The other day I was doing some research on PTSD and came across a simple video made at home by a war veteran, directed at fellow veterans who similarly struggle with this trauma-generated disorder. I was going to post it here but haven’t been able to find it again. Luckily, I found his simple, heartfelt advice to be so powerful and true (and useful to not just PTSD sufferers, but many other people) that I wrote some of it down while I was watching,
We all go through traumas, challenges, setbacks and disappointments. PTSD – Post traumatic stress disorder – characterized by extreme hyper-vigilance and nervous tension, nightmares, flashbacks and so on, is probably one of the most unpleasant things a human can experience. Not only was the person severely traumatized by something at some point in life, but they are forced to keep reliving it through their brain and nervous system, sometimes for decades or a lifetime.
I’m far from an expert in this area, however it’s easy to understand that people who suffer from this need compassion, gentleness, patience and as little additional stress as possible. Yet, this veteran gently took a hard line with this group of people whom he obviously deeply cares for. Though his words are meant for those stuck in the life-sucking vortex of PTSD, I think this advice applies to anyone who has gotten into the habit of surviving, or "just getting through" life in the face of adversity, depression, chronic stress, and so on.
Here are some of the things that he said into the camera, which I wrote down:
You get out of life what you put into it.
Are you doing the bare minimum to get by?
What are you going to do to get your life back?
It’s about living and reclaiming your life.
Here I thought I was doing research, and I realized he could be talking to me. Now I put a great deal of energy into studying health, happiness, life, self-awareness and self-actualization, etc., it’s not as if I don’t have a life or am suffering terribly at this point (thank God).
That said, there has been a seemingly endless stream of events shaking things up since mid-2008, beginning with and moving steadily through significant financial setbacks, multiple moves (including changing countries), the release of my book, personal and professional losses and betrayals, and many many more events, culminating in having to put down my best friend, my beloved dog Faro.
A few months ago for fun I went over the Holmes and Rahe Stress/Life Events Scale – my score was so high it’s a miracle I’m not just a quivering mass on the floor right now. Since I specialize in wellness and how to support yourself holistically through difficult times (e.g. maintaining solid health practices, holding on to friends and family, never losing faith, expecting to find good in the bad, asking for help etc.) I have been able to weather these storms without completely falling apart or self-destructing under the strain.
However, this veteran’s words made me realize that even though I still had managed to keep a real smile on my face through it all and find the beauty in everything I could, I had begun to face life from the viewpoint of surviving the onslaught – doing what was necessary to get by, or get through – rather than being proactively creative.
So many things had come at me so fast, one after the other, that I’d gotten into the habit of living in the space of reacting, of tirelessly making lemonade out of lemons. I often based my weekly planning around dealing with or getting past the most recent lemon that had dropped from the tree rather than realizing that I needed to deliberately and very consciously start taking my life back.
Having experienced significant depression and anxiety in the past (and thankfully – amazingly – not during this series of blows), the video veteran’s words made me remember that this is often the mindset that depressed or anxious people get into. Life becomes something to get through, whether it’s a day at work when you don’t feel like getting out of bed, or an Ativan-laced flight to Europe when you can’t stop worrying that the plane might crash (thank goodness I don’t have this problem as a plane is one of my favorite places to be in the world – if the trip is under 6 hours, that is!).
Sometimes you really do just need to survive, but as things gradually get better and you regain your strength, sometimes you need to remind yourself that you’re ok now, that the boogeyman’s gone and it’s safe to come out into the sunshine.
Even those who don’t have a diagnosable disorder but simply live a much too busy, task-packed life can find themselves focusing on getting through the work week, or through the month that lies between them and their next vacation.
How do you live your life? When you look at the week ahead, are you more concerned with just getting through it? Are you fully alive just two days of the week, rather than seven?
Or could you take back your week, and take out some of the duties that weigh you down and replace them with things you would actually look forward to?
Could you take charge of your workday and make some fundamental changes that might make your work an alive, welcome part of your life rather than something that needs to be gotten over with?
How much of your life is about proactively living – about deliberately choosing fulfilling activities, places and people and placing them strategically throughout your schedule so you feel excited about your days?
I recently read a piece in which an expert talked about becoming a "joy hunter". Instead of hiding in a foxhole waiting to react to or get through the next onslaught life sends your way, how about coming out into the light, inhaling the fresh air all around you and chasing down some joy instead? And when you do triumph over something nasty that life has sent your way, make sure you reserve a day and time to do an extended victory dance.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope I’ve helped you move closer to living a life you truly love!
I recently got sick with dengue fever, and had to be hospitalized. I already was a very anxious person, but now seeing the amount of sick people, and people suffering -as well as my own suffering-, and the possibility of dying- brought my anxiety and depression to new heights. Basically life lost any meaning I may have held on to, and I realized I would have to go through sickness and death, along with everybody else, at the end of this absurd life. On the bright side I value my family more as well as treat others even more compassionately, since we are all pretty much doomed to suffer cause we are a alive, but I have a hard time sleeping at night and finding comfort. Things are tolerable when you are healthy, but loose your health and life really gets tough.
This is a very interesting and welcome post. I haven’t been officially diagnosed with PTSD (apparently I’ll only be diagnosed with this if I’ve experience a car crash, rape or something similar), but following a deep betrayal that went back very far in my life under unusual circumstances, I recognise and identify with all the symptoms you’ve listed and three years since the shock, I can now see that I’ve reached the ‘getting by’ phase. Until I read your post, I didn’t realise just how much I’d devised strategies – some healthy/some not – for just getting through. For a long time now I’ve had a very uneasy feeling about my life and the future. I’ve found it hard to understand why I still feel so terrible since even though I didn’t want to, I decided to forgive and move on. The problem is that instead of reclaiming my life, I’ve just been marking time/going through the motions/ treading water to keep myself from drowning and I”ve become way to good at it.