22 November 2009

Finding and managing answers

In uniform, there are always two places you can go when you need an answer.

There is your supervisor, or next person up the chain of command. And there is the regulation. Between your chain of command and the relevant manuals, there is always an order that you can follow. (Not saying it will be logical or make sense, or that you'll agree with it-- but there will always be an order.)

Out of uniform, answers are not so easy to find, and they sometimes make less sense than military orders did. Some answers are there, but you are not ready to hear them. Some answers, you do not yet know how to find. Other answers are there, but you are too busy dealing with PTSD, classes, stupid people, depression, stress, alcohol, drugs, sex, or God knows what else to look for them.

You are probably here because you are looking for answers. This blog is here because I am looking for answers, too. Chances are that the answers you seek, and the answers I seek, are very similar. So why doesn't someone just write a civilian field manual, or technical manual, or regulation with the answers in it, and save us all a lot of WTF moments?

There is such a book. You write it. It starts with an empty three ring binder. Maybe it's a binder that has some meaning to you-- one that you used in the Desert, perhaps-- or maybe it's just a binder.

You do decide what goes inside, however. The only guideline I have for you is "anything that fits on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper, that helps you get by."

I started mine when I started my 12-week cognitive therapy program at the VA hospital-- the program included a lot of worksheets and informational handouts, which I kept in a binder. During the program, and after, I kept the binder in my backpack no-matter-what. If I was having a PTSD moment, or day (or week), I could look back at the work I'd done to heal before, and use it again to bring myself back down to today.

I've started adding things-- printed copies of articles, fact sheets, and stories. Stuff about PTSD, college, stress, sleep, study habits, coping with holidays, physical health. I keep some blank paper in there as well; while I do not keep a daily diary, there are just some days when I need to write to stay sane, and I like to keep those rants to refer to later.

You could make your binder electronic-- use a laptop, keep all of your documents on a jump drive-- but I like having paper that I can write on. There are some worksheets from therapy that dealt with me avoiding things-- things that have now been accomplished. When I have successes that were once stuck points, I keep score, and I say so on those worksheets.

I still carry my binder in my pack most days. At first, I kept it hidden, and would never bring it out where other people might see it. Now, I'm okay opening it in the library when there are other people at my table, or opening it at work. People who are close to me have seen a little of what's inside, because I've shown them and explained what PTSD is about and what I do to try to cope.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what goes into your binder. Information from therapy and from doctors, yes. Your own writings, yes. From there, you are on your own-- the manual is yours to write. (There are some excellent starting points at the links to the right-- I especially find the fact sheets at ULifeline useful with school related matters, even if they don't directly deal with PTSD.)

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