When you’re diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of the things they don’t bring up is the sheer joylessness of it all. The numbness.
That’s some real back pocket shit for doctors.
I don’t know why they don’t bring it up, I guess it’s because they’ve got you all tickled pink on the diagnosis, why bring you down now?
The fact of the matter is, the search for joy and meaning are two things that keep most people going throughout their lives, PTSD or no PTSD.
When it comes to feelings of joy — I’m not sure of the best way to describe it to somebody who hasn’t gone through it. The closest thing I can think of is: imagine you’ve been sat down by somebody you care about — like Ed McMahon or Justin Trudeau — and they’re about to tell you the best news you’ve ever heard in your entire life, the anticipation is killing you, and FINALLY when they serve you up this awesome piece of life changing information, you feel next to nothing.
Do you know what it’s like? It’s like they’ve said it and you’ve not really listened. It’s as if there’s a delay, like they’re telling you over satellite connection from the hills of fucking Tora Bora. The entire room could be ecstatic, and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself “next.” Like, let’s move on from the boredom of fantastic news, and set our sites on the next piece of overwhelmingly underwhelming fantastic news.
As an example, I work in advertising, which is an industry that prides itself on awards (and award shows). You’re largely measured, rightly or wrongly, in your ability to bring in hardware for your clients and your agency. Recently, I attended an awards show where my name appeared on a lot of awards. An almost embarrassing amount. Actually, not “almost” at all. I was embarrassed, and not by the work or the people I did it with or for, but by the recognition.
I find praise and recognition tough things to negotiate sometimes, largely because in my youth those things weren’t really readily available.
I’m one of those people whose report cards were filled with comments from teachers like “doesn’t apply himself,” over and over and over again, year after year.
My grades were always in the 50s or below. I wasn’t exactly the prince of academia.
I suppose I never really gave anyone a reason to load me down with praise.
I mean, it wasn’t like somebody was going to burst through my door and say, “Dave, you got 19 in art! That’s fucking sensational, little guy!”
Fast forward 30 years or so, and I’m a workaholic who quietly thrives on crushing competition, and succeeding, no matter what — and yet, when I do succeed I rarely allow myself the grace, and/or time to feel good about it.
It’s pretty ironic, considering I’m constantly “counselling” (I use that term somewhat whimsically) people that when they have successes they should take the moment and “sit in them.” Allow the pride and the joy they feel to wash over them.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m busily whipping myself for my successes.
Which is pretty fucking ridiculous. And, it’s something I’m working on.
A PTSD diagnosis isn’t the greatest day you’ll ever have. It means your life will be complex. You’re constantly questioning your motivations. Because, folks who have suffered trauma love self-destructive behaviour. Like, they LOVE it. Want to take it to a Ho-Jo’s and get it pregnant, kinda love.
Now, that’s love, baby.
I’m no different. I’ve shown a propensity for self-sabotage in the past. Typical shit, like making bad choices, subconsciously/on purpose to punish myself for a bunch of stuff that was really out of my control to begin with.
And, I’m 40 now. I’m fucking 40, and I’m still doing this ridiculous song and dance.
The one saving grace now, is that I recognize it. I know the triggers, and I understand the trauma that I went through a little better. And I know how to calm myself down (when I feel like it.)
That doesn’t mean I’m healed, I’m pretty far from it, and I think most folks that live with this shenanigans would echo that sentiment.
Another big piece in the whole “why can’t I find my fucking happy place” puzzle is the guilt.
You see, the victims of trauma aren’t only people that experienced said trauma. They’re the friends, family members, and loved ones trying their best to understand and support those living with this disorder.
In many ways, the road to recovery from PTSD is paved with broken hearts and dumbfounded faces. And for me, that’s been the hardest part to negotiate. It always has been. There aren’t enough sorrys in the world to make up for any of it.
But, you can’t let yourself get dragged down by it. Don’t get me wrong, you can honour it, and do your best to make amends, learn from it, and find ways to communicate how you feel to try and prevent these things from happening again. But you can’t, I repeat, you can’t get let yourself drown in the immensity of those feelings.
You have to keep moving forward. Forever forward, living in the moment.
After my diagnosis, I spent the better part of a year as a testing ground for drug cocktails that did nothing but make me put on weight, and dim some of the fire I had in my eyes. Which, is obviously not what I wanted.
What I’ve learned in my relapse and recovery, is that joy doesn’t come easy for everyone. If you’re sitting there waiting for it to make a triumphant return on the back of a pegasus — you’re kidding yourself.
And as I now begin to pull myself out of rather long bout with numbness, I have a little message to you from the other side of joy: look to the little things.
Things like the melodic sound of stones being pulled back into the ocean by the undertow of a wave, the wind in the leaves, a well-placed turn of phrase, or a smile from a stranger.
These are the elements that make life worth living. These are the little bites of happiness, that once strung together, will help you realize that all you need in this world is right here beneath your feet, and that joy isn’t so illusive, after all.