Taking charge of something like PTSD is actually impossible. By its very nature it is random in frequency and intensity. There are certain behaviors you can try, but the road to healing is not one that you actually can control. This may be difficult if you are a person, like me, who has exercised iron will over my emotions ever since my first trauma which was before my memory begins.
Once PTSD episodes begin, there are certain things we can do to control it to some extent, but perhaps the best thing we can do is try to understand and forgive God for letting something like this happen to us. Isn’t it possible that one of the purposes of our existence here on earth is to understand and grow because of suffering? Such a question throws open the door to many more. I believe that this life is the test, not the reward. The reward lies in becoming the person we were born to become. It is endemic to my beliefs that overcoming adversity builds us into people who are fit for heaven.
In my career as a writer, I suffered through the First World War. (The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War) We’re talking about true anguish. I was so close to my characters, it was many years before I could put together some kind of future for them that made sense. The entire continent of Europe was suffering PTSD. After many years of suffering from bi-polar disorder as well as PTSD, the Lord finally strengthened my faith to the point that I was able to raise my heroine from the point of suicide with the following conversation. The words were given to me as a personal revelation.
My so-called faith hasn’t given me a bit of comfort, Louisa. I’m not sure I even believe in God anymore.”
Returning to Amalia’s side, Louisa looked down at her. Amalia felt herself close her heart against her friend. She didn’t want to be preached to.
“You must not, you cannot, carry this alone, Amalia,” she said very gently.
Anger surged up from some pocket of strength within her, but before she could speak, Louisa had laid a hand on her arm. There is only One who ever had the strength and goodness to bear the consequence of such evil as we see in this war. He has as we see in this war. He has already done so. Long ago, in Gethsemane. He knows everything there is to know about suffering. Give it to him.”
Amalia looked at the woman who stood above her. Her carriage was erect, her face shone with a luminescence that transformed her homely features. There flowed a trasfusion of warmth through her hand into Amalia’s arm. “You must not lose faith, Amalia.”
She was able to cry out her sorrow then, in great angry sobs. Louisa did not leave her or try to stop her but erely sat by, bathing her face from time to time and fetching fresh handkerchiefs.
“Part of faith is not giving up hope for a better world,” she said finally.
“But life is such a bitter gift!”
“At the moment, it seems like it. This is a very dark passage you are in. But it would be a mistake to see that passage as your whole life. There is nothing in this world more deceptive than darkness. You think you live in a void, but actually there are colors and textures and beauty all around you.”
“I don’t want to see them . . . “
“Because you think it will hurt.”
“That is the lie of the darkness.” She smiled and took Amalia’s hand. “The price we pay for immortality is to know both this darkness and the light and to choose between them.”
As I said at the beginning, this life is the test, not the reward. Choosing how we handle trauma is the way we build the strength of our spirits. It is how we choose light instead of darkness.
I offer the following suggestions, with the understanding that I am not a professional therapist, only a survivor. However, they were written in collaboration with my therapist, Herta Crawford, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who has a lot of experience in dealing with PTSD.
- Remembrance of facts and feeling the pain: If you have PTSD, you probably know that the first step towards overcoming it is to tell the story. You must be very wise in your choice of person to confide in. Ideally, you would work with a clergyman, therapist, or social worker who is experienced in dealing with the disorder. The most important thing is to “get it out of your body.” The more it is stuffed down inside, the longer your recovery will take and the more of your life you will spend in suffering. On this website you will see the evolution of PTSD and how “getting stuck” on one stage can cause unbelievable suffering. When you are endeavoring to change from unhealthy to healthy, you will experience the pain and remembrance that is the most difficult part of recovery. These “flashbacks” accompanied by the real pain of the event can be brutal. You will need support. If you are married, tell your spouse what is going on so they can understand and support you. Tell your closest, most supportive friends. This is also where your chosen confidant, clergyman, therapist, or social worker will be most skilled and most important.
- Endurance: Once you have taken this first step, things can seem very out of control. Ride your extreme emotions like a wave. At this point, you may not be able to do anything but stay in the house and cry. But remember, this is progress. It won’t last forever. Just hold on tight. It is very important to allow yourself to feel feelings about your trauma. You are in a bad place mentally, but physically and temporally that is all in the past. You are in the process of putting it behind you. In extreme cases, people have suicidal tendencies at this point. For that reason, it is important that you not be alone. You will want to be. But be wise, and try to have someone you trust with you. The ideal would be to have a PSTD survivor with you.
- Trying to kill the pain: This endurance takes a tremendous toll on your body and mind. You will be tempted to take up addictive behaviors to dull the pain. Not only is this adding another problem that will have to be solved in order for you to be well, but it actually prolongs your agony. When you depend on substances or actions to dull the pain, there is no room for God, who is the ultimate healer.
- Positive actions: When the wave of tears and the agony have finally deposited you on the shore, you will be ready to take pro-active steps—small ones at first. It is okay to take these one at a time. Do not overwhelm yourself.
