I often receive questions from friends I served with in Afghanistan regarding PTSD. Whether or not I have any formerly secret coping mechanism that I can now enlighten them with.
To start, here is a bit of my own military background. I served 10 years in the Army, Deployed in combat capacity to Afghanistan three times, was injured in Afghanistan, awarded a Purple Heart and was diagnosed with PTSD. I have run the gamut of possible coping mechanisms. I’ve tried prescription medication, non-prescription medication, hate, shutting everything out, isolation and solitude. There has been no “easy fix”. It is a battle.
From what I have come to gather, the best analogy I can make to describe PTSD is using a broken record or a skipping CD. If you picture that CD being your mind. We all had that one CD that had such a bad scratch that it would get stuck on and repeat one part of a track, over and over until we threw the damn thing away. Simple fix to a simple problem. It isn’t quite that simple with the mind though. You can’t just throw a memory away. So we adopt coping mechanism that at best, drown the sound of the record out with some other but often times more destructive noise.
The human brain is infinitely more complex than the most advanced and intricate computer system you could ever imagine. I say imagine because even in our imaginations we could never come close to reaching the full potential of our brain. For all of its complexity, it is entirely possible for a traumatic event to happen and create a tar pit or a thinking trap in the looping of our memory. Where a memory should have been made and filed away into storage, our overthinking….scratches the CD putting the traumatic event on repeat.
Our ability to think makes us problem solvers in the physical world. We analyze risk, we find solutions and make great strides in all fields of study based on our ability and capacity to think. In the mental world, our ability to think is what can fuck us. If you touch a hot plate you think, ” Shit this hurts” and you move your hand. Problem solved. Ever try to think depression away? I bet you can’t. Though the pain of depression may be different it is no less real than that of the hot plate. Trying to think away a problem of the mind is not thinking, it’s self harm.
Action, not thinking is the place to start when dealing with any issue of the mind, specifically PTSD. I’m not saying it is the answer because I honestly don’t know. It is a battle. I theorize that exposing yourself to the things you have been avoiding is a start. Shedding any of the coping mechanisms. Purposely putting yourself out there so that the memory can be put on repeat. It is very painful and distressing, I’ve done it. You have to approach it from an angle of action because you will never think it away. Something everyone can relate to is being afraid of the dark as a kid. It didn’t matter how much you thought about not being afraid or how many times an adult told you not to be afraid, you still were. It was the action of being exposed to the night that over the course of however much time finally allowed that fear to be filed away into your brain’s archive. PTSD being in many ways a fear, could require the same (less thought more action/exposure) type of process. There is actually a type of therapy called Prolonged Exposure Therapy that engages PTSD in this manner. I’m just throwing my own ideas out there.
Lastly I feel that there is a problem of the spirit that can make us more susceptible to suffer from PTSD. War, as well as other traumatic experiences, take a toll on the spirit. In some sense they take a part of the spirit. They hold it captive. A few of the Native Tribes of the Americas used to hold ceremonies for their warriors returning from battle. The ceremonies were designed to return the spirit to the body because just like today, they noticed their warriors returning home as “shells”. Today we must reach a place of spiritual acceptance. Accepting that today, we are not less but rather much more than we were yesterday in the spiritual sense. We must not try to think our experiences away. These experiences are part of what makes us individuals. Whether war or any trauma, erasing the event would be erasing part of yourself. It would be denying yourself the spiritual growth you have earned.
This is just a theory of mine. I don’t have the answers and Knowledge can never be called Wisdom until the person holding it is able to use it in their own life, not just theorize on it. I still struggle but I think that as I learn and grow and as you learn and grow….Action and acceptance may be key ingredients in the journey.