What Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is by Myke Cole

by on Mar.25, 2013, under Articles, Culture, The Power of Words, Writing

Myke Cole is an author of books I have never read but heard amazing things about from friends and the internet. I’ve never read anything by him until I read the following blog post about his experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The following are a few excerpts:

I had a hard time admit­ting it to myself. There was a cul­ture in my line of work, that PTSD was the province of the hard oper­a­tors, the door­kickers who got into 2–3 fire­fights every single day. Like most cul­tures, you bought into it silently, it was simply a thing that was, not worth ques­tioning any more than the law of gravity.

I mean, sure I’d sup­ported cer­tain spe­cial­ized units, sure I’d been to some funerals, sure there’d been some danger close indi­rect rounds. Sure I’d had some mis­giv­ings about what I was fighting for, what my actions were con­tributing to. But, I’d seen the ads  on AFN, showing young men with gun­powder still on their hands, often fresh off the bat­tle­field, having trem­bling flash­backs of a fire­fight where their best friend went down right next to them. THAT was PTSD.

Except, it wasn’t.

Because the truth is, I’ve never heard anyone, med­ical pro­fes­sional, spir­i­tual leader or oth­er­wise describe the PTSD I know. What I see are people embracing a def­i­n­i­tion that explains PTSD using the vocab­u­lary of clas­sical pathology. It implies that, like a dis­ease, you can pre­scribe a course of treat­ment and fix it.

But, in my expe­ri­ence, PTSD doesn’t get fixed. That’s because it was never about get­ting shot at, or seeing people die. It was never the snap trauma, the quick moment of action that breaks a person. PTSD is the wages of a life spent in crisis, the slow, the­matic build that grad­u­ally changes the way the suf­ferer sees the world. You get boiled by heating the water one degree each hour. By the time you finally suc­cumb, you realize you had no idea it was get­ting hotter.

Because you kept adjusting.

Because PTSD isn’t a dis­ease, it’s a world view.

Nobody talks about this. Nobody talks about the boredom, the impos­si­bility of finding meaning in 8 hours work in an air-conditioned office after you just spent months working 18 hours a day on a bat­tle­field where your touch altered his­tory. Nobody talks about the sur­real expe­ri­ence of trying to remember how you got excited about a book, or clothing, or even a car or house. On the bat­tle­field, in the burning building, the ground trem­bled, we felt our impact in every­thing we did, until the world seemed to ripple at our touch. Back home, or off shift, we are sud­denly the sub­ject of sym­pa­thetic glances, of silly, repet­i­tive ques­tions. The anonymity of the uni­form is nothing com­pared the anonymity of com­fort. We drown in it, cut off from what makes it worth­while for others, unable to carve out a piece of it for ourselves.

Time helps you to shift back, but you never shift back all the way. You develop the dreaded “cop’s eyes,” where you see the poten­tial threat around every corner, where you ask the waiter for the chair with its back to the wall. Where the trust essen­tial to build rela­tion­ships is com­pro­mised, because in the world you live in, every­body is trying to harm someone.

And if you’re a vet, or an EMT, or a cop, or fire­fighter and you’re reading this, I want you to know that you can’t put the cur­tain back, but it’s pos­sible to build ways to move for­ward, to find alter­na­tives to the rush of crisis. There are ways you can matter. There is a way to rejoin the dust of the world, to find your own space on the dance floor.

I know this.

Because I did it, am still doing it, every day.

Don’t give up.

Source: What PTSD is by Myke Cole [MykeCole.com]

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