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05 September 2010

Looking back, thinking about being lucky (or not)

As I've been unpacking the "non-essential" boxes of stuff, which includes anything that isn't either directly school related or directly daily living/creature comfort related, I've come across some old notebooks.  One of these notebooks contains the notes from the social anxiety group therapy I was in, about three (almost four) years ago.  It wasn't apparent to me then that PTSD was the issue; the psychologist never even brought it up-- I was there for social anxiety.

I would understand if you said "Well, what the hell, why didn't he ask about PTSD?" at this point, but hold onto that thought for a moment.  No, the year or so of weekly group meetings didn't cure everything, but they were a step in the right direction.  The process of learning how to look at things in my life that were wrong, and think about ways to change them, was just beginning for me.  The group therapy got me out of a bad situation, changed the direction of my life for the better, and overall was very worth it.  I needed to get myself out of the unhealthy relationships I was in, and away from the other people who were negatively affecting my life before I could begin to work on setting myself straight.

PTSD is, among many other things, a way of thinking, and decisions get made based on what you think your threat level is at any given moment.  If your brain has the threat level wrong, then you're making decisions based on bad intel, and the outcome from that is never good.  You have to realize that you're in that pattern before you can get steer yourself out of the whirlpool.

And then, once you're out of the whirlpool, you find yourself in the middle of the ocean and realize that you need to keep swimming.  Even if you can't see land.  Swimming is really one set of motions, repeated over and over... and my time since group therapy has often been a lot like that.   I still use the things I learned from the group, over and over again.

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Yesterday, I left my apartment in search of two things:  I needed a haircut, and I wanted to check out my new neighborhood on foot.  The reason for the haircut is obvious, but checking the neighborhood out on foot might not be so clear.  You can drive down a street a thousand times, but you don't really see everything unless you're walking.  In a car, you're not paying attention to the stores and restaurants along the way, you're trying not to hit anyone else.  So I set out to find the barber shop down the street, and go a little farther and see what I could find.

The barber shop was closed for the day, unfortunately.  But I kept going for about a mile or so, then turned around and came back.  I found a couple of interesting looking restaurants and coffee shops that I hadn't known were there, little neighborhood places that aren't a part of chains and don't advertise that much.  I found out that my local Trader Joe's was a lot closer than I realized.  I was able to look towards campus, my university, and see how immensely cool this place really is.  I had the chance to look at where I live, and what I'm surrounded by,  and I had to just stop and ask myself how I ever managed to get so lucky that I landed here.

The answer is simple:  I didn't get lucky.  Luck has nothing to do with me finding myself here.

All I've ever wanted, really, was to go to college and learn something useful and fun.  I honestly have never had a plan beyond that; I've had to do things in response to situations, such as take a job delivering pizza or work overtime, but those situations were just that-- situations.  There was a sense of climbing, never quite having what I needed, always sliding back down.

It has been the therapy that didn't work as well as the therapy that did work, it has been trying again (and again), doing the homework from therapy that was the hardest again (and again).  Maybe people who never have to deal with PTSD are lucky, or maybe they get lucky, I don't know.  For me it's been the failures as well as the successes, and often just the will to keep going, that's gotten me here.

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There are no victory parades, really.  I have no scientific data to back this up, but I don't believe there is a point where a person's PTSD is "cured".  I honestly think it's self-defeating to look for a cure.  We want to walk into the VA, tell them something's wrong, and someday walk back out and everything is now fine again, the same as if we'd sprained our ankle playing softball, and PTSD just isn't like that.  It's a daily battle, a daily process, a one step in front of the other kind of journey, and I don't see an end to the march.  That's not to say that the march won't get to be more fun as you get farther down the road; it does get better.

But you can't just walk through a door and you're done.

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