Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Devil You Know

A favorite saying from a former acquaintance is that “change is violence.” A dramatic statement to be sure, but I think it accurately makes the point that change is not smooth, even when it’s positive. And in the midst of that kind of violence, it’s easy to embrace the devil you know than to reach for the angel you don’t.

It’s taken some time for the dust to settle so that I can see clearly. So that I can see that I have a disability. An invisible one – which is hard enough to see without the dust – but a disability nonetheless. And like all good drama queens, when I need to the most is when I’m least likely to take care of myself.

I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve mentioned it in other posts (which have not survived the "best of" scissors – so no links; be grateful! Very very grateful). The short of it is that growing up in the shadow of fear – that the very source of my life, my parents, could very well also be the death of me – gave me many of the same symptoms as veterans returning from war. The stress chemicals released when it appears likely that you’re going to die, and the long term effects of regular and consistent application of those chemicals to your body – those are real, regardless whether the threat would be from enemy hands during combat or from one’s own family.

It might seem odd that I “suddenly” come to this conclusion, that I didn’t recognize my symptoms earlier, especially since I spend so much time navel gazing. What kind of idiot misses something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Sheesh! Well, it is not widely recognized outside of disaster and combat survivors. And since my childhood abuse didn’t result in bruises or hospital visits, in other words, since it wasn’t Visible, mental health professionals wouldn’t even consider it as a diagnosis. I mean, if a child comes in with pain in her feet, absent a genetic history of it, a doctor is unlikely to consider diabetes as his first diagnosis. After treating other possible underlying causes for the pain, a doctor might eventually come to a diabetes diagnosis after those other treatments fail. Complex PTSD, which is what I have, is as difficult and nuanced to diagnose in the absence of other obvious markers.

In that earlier post, I wrote about a recurring sensation that comes while I’m just hanging around, minding my own business, and feels like something – usually something big, fast and heavy – was going to come out of nowhere and blow my head off. Only now do I realize why I started getting that sensation in my late 20s. It was because that was the same period of time when I overcame some of my worst addictions – the addictions that kept the trauma at bay. Ever wonder why so many veterans do drugs and/or drink? What do you think would happen to them if you took their addictions away? They would probably suffer some similar version of symptoms from which I suffer. Indeed, many of them do despite the addictions. The sensation of violence isn’t all. I have also had to retrain myself to sleep again. And most impactfully, I have been and am still training myself to react according to the truth of the moment, rather than to overreact to events that trigger a trauma memory. More on that in another post.

Now, without addictions to anesthetize my symptoms, I have to mollify them through heavily applied “treatments” – meditation, healthy diet, exercise, and rigorous checking in. Like a diabetic who doesn’t take his insulin on schedule, when I fail to apply my treatment, I pay severe, though different, consequences – anxiety, depression, erratic moods, and sluggish living. And still being new to taking care of myself, my treatments fall off in times of change, oh say, like when I get married, graduate, move from my home state of 18 years to a new state, and try to get a new career off the ground in my late 30s. Nothing in my life right now is familiar, not even the weather. I should be doubling up on my treatments. Not slacking on them entirely.

So why am I not writing? Because I am not myself at the moment. I am in that spiral – needing energy to reinstate my treatments but not having energy as a result of not having followed my treatments. I might have to let some things go – searching for work, hell, even work itself – in order to focus on just getting myself back up to speed. With money as tight as it is right now, however, I’m just not sure how that’s going to be possible. But, you’ve already read about that.

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