- The most important place to start is with your spirit (just as it is in AA) Set up a time for prayer, study, and meditation to construct a strengthening cord with your higher power. At first, this may seem difficult. The understanding which I have gained as to the purpose for my life on earth has given me great strength. I have learned the answers to the questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Philosophers have been asking these questions since the beginning of time. I offer you the chance to share the answers I have found that have turned my PTSD into a battle that has meaning, and have given me the tools for victory over that battle. They are found in the presentation “Man’s Search for Happiness,” which is on the DVD “Come Unto Me.” It can be ordered for a modest price at the following URL: http://store.lds.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product3_10705_10551_21080_-1__196212 The answers to these questions came to me during a time of darkest tumult in my life, when trauma was all around me. They brought peace, warmth, understanding. Eventually, as I continued down the path individually designed for me and my life, they brought healing. Healing brought a desire to serve and help others similarly afflicted. That is the reason behind this website.
- Try getting up earlier in the morning and having a personal devotional involving earnest prayer, reading the scriptures or other matter that is uplifting, and then meditate on these things, possibly writing your feelings in a journal. Journaling is a significant part of your recover. It causes you to face things you need to face, as well as giving you a source for remembrance of the growth you have experienced. If you can’t do this at that time, try making it part of your bedtime ritual. You could even do it during your lunch hour.
- The next priority is your health, mental and physical. It would be wise to work with a physician to determine the overall state of your health at this point, as PTSD can be very hard on the body.
-Cultivate healthy eating habits, eliminating junk foods that can affect your moods. Reward yourself occasionally with something you enjoy. Make sure you replenish those vitamins which are used up during stress, particularly Vitamin C and the B vitamins.
-Start a regular exercise program, doing something enjoyable for you. This cannot be overemphasized as a means of dispersing stress and giving you the benefit of “feel good” endorphins.
-Regularize your sleep habits. Get enough, but not too much. If getting to sleep is a problem, enlist the help of your doctor to get a safe sleep aid. If sleeping too much is your problem, it may help to indulge in a reward program. The only thing that used to get me out of bed was the thought of my wonderful homemade granola.
-Do something you really enjoyed in the past.
-Learn something new. Ideas for this are given below.
-Enjoy and seek out the beauties of nature. Nature endows us with important perspective upon our lives.
-Music is a great healer of the soul. Though I don’t read a note, music is such a part of my life, I start my day with it, listen to it while I work, while we dine, and often relax to it at night if we are stressed. It is the universal language of emotion. When your soul is still tender, listen to gentle music–new age is especially good, or cool jazz. I enjoy violin music most. Experiment with the “mind-ordering” balance of Mozart and Vivaldi or the simplicity of Renaissance Madrigals. And hymns can often thrill us with a touch of the Divine.
-Keep a gratitude journal, and write at least one thing daily, even if it’s just “it finally stopped raining.”
-Try socializing in small doses at first (this was by far the hardest thing for me)
- Relationships are the next priority. If you are married, do everything you can to enrich and enjoy the company of your spouse. It really helped me to go to couples therapy where I felt “safe” talking about my feelings about my spouse. I learned that I had been interpreting his actions completely differently than the way they were intended. Seek to be with small children, if you can, as children are not at all judgmental and very loving. Putting your family before your work is hard, but essential.
- Service heals the soul. Here are some ideas:
-Work at the community food bank
-Deliver Meals on Wheels
-Work in a community soup kitchen
-Perform needed service for shut-ins or single parents (cleaning gutters, yardwork, housework)
-If you have the means, join a humanitarian expedition to a (safe) third world country to work with orphans, do construction projects, or offer your specific expertise (doctor, dentist, lawyer, teacher, entrepreneur).
-Work with “at risk” teens, organizing sports, hiking, camping, or other wholesome activities.
-Tutor in a library or community literacy program
-Make baby quilts (silky on one side, flannel on the other are particularly comforting to babies) to give to social services or the police department in your town for the children who have to be suddenly removed from abusive homes.
-Crochet or make larger quilts to give to humanitarian organizations
- Find joy in everyday life by venturing into new paths
-Join a gym.
-Participate in community sports-soccer, basketball, tennis, softball (as a
coach or player)
-Learn a new skill: fly-fishing, wood working, hiking or rock climbing, photography, digital enhancement of photography.
-Read moral fiction. Moral fiction is not the opposite of immoral fiction, but a term used by John Gardner, a literary critic, to define fiction that affirms life. Since I came upon this only recently, I was very relieved to realize that my books The Last Waltz and Pieces of Paris are both moral fiction by Gardner’s standards!
-Join a reading group of like-minded people. Avoid fiction which paints the world as a dark dysfunctional void. As Gardner would say of such writing, “It is a lie, a betrayal.”
-Do you like to write? Spend the first twenty minutes after you wake up writing the first thoughts that come into your head. No one will see the. They are a way of getting to know your subconscious. You might want to share them with your therapist.
-One of my favorite things is to have a “just for fun” writing group where you gather with creative friends and, using a trigger (a painting, the first line of a novel, a poem, a musical composition, etc.) write for 20 minutes without stopping, and then share what you wrote. This is a delightful experience.
-Are you a cook? Consider writing a cookbook for your children or grandchildren with all your favorite recipes.
-Get a pet. Pets are all-accepting, loyal, and loving. They are a great comfort when you need unconditional acceptance.
-Learn an instrument or sing in a group to take this once step further.
Participating in activities that lift your mind out of your obsessions and doing something positive with it is life affirming. Go on a treasure hunt for joy! Once I made a scrapbook out of travel magazines of all the places I wanted to visit “someday.” I have now been to most of them, thanks to royalties from my books! And my writing was “my way out” of PTSD. So we come full circle.
Go have yourself some fun. These are my suggestions. I welcome yours.