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?