A Blog about Career Changes, Madness, and My Awful Brain

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PTSD: Why I'm Probably More Fucked Up Than You Think.

This is a post I've wanted to write for a while, but I guess I just never had the guts. Part of it stems from my personal issues with disclosure and with my excessive sensitivity to what others think of me. Writing this blog has always been difficult for me, for the same reason that I know many of you could never do it.

Fear. Fear of people finding you weak. Fear that people will use your issues to attack you. Fear that others will think less of you.

Maybe that isn't true for you, I don't know....maybe you are really private, and you don't think others should be privy to your emotional problems. Fair enough...like I said, it isn't easy putting it out there.

The reason I do it is two-fold. First of all, I'm combating what I think is my greatest fear..that others will hate me for who I am. Most of my life has felt like a charade...a charade to convince other people that I'm smart, that I'm talented, that I'm worthy. Like I've mentioned before, this has gotten me in a pickle, in that everything I've done and achieved has been for someone else. This blog takes away the reason for that fear. Like a person who is afraid of snakes, draping themselves with dozens of snakes or a person who is afraid of spiders, letting a fat hairy tarantula walk up their arms, I'm exposing myself to that fear in the hope that I will overcome it.

Second of all, I do it for you. I may not know you very well. We may have just talked a couple of times in real life, and I may not know who you really are. Or you may be very close to me, but are hiding something that you feel cripples you. I want you to know that YOU are not alone. There are millions of people like me....dissatisfied with their lives, unhappy with who they are. We are here, and you don't have to admit to anything in order to take solace in that fact. Yes, I'm exposing my throat, but I trust you not to take a bite because to do so would hurt you and other people you love.

But I'm digressing a bit. What I really wanted to discuss with you is the counseling I'm getting. Or rather, the results of it.

After I made the post "Bullied at Work: How I lost My Mind", I had a friend message me about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. She described the disorder, and gave me some personal feedback on what she was going through. I looked into it a bit, and though is seemed to describe some of what I was going through, I was a little skeptical. To begin with, I didn't feel like I had gone through anything really traumatic. Heck, it seemed to me that PTSD was reserved to people who had been through the hell of war, or through intense suffering because of sexual assault. Part of the problem is that, even now, I have a tendency to think that the problems I have are really small. Lots of people go through worse shit than I do. I've never been raped. I've been in some scraps, but I've never had the crap beat out of me. I've never been shot at, bombed, or been in prison.

So imagine my surprise when my counselor informed me that some of my behaviour is indicative of PTSD. Now, before I go on, I want to tell you a little about my counsellor.

This is my first time seeing a professional mental health specialist (started about a month ago), so I didn't know what to expect. You see, in my pride, I never would have considered seeing a counsellor before. Even after making the appointment, my first instinct was to try to bullshit her, or to take an intellectual approach to the whole thing. But deep down inside, I knew (I know) that I needed help. So I swallowed my pride, and decided to approach counselling in a new way....I would drop my bullshit defenses, and tell the truth about what I was feeling (remember my quest for honesty?). It was the best thing I could have done. She is an extremely smart woman, who just seems to know when to listen, and what questions to ask. She's been doing it for a long time, and she seems to be able to keep me focused. All in all, it's been a pretty good experience so far.

Again, she suggested that I have a lot of the symptoms of PTSD, especially when it's job related. She gave me some specific resources, and we started on some exercises to overcome it. So I've been, of course, doing a lot of research on the subject, and it's all been quite fascinating.

The funny thing about trauma is how specific it is to the individual. One of the first things I learned is that what one person considers trauma, may not bother another person in a long term fashion at all. My specific trauma, the job bullying, attacked me at the core of what is important to me. Being competent, being respected, being admired. If I fell into a pit of spiders, I might be disgusted, but I don't think I would be traumatized.

The current research shows that immediate support and putting the traumatic event(s) in context can shorten the length of PTSD or prevent it. This is true for both animals and people. What is so cool about animals is that they have instinctual methods of recovering from traumatic events. In "Healing Trauma", Peter Levine, a medical researcher of stress and trauma explains that animals normalize themselves after a traumatic event (like being tranquilized and tagged) by spontaneous shaking, trembling, and breathing. Basically, they are expending the energy they used to escape death, and grounding themselves. One of the lines in the book, contributed by a park biologist for the Mzuzu Environmental Center, especially caught my attention..."If they have not trembled and breathed that way before they are released, they will not survive. They will die."

The big idea is, we need to deal with our trauma, and the sooner the better. When you experience a traumatic event, you need to fight, flee or freeze as you see fit, but then you have to deal with the feelings.

Another idea supported by research is that trauma is cumulative, especially if a person is not allowed to deal with it. Basically, it's a death by a thousand cuts. As Levine puts it, "..over time, a series of seemingly minor mishaps can have a damaging effect on a person. Trauma does not have to stem from a major catastrophe."

Well, shit.

Now the best thing about having read about PTSD is that I can start putting some of the crappy circumstances in my life, and their effects, in context. First of all, there was the bullying. The truth is, I didn't get a lot of support after I left my job. My fiancee tried, but she was going through her own heartbreaking event (we both were), that left her unable to fully support me. Other friends and family didn't know the extent of what I was going through because I kept a lot of it to myself. I'm also living in a city where I didn't have a lot of friends and family nearby to help me.

Second of all, as I was reeling from the job related stress, and trying to come up with a way to deal with it (my plan was a big trip to visit all my friends and family all over the country), I had another serious beating with the car accident. Before I could deal with my first bit of stress and trauma, I had a second helping. Of course, that the accident happened right after my appointment with a job counselor didn't help, as I connected the work/career concept with horrible pain (seriously, the accident happened about 5 blocks from, and about 20 minutes after, the appointment).

All of a sudden, a lot of things have started making sense. I've spent the last 8 months feeling horrible about myself, because I was having trouble looking for work. Every time I look at job ads and try to find work, I have a mini anxiety attack. Every time I look into a career change, I get numb and distracted. Worst of all is how it keeps perpetuating itself....everyone around me keeps asking me how my job search is going, and keeps telling me I need to find a job, and I keep feeling more and more bad about my...well...impotence..to do what I need to do. I keep feeling like people think I'm just being lazy, or comfortable on EI...even though, I busted my ass looking for work last time I was unemployed and have never been idle. I feel like I'm damaged in a way that 30 year old men are not allowed to be damaged.

Understanding this, I think I'm starting to deal with it. I've got some ideas from the literature and from my counselor about ways to dig myself out of this hole. Moreover, I'm never going to be able to find a good career or job if I don't get back some control over my mind. Like those animals, I've got to psychologically shake myself free of my trauma.

Right now, I'm making some plans to travel. I want to back up 9 months, and do what I have to do to make things right for me. My first instinct has always been to run, and I've been denied that way to deal with my issues. I'm giving myself permission to run for a while. Not very far, and not for a long time...but for a while. I don't have much money, but I'll make do. I think I'm going to do a mini circuit of Western Canada. If you want me to visit you, drop a line. I need my friends now more than ever.

Thank you for listening.



  1. Interesting, informative and insightful post Dan. Thank you for sharing! I really hope your travels help give you that psychological shake you need

  2. I think you are very brave Dan. It is hard to share these things. If you include Regina in your travels, let me know - we can grab a coffee or something.

  3. Thanks guys...this stuff has been very difficult for me to admit. Lauri, I'm in Regina fairly regularly (although it's usually not for very long). I'll come a knockin' if I can.