This may sound like a silly thing to some of you but to others it might be painfully true. I was very glib when I was young. I loved taking exams in a blue book because I could talk and talk about almost anything. Even when I knew nothing about a subject, I could usually bluff my way if I only knew a few facts. So, when I got this message from one of my followers, I took a bit of time to think about it and then to decide to write about it.
Here’s the letter:
“This must be why I’m
so ashamed/guilt ridden that I cannot fully open up to my
therapist (who is an excellent therapist) but gets frustrated because I don’t
discuss things that actually bother me. Instead I talk about stupid irrelevant
things. I’ve even been considering stopping my mental healthcare altogether.”
I remember when I started writing about my own PTSD. Remember I had no idea that PTSD was even a thing. All I knew is that there was something different about me. I had expected things, for me, to be normal once I returned home from Vietnam. At first, I blamed it on being away for a year and my adjustment to being back home. Then I even blamed others for changing or for them making comments about me. I was not sleeping, drinking too much, and overreacting to things going on around my life. Sometimes I was numb sometimes I was hypersensitive. In short, I was messed up.
I decided to do something about it. I never considered a therapist because, at first, I believed it was everyone else that was screwed up and not me. I knew no one either in my family or even among my friends who was seeing a psychologist. As a matter of fact, I always thought that a psychologist saw “crazy people” and I didn’t consider myself as being crazy. I never even considered a therapist honestly. I never considered the VA either. I thought that once I was out of the service, it meant I was finished with that part of my life. My family was tiptoeing around me, afraid to make me angry or upset by saying something that I would take offense at. I had no friends either in or out of the military that I was close enough to, to open myself up to. I was alone to deal with my feelings. So, I decided to start writing myself notes about what I was feeling or experiencing so that maybe I could understand it better. I thought this would be easy, but I discovered even though I was writing to myself I was still being critical. Was this thing Important? Why should I waste my time on that?
Sometimes I would write a word or phrase and other times I’d write more. I’d rewrite things because it was like once I would write things down, I’d realize that what I was writing, really wasn’t exactly right once I wrote it down. I threw a lot of things away because they seemed irrelevant once I had written them. I’d have slips of paper all over the place until I decided that none of, any of this, was important yet everything might be important, at some time in the future. I reread things trying to figure out what I was trying to say and why I was saying them, and then adding things or detracting things. The thing that I realized, finally, was that this was my exploration and I didn’t have to explain myself, or answer to anyone and the growth from that realization was a freeing experience.
So, let me assure you, it doesn’t matter what you write but that you write. Do it as a routine which takes time to build up to. If you see it as a chore then you are not seeing it correctly. This is not for anyone else but you. Your writing is a gift to yourself. I tried to see this like this, I am walking around with my pockets full of sand. The sand is your PTSD burden. Every time I would stop to write I was taking a little of the sand out of the pockets and throwing it away. I wouldn’t notice the loss at first but little by little I started to feel the pockets getting lighter and lighter. I knew that things were starting to change and when that happened, I was encouraged to continue writing. It was becoming easier to say what I was experiencing and I was being less critical of myself except when I noticed that I was saying the same thing over and over and I hadn’t realized that I was in a rut and didn’t know it.
The trap for me was when I felt so confident that I was in control that I let my guard down and didn’t write for days or weeks. Little by little I felt things changing again but not for the good. I quickly picked up the pen and paper and started getting back into my routine. You are reading this because I am sitting down and writing. It has been 50 years since I left Vietnam. I’m writing now not only for me but for you too. I discovered along the way #23. Some of you may be familiar with this some not. MY #23 on my bucket list was to try and help a stranger who has PTSD and needs a shoulder to lean on. This is my call for you to come to our site www.beyondptsd.org and start your own journey.