This has been an extremly trying week for me. No, make that ten days. The storms that buried many parts of this country in ice and snow have been very challenging, yes, but my responses to them have been even more of an issue. I’ve been “going off” on people around me and being a raging terror to the people closest to me, and I feel even worse than I would if my life were just complicated.
I’ve been shut down, unable to communicate, unable to ask for help, unable to logically parse through the events around me and come up with common-sense responses to events around me. I’ve had an incredibly short temper, I find myself flying off the handle over every little thing, I haven’t been sleeping, and I haven’t been able to think past the next half hour. All this, over lots of ice and snow and the power going out.
I know that I live in an area where I am safe. I know I have a job that will pay for all these expenses. I know I have friends and family who can come to my assistance. But my body is telling me I’m in mortal danger, and I’ve been alternately freaking out with the stress, on and off, for the past week and a half. My PTSD has blown my responses way out of proportion, and it is taking a toll on my self-esteem and my ability to cope. It’s also worrying, that I should have so much trouble with such simple, basic stuff, and it makes me fear for my life, should something really bad and really serious happen. It’s worrying.
Now, I’m very grateful, that the past week or so hasn’t been a truly life-threatening situation. My mind knows it hasn’t. But to my body, it sure feels that way. And I’ve been managing a level of panic that hasn’t taken over me for quite some time. That rising, falling, ebbing, flowing sense of impending doom that sends my adrenaline pumping and slowly fries my ability to think clearly, has been a constant companion for the past 10 days, and that doesn’t make me happy. It makes me jumpy and frazzled. It makes me way beyond irritable — it makes me extremely volatile and it makes my temper outbursts frighteningly violent.
And my diminished ability to cope with even the most basic demands (like carrying an armload of firewood in from the wood pile) without melting down, makes me feel like a wuss and a coward and a pansy-ass. It makes me feel incompetent, deficient, a loser. I feel like such a simpleton, when I end up spinning my wheels and unable to think through a logical progression of steps, during such a simple thing as the power going out. It just makes the more complex tasks (like having to relocate and keep my life on track) that much harder. It makes me feel like a total loser, to be churning and churning and not able to deal with the simplest of tasks, like shutting down the pump and furnace in the proper order… draining pipes and keeping up with my tasks at work and keeping current on paying my bills. It makes me feel like a freak, that I can’t keep my head on straight and just work my way through things.
I wish my mind were clearer — ten years ago, it would have been — even five years ago, I’m certain that I could have just dealt with all this in good form. But that fall down the stairs in 2004when I hit the back of my head, had such an effect on me. I can see it now in living color. Where I was once able to really embrace this kind of situation, roll with it, cowboy up and ride into battle with all flags flying, now I find myself cowering in a corner, struggling to sort through the different pieces of information I have, unable to prioritize, unable to think things through in an orderly manner, unable to discern the relative importance of different events… getting more and more panicked all the time.
Should I turn off the water again? Should I drain the pipes? Should I turn the heat up? Should I call my relatives? Should I worry about the health and safety of the older animals we have? Should I be this worried? Should I…? It’s maddening, but I can’t seem to make head or tail of things, at times. And that drives me nuts. All the while that my brain is trying to sort through things, my panic level is rising. I can’t seem to put my reactions in perspective, can’t seem to distance myself from what I’m feeling, can’t seem to hold back the waves of anxiety and fear that rush through me without warning.
If anything, the intense responses that I’ve had to the power outages and the disruption to my daily schedule have served to make me feel even worse than I “should” feel — I know I am not exactly in mortal danger, I intellectually know that I probably will get through this all in one piece, and I am well aware of how lucky I am to have the resources and community support that I have — but there is a part of me that gets so freaked out and starts to flail… while my mind sits back and says WTF — what is your problem? What are you, some kind of retard? What’s gotten into you? You can handle this? Why are you being such a friggin’ loser?
I have spent a whole lot of time beating myself up over this… feeling stupid, feeling ignorant, feeling incompetent. I can’t seem to care for my household. I can’t seem to keep up with the most basic elements of providing for and protecting my own family. I can’t even keep my own shit together, let alone care for the ones I love. It’s so fucking debilitating, sitting and watching myself lose it over stupid shit that didn’t used to bother me. And I wonder if I’ll ever be the person I once was… if I’ll ever be fully functional… or if this brain of mine, this spirit of mine, is so damaged beyond repair, that I’ll live out the rest of my born days as a shadow of the person I once was.
