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29 March 2011

Small steps, keep going, keep trying

The difference between now and the past is that in the past, I couldn't see out of the well. I was at the bottom, and when I looked up, there was no light. There was no ladder, no set of instructions, and not much to grab onto, to pull myself up with. (Although today, I’ve climbed out of the well and I am walking around on the surface.)

When everything is going wrong, it is easy to feel like that-- like you're at the bottom of a well, and there's no sunlight streaming down. Hopeless is a good word, but it doesn't quite apply. I'm not without hope. Not completely. If I could just get back on a human sleep schedule, just get started, just get going, I think once I was moving I would be ok. I'm through the worst of it now, feeling a little stronger, wanting things to be normal, but I have trouble seeing myself there, back in that well.
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An ideal day looks something like this: wake up, breakfast/coffee, shower, go to class, lunch, go to class, supper/home stuff, go to work/go to library. Of course, I have other things to do-- pay bills, do laundry, go grocery shopping, try to have a social life-- but mainly, an average day is supposed to involve class, studying, and getting to and from. My days lately have included so much else-- trying this, trying that, doing this or that. “Keeping track” of things-- Iraq, Afghanistan, now Libya. Politics and protests going on nearly every day. Noting how much I feel like crap. Feeling like crap-- and getting nothing done. This can’t go on like this.

Maybe it’s because I’m a little older-- it used to be that you’d watch the evening news, maybe read the paper, maybe catch hourly news on the radio. And that was that. You didn’t have thousands of sources for news and stories and articles. Maybe you’d subscribe to a monthly magazine that was about your hobbies or interests, or you’d get Newsweek or something like that. While you might discuss things with your coworkers or fellow students, once you had read or heard the day’s news, you went on and did the rest of your life.

There are people who say that college students are generally apathetic, that as a group we don’t care about what’s going on in the world. Veterans often look at college students, and say things like “They don’t care about anything that’s going on in the world!” Some may not, true, but the reality is that other than a quick check of the news once or twice a day, we’re just too damn busy to keep track of all that’s going on in the world. We have to focus on college to be successful.

Except for me, lately. I’ve been keeping track of far too much, finding more and more things that I’d like to try/do, and in general hoovering too much damn information. It’s easy to do. The web is like a fire hose of information. I’ve been taking it all in, far too often and far too much at a time. The combination of so much going on in the world, and so many ways to access it has, I think, overwhelmed me again. It’s too easy to use staying informed as a way to avoid the hard stuff. Google Reader never challenges anyone, it just gives you more to read.

It’s not that I don’t care about what’s going on in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Japan, or anywhere else (including my own state, where things are crazy right now). I want to say I’m an informed citizen, but being informed is getting in the way of my regular life. I feel as though if I could just be better in tune with everything, I could have a bigger impact, make a difference... but reading 20-30 articles a day on what’s happening does not help. It doesn't make a difference. It’s all just a distraction.

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When I was going through the divorce and all of the associated financial issues that came with it, I arrived at a simple rule for setting priorities: Food, clothing, shelter. Those three things had to be squared away before anything else, and I used that as a foundation to build on. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the rest of the world. I just needed to focus on a smaller piece of it, the immediate area where I was struggling.

I had to focus on me. What I needed, what I wanted, and the balance between. Survival.

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PTSD is something I’ll always have to live with, deal with, and overcome. I don’t believe that a person is ever “cured”-- the past will always be there, and reactions to the past will always happen to some extent. Maybe I’ll change my mind about that someday. Maybe not.

Where I am now, my past experience doesn’t always apply. The things I did to survive situations in the past simply are not appropriate to the situations I’m in now. Life seems strange, out of order, out of sync. I’m not stuck at the bottom of a well any more, but walking in the sunshine is still unfamiliar.

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I took a step today. I got up at a normal time, enough time to get up and ready and get to class. It’s the class that I fear the most, that I’m the most behind in, and I have to talk to the professor soon. I’m skittish, because I don’t know how that’s going to go. But small steps. I’m awake before noon. That’s something. It’s small, but I can build on it.

Maybe I’ll actually leave my apartment today.

“...When I got home I stayed alone, and checked behind each door..."
--Charlie Daniels, Still in Saigon

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