Monday, February 20, 2017

PTSD and the swings

I'm up and down quite a bit.

Some days I feel great.  By great, I mean normal.  You wake up, handle the normal disappointments and joys of everyday life, eat your vegetables, tickle your kids, say your prayers and hug those you love.  I feel balanced.

Other days not so much.  I wake up off-kilter.  Showering pisses me off, breakfast annoys me, brushing teeth takes a toll on me, and putting clothes on feels like a chore, and don't even ask how I feel about prayer and reading the Bible -- and all of that is before 8am.  The day just feels lost.  I'm often tempted to just pack it in, cancel everything, lay in bed, and try to relax.  Sometimes that's exactly what I do.  Other times I fight through the malaise.

I'm finding that all of this is ok.  I feel what I feel and that is just fine.  Feelings are not good or bad, they just are.  They are reactions to some sort of stimuli, and they are the very things that help give our lives beauty and majesty and grief and suspense.

I mean, imagine watching a movie with literally zero emotion.  Talk about a bore-fest.

These ups and downs are pretty common to anyone with PTSD.  They are just a part of the process.  You can fight it, and twist yourself into flinging better.  You can tough it out, rub some dirt on it, get up and get on with your day if you like.  I've tried it, believe me.  It led me to explosions of rage at ridiculously random moments.  It led me to irritability, loneliness, and perpetual anxiety and hyper-vigilence.  I was never able to react because I was always ready to fight -- both my disorder and anyone who would mess with me.

This morning I feel great.  I know tomorrow I may not.  That is just fine.  Life will come, and I will process.  I will trust, and I will hope.  Fighting it will help no-one.

But putting down my boxing gloves to my PTSD, and opening my arms for an embrace will help.  I'm learning to feel safe in my wife's arms.  I'm learning to open myself up and be vulnerable again.  I'm learning to calm down, open my eyes to the safety around me, and laying down the sword I use to slash up my insides when things feel off-kilter.  Embrace must be my first step.  Both an inner embrace of myself -- "I'm ok, I'm safe, I'm loved, I'm a good man, I am capable of love and hope and..." -- and an outer embrace of others.

God's tender pursuit of me has led me to both of those places.  His embrace gives shape to my inner embrace, and his presence gives shape to my openness to embrace the world.

This moved me tears this morning.  I wonder if, even thought you may not have PTSD, if you could relate to this?  I wonder if you can relate to the brokenness within?  To pain and hurt?

Lightning struck,
Hit, destroyed,
Blackened, to nothingness,
Nerves, receptors, neurons,
The cells, the transmitters, the receptors
Of feelings, of life,
So that a part of me, parts
Died, were left
Blackened, ashes.

And now, quietly, softly, gently,
Persisting, steady, continuous,
Quietly, I perceive you working,
Sometimes, quietly I come upon you, working
Slowly, steady, steadily
At the things inside,
At the darkness, death, black
Destruction wrought inside
When the fire coursed, through my innards,
When the darkness passed through my veins.
So there he is, quietly, persistently, inside
Fixing the tendrils, receptors, neurons,
Nerve endings, connecting life, cells, again,
Tending and attaching receptors,
Countering gentling tending
Remaking the path of life coursing
That had once been destroyed.
Sometimes, rounding a corner, I come upon him
Quietly working,
And he is always, steadily, there.
Quietly, reconnecting.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Try an exercise today?

When I was praying this morning I felt my heart strangely warmed, and my compassion growing.  To my shame, it was for my wife, for whom I haven't been exuding tons of empathy and compassion for lately.  We've just been in a tough spot with both of us seeming to be perpetually working through the deeper aches of our souls.

When you're hurting, in any way, it's only normal to be self-centered.  I believe this is actually a good thing; after all, when you're physically injured it's probably best that you tend to your injury rather than ignoring it, otherwise though we have a more other-centered caring society it would probably be full of hemorrhaging amputees.

Anyway, I read this from Christena Cleveland in Disunity in Christ this morning,

"Several research studies show that the simple exercise of taking the perspective of an outgroup member can powerfully break down the division constructed. Perspective taking involves attempting to imagine oneself in another person's shoes, thinking from the other person's point of view, envisioning oneself in the other person's circumstances and feeling what the other person is feeling.  One study asked white students to listen to a black student describe how he, as a black man, experienced problems adjusting to college life.  The students who were asked to take the black student's perspective by 'looking at the world through his eyes and walking through the world in his shoes' expressed more empathy for the specific student and more positive attitudes toward black students in general compared to students who were not asked to take the perspective of the black student.  Other studies have shown that perspective-taking increases empathy for and positive attitudes toward a wide variety of groups, including elderly people, individuals who are HIV positive and individuals who speak English as a second language."