And I understand all too well, why soldiers back from Iraq or Afghanistan, who are dealing with the after-effects of TBI and PTSD end up killing themselves. I totally get it. Your brain isn’t working the way you need it to — you can’t even tell that it’s not, half the time. All you know is, things are not clicking right, and you start to panic. The adrenaline gets pumping, the cortisol gets flowing, the body kicks into high gear, trying to respond to a perceived threat that the brain can’t quite comprehend… and the biochemical onslaught slowly but surely erodes your capacity to deal… to think… to manage your own emotions…
Time after time it happens… the downward spiral, the fear, the anxiety, the feelings of hopelessness and the inability to parse out just what is happening in your life, to your life, to your body and mind and spirit. And with each successive onslaught of biochemical assault, you become a little less capable of dealing effectively with the world around you. You get a shorter fuse. You get a faster, more sensitive hair-trigger. You explode more violently. You freak out more embarrassingly. You just can’t deal… you just can’t deal… and you don’t know why.
All you know is, this downward spiral doesn’t seem to have an end.
You’re totally screwed.
The thing is, it’s not necessarily true. It feels that way. It may even seem that way. But I have to remember, in my own case, when things are at their worst, it’s often because my brain is not telling me the truth. In fact, knowing that my brain is broken, can be the best defense against doing something rash that would devastate my family and friends. Killing myself is NOT the answer. For me or for the ones I love. I frankly could never do that to the people around me — it would be too awful for them. I have a hard time, sometimes, believing that anyone could care enough about me to miss me when I’m gone, but when I think about the stigma and humiliation that my suicide would cause my family… well, from that standpoint alone, I have to stop the thoughts of ending my life.
Seriously, I have been on the brink so many times in my life, but it never seemed like it was fucking worth it, to kill myself. First, I might not succeed, and then I might end up either horribly disfigured and/or incapacitated and even more of a burden to my family and friends. Or I would find out, after killing myself, that I was stuck for eternity in purgatory. Or hell. And I’d be unable to redeem myself from the other side. Death is so final. So irreversible. At least, while I’m alive, I’m able to take action to make amends. Or I can at least have a chance STOP the behavior that’s getting me into trouble, and I can look to someone who knows better than I, what should be done. And then take order from them.
If you’ve had a TBI and you’re dealing with PTSD, believe me, I can relate to what you’re going through. I may not have been on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq, but I know very well what it’s like to have your body sending you messages of HIGH ALERT, driving you to do and say extreme things that frighten and alienate and harm others… when your mind is either too confused to understand what’s going on, or it thinks things are okay and can’t figure out why you’re constantly on edge. I know very well what it’s like to have no fucking excuse for being so screwed up, and be convinced that there’s something deeply wrong with you, tho’ you’d never tell anyone else you feel that way. I know what it’s like to have no excuse at all for your shitting attitude, your bad behavior, your defiance, your violence, your uncontrollable outbursts, your desperation, your depression… but still have it all piling up, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after fucking month.
I’ve been there, too. I am there, too.
And trust me, killing yourself is NOT the answer. Not for you, not for anyone. Not for your friends, your family, your buddies, your colleages, your brothers in arms, your commanders, your dependents, your employer… not for anyone. So long as you’re alive, there’s always a chance of redemption. There always is. I don’t care what anyone says. The world is a big place and there’s lots of room for improvement all across the board. And life never ceases to surprise. You may — and probably will — suprise yourself, in fact. It’s impossible for life to do anything BUT surprise us. After all, we’re not perfect, we’re not all-knowing. We’re not God. And we don’t have the right to play God… especially when it comes to our lives.
Believe it or not, you were brought into this world for a reason. A very special, important reason. Maybe that reason is actually going through everything you’ve been through and showing the world that it can’t get the best of you. Maybe it’s going through all the shit you’ve endured, so you can learn how to handle it… and help others who are in the same place as you. Maybe it’s just showing up at the right time and the right place and helping out in a way that seems small to you, but is huge for another person. I, myself, have been in that situation a number of times. And I had the opportunity to help people who could not help themselves… just because I noticed they had fallen or were nearly unconscious when I passed by them. As of this counting, I have been able to run and get help for at least four different people who were either trapped or had fallen or were unconscious. I may have saved the lives of some of them. Or, maybe they would have been fine without my help. All I know is, if I had ended my life when I wanted to in the past, I never would have had the chance to help them. And they might be dead, too. Or irreparably injured.
So, never underestimate your ability to contribute to the world. The times when I did the most good, were often times when I was just walking along and paying attention to what was going on around me. I wasn’t “at peak function” and I wasn’t “performing at top capacity”. I was just walking along and almost barely noticing the world around me. But I was able to act. And that was enough.