, employment, being there for others, acts of creativity, laughter, music, joy, and hope.
Yes, I am something of an over-achiever when I think what the term “everything” might mean for me in terms of what the PTSD-Identity seeks to suppress and then destroy. There are, I’m sure, more items to add to the list, but you get the picture.
PTSD Seeks to Destroy Joy, Hope, and Life
PTSD seeks to destroy all those things which make my life enjoyable. Ultimately, if I abandon all of these things which give me life, then I will lose hope. Ultimately, the PTSD-Identity wants to squash your hope. And, if all of your hope is ruined, then we are more likely to be overwhelmed by despair.
We can excavate a bit of PTSD’s back-trail and discover how it seeks to destroy us.
What gives you hope? What activities, thoughts, and so forth, provide you with hope?
Have you noticed that PTSD seems especially tuned to erase from your life anything which might offer meaningfulness and hope?
By causing us, tempting us through discouragement, to not engage in hope-producing activities, PTSD seeks to both passively and actively destroy our hopes. If enough of our hopes are destroyed, then it is easier for PTSD to kill us.
How does PTSD Passively and Actively Destroy Our Hopes?
Actively: If I engage in negative PTSD behaviors like alcohol abuse, watching porn, or am absorbed into other reckless behaviors, then I am diminishing my chances of life. We may not even realize that we are in the process of writing off hope and joy. But in the immediate term we are eroding away all of the protections that safeguard us from despair and premature death. They are labeled “destructive behaviors” for a reason. I mean, after all, they are not life-promoting. They certainly do not promote anyone’s dignity.
These sorts of active periods of self-destruction suck the life out of us, they hold no joy, they suck away our joy. These PTSD-behaviors strive to extinguish the exhilaration of a life lived with hope and potential. After being trapped in any of these behaviors we tend to feel hollow, less meaningful, more apt to be consumed by depression or despair. Sometimes, this sense of hollowness becomes literal when our stomach rebels and we spew whiskey and oreo cookies all over the carpet (or, if we’re lucky, into the toilet or the tub).
Nothing like the repeated onset of uncontrolled dry heaves to remind me that I am feeling extra hollow!
Granted, my experience may be limited, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks that spewing whiskey and oreo cookies, followed with the after shocks of repeated dry heaves, is a “joyful” or “hopeful” activity.
Passively: True, PTSD can take an active hand in destroying my zest for life. It can also take a passive hand, and for me, this is usually the more insidious. I’ve been surviving PTSD long enough now that I can spot and usually recover from an active PTSD moment of self-destruction.
The passive attacks by the PTSD-Identity loom around inactivity.
There are several things I need to do to thrive, experience joy, live in hope and not live in despair. The passive attacks by PTSD strive to get me to not start doing anything that promotes joy or hope or, bluntly, my survival. If something might make you happy, then PTSD is against it.
In my own case, it wants to make me not write, not play music, not pray. For me, each of those three things, writing, music, prayer, are activities which give me meaning, which give me hope. And, sometimes (okay, usually) they can give me joy.
If my physical condition in any given hour does not let me be active, well, so be it. But usually I am capable of doing something. I doubt I will ever cut a music CD or play a public concert, but most days I am strong enough to hold and strum the guitar for 15 or 20 minutes. No talent agent will knock on my door because of those 15 or 20 minutes, but those minutes give me meaning, joy, and thus, they give me hope.
Passive PTSD Promotes Wasting Time.
When I feel like crap, I have to fend off the temptation to bury myself in a video game or endless YouTube videos. I’ve nothing against video games and YouTube, but they do not need to replace my hope-producing activities. I have found that if I play no music, no writing, in a day, then I feel despondent, defeated. And, in those situations, I am more likely to be passively defeated the next day than if I had engaged in some act of creation.
If I have been able to open myself, my spirit, to writing and music, in a day, then I do not feel like a failure. I may then go on to play a video game or watch some YouTube, but interestingly, those activities do not then feel like avoidance and failure.
If I have been involved somehow in the act of creation, then computer games and YouTube videos do not manifest as ways to make the time go by. I may still play a game or watch a vid, but I do so because I actually want to, because I might enjoy it, and not because I am trying to get some hours behind me.
Not Losing the Following Days
But when I do not take part in a hopeful day, then the next day will be primed as a potentially hopeless day. Whether the PTSD has sapped my will and identity through an active means or a passive means, the next day I am more susceptible to becoming even more despondent and depressed.
If I am more despondent and depressed due to PTSD, then I am less likely to be creative.
PTSD wants to get us away from any act of creation because creativity promotes your life as meaningful and of value.
The best way to make sure I am not defeated by PTSD tomorrow and rendered more hopeless is for me to do something hopeful today.
If my body is being reasonable, then I can have a couple of hours of co-operating with Hope and Joy and life is worth living both today and tomorrow.
If my body is having a rotten time, then I have to strive for 10, or 15, or 20 minutes of actively co-operating with Hope and Joy. If I can’t do that, then maybe I can get in 5 minutes…sometimes that might just be reading a psalm, or a portion of a psalm, or just holding the guitar or some of my sheet music. If I do what I can, then I know I won’t be despondent, I may be in physical pain due to my disabilities, but I know I have actively engaged creation (as both a noun and a verb…cool…two for one!). On a day when I can do absolutely nothing physically, then I can be active by intention, knowing that Joy and Hope respect that.
The Antidote to a Rotten Yesterday
If, for some reason, I am actively or passively zapped by PTSD today, then I am more susceptible to getting zapped tomorrow. But, fortunately, there is an antidote to that.
If I can do something productive, creative, today, then I will probably have a better chance of not getting pulled down by my PTSD the next day.
The exploration of our creativity can keep us from drowning from yesterday’s PTSD dunking.
Yet, if I, for whatever reason, have a bad PTSD day, or a day of staring into space and lacking the joy to hope, I do not have to let that redefine me.
The PTSD-Identity wants to discourage me and overwrite my personality. It thinks that if I have a bad day today, then I will not even try tomorrow.
The gift we have is that we don’t have to let that particular yesterday define us.
Even if I have five, no joy, no creativity, days in a row, I don’t have to write off tomorrow.
If I can do just one thing tomorrow that is creative, then I am reclaiming some of myself back from PTSD.
We all stumble, we all fall down, sometimes we get pushed down (!). But we do not have to despair. A bad yesterday does not have to dictate a bad tomorrow.
And part of this that I find rather wonderful (but, then again, I am easily filled with wonder) is that I can claw back some of my self by engaging in something that is creative.
A long time ago, when I was wracked by PTSD worse than I am now, a guy was kind enough to take me out in the woods and teach me how to paint landscapes. I never got very good at it. These days I am not strong enough to hump all the gear out, but I still remember one of the lessons he taught me.
He told me to make “100 Starts.”
Making 100 starts means don’t worry about finishing a painting, instead, learn how to start a painting.
Whatever it is that might give us joy, writing a song, writing a poem, writing words (Yikes!), playing music, or praying, or doing some physical exercise…don’t worry about finishing some grand project, just make a start.
Make a start today. Don’t worry if anyone else would like your song, your painting, your singing, your creativity. This is for you. It is part of how we can heal and part of how we can help make sure that tomorrow does not go to the dogs (unless your taking your dog for a walk, then it’s all fine!).
Make 100 Starts. It creates life, it beats back PTSD, it can make life bearable and eventually it can make life a joy, an exercise of hope.
Even making a start at some creative act can fill us with enough hope to keep from being washed away in PTSD’s despair.
In creativity is first survival and then a flourishing.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z