This struck me as common sense, yet I also realized how difficult this was to do.

So I prayed, and as I prayed I tried to picture what my wife has been going through lately.  I was sad. I was moved.  I found compassion growing.

So I did the same for my kids.  Then my friends.

Not only did I find empathy growing, but I felt full.  I wanted to give hugs.  I wanted to do nice things, and I wanted to care for these people I hold dear but often find myself too self-absorbed to think about what they've been experiencing recently.

This is a simple exercise, but I found it worthwhile.  Would you be willing to give it a shot today?  Perhaps particularly for someone you've been struggling with lately?

Monday, May 30, 2016

I love that my kids complain - And you should too

We've all been there:  Your kid is going bananas (or your husband or wife or mother or sister though it may look different).  They are MAD.  I mean, throwing themselves down, going all limp-arm, screaming so much theres spit flying mad.

They wanted that toy.  Or to play the game their way.  Or not to be told what to do.

Our daughter Leah does this super cute arms folded pouty thing.

Melissa hates that face.  I mean hates it.  I love it and think it's super cute.  Melissa hates that too:)  She loses her cool every time Leah pulls that look.  I can't remember Melissa ever saying this, but her face reads "Listen girl!  I brought you into this world and I can take you out!"

Of course, Melissa's response internally may be a little more R-rated as well, I'll let her comment on that if she likes ;)

Emotions are funny things.  They point out the truth of our internal world far more than the words we say.  You may say "I love you" or "I hate you" or "I miss you" but you always know, when you hear those words, if they really mean it.

How do you know?  You know intuitively based on their emotion.  If the words they're saying are coming from the depths of the soul, you know it.  You can see it in their emotion.

This is what makes some people good lovers and others poor.  Some people just are loving people, and their emotions adhere to that reality.  Others are not.  Now obviously, that is a ridiculously loaded blanket statement, but it's more or less true.

Kids?  Well kids are little people without emotional filters.  They just let out what they feel.  They haven't been stifled or stunted or squelched or proprietized or gotten their little minds around what are our culturally acceptable or unacceptable emotional responses.

They just let loose.  And it's awesome.  Why?

Kids are living truly and authentically out of the core of their being (this is where our emotional responses come from).  They are sincerely being themselves.

They want things.  They desire things.  They envy.  They dream.  They grow infuriated when the world is not working out the way they think it should.  They scream "that's not fair!" or "that's not right!" or even better "you suck!"

And they are truly being themselves.

Which would you rather have, honestly?  A child that is sincerely and authentically living in this world as their true self, or a child that has learned appropriate and acceptable cultural emotional responses?  In other words, would you rather have a kid that never throws tantrums, never gets angry, and is generally dead inside, or a kid that lives out their emotional life to the fullest and sincerest reality of themselves, forgetting what is acceptable?

Seriously though, which would you rather have?

Now, I'm not saying that only a tantrum throwing kid can be authentically living out their emotional world.  There is a correct way to deal with big emotions; namely, for a Christian, it is to bring those BIG emotions into both a vertical direction as a rage against God, and in a horizontal direction in a relationally safe area.  The Psalms give tons of help in walking through this.

Walter Brueggemann says of the lament Psalms that they "are refusals to settle for the way things are.  They are acts of relentless hope that believes no situation falls outside Yahweh's capacity for transformation.  No situation falls outside of Yahweh's responsibility."

How about that.  You kid is living out a relentless hope when he/she is throwing that tantrum.  The world is not working the way they think it should work.  Some correction for their incorrect picture of what the world should be may be needed, but a normal "Be quiet!" or "Calm down!" or "Stop whining!" or the myriad of other natural parental response is just not a very helpful response.

I think the way to really nurture a healthy emotional world in my kids, or friends or whoever, is not to squelch their big emotions, but to see them as a hopeful cry for the way the world could be.  These tantrums are cries of hope.  They are dreams.  Let's dream along with em.  Let's cry alongside em at the injustice of the world.

Maybe our kids can teach us a thing or two about hoping for a better world -- rather than just going along living culturally acceptable proper lives?

And ironically, Melissa's response (and our normal response) to our kids tantrums is a hopeful one as well.  "I want a world void of strife and pain and hurting and chaos.  I want just one day of peace from a screaming child!"  So, the ultimate twist is that Melissa is the relentless hope-er as well.  She wants the world to be different than it is.  Her emotional outburst shows her inner desire.

I say let's just bring all our hope and dream-fullness together to the One who could ultimately do something about it.  Rather then seeing these outbursts as problems, let's view them properly: cries of the soul for a better world.