Adjusting my sails

September 18, 2011

Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) means that I have adopted certain coping skills. The emotional numbing I have relied on is quite obvious. Downplaying the severity of the situation, shrugging it off, and laughing at the absurdity are all signs of emotional numbing. Although, I didn’t realize that this is what I was doing until the emotions started to surface. Fortunately, they surfaced slowly, at a rate which I can cope with successfully.

The persistent avoidance coping skill is less obvious. Only by researching what PTSD actually is am I able to recognize my use of this strategy. I began to suspect that I was experiencing PTSD when I realized that I was unable to function normally. I was not able to meet the demands that circumstances required of me. One day led to another, and important details were being ignored.

As I researched PTSD and reflected on the symptoms, I noticed patterns in my behaviour. The activities that I am avoiding are all related to the wildfire I experienced. For example, I am ignoring the requirement to list the contents of my home, which burned down in the devastating fire that destroyed a portion of my town. My excuse is that I don’t have time. The reality is that I am keeping myself busy with other commitments. I am not allowing myself to take the time to deal with the painful task of reliving what I had once owned.

Another interesting pattern that I am noticing relates to activities I committed myself to before the wildfire. These activities were deliberate steps I had taken to secure employment for myself as a trainer and facilitator. This was the direction I was heading in before the wildfire. I had carefully worked my way towards the role of an independent contractor over the past couple of years. Shortly before the wildfire, I felt confident enough to take the final step. I moved myself out of a permanent part-time position in order to make room for contract work.

I had no problem setting myself up with enough contract work to keep myself busy for a number of months. I was excited and looking forward to watching my future in this new role unfold. Then the wildfire happened. And everything changed.

The excitement that I once felt when I worked on the contracts I had committed to was gone. My interest in providing training and facilitating workshops diminished. I had been involved in the adult literacy field for over a decade, a field that I felt I was “born into.” Now the thought of continuing work in that field depresses me. The direction I had looked forward to taking was no longer the direction I wanted to go.

Instead, I have taken a sharp turn and I am now heading in a new direction. It’s as if I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid anything that reminds me of what my life was like before the wildfire. I want to get through the commitments I made prior to the wildfire and leave that part of my life behind.

Yet, when I reflect on the changes that I have made as a result of the wildfire, I realize that these changes have only taken me closer to the person I once was. This realization is strengthened when I reflect further back, to the other disasters I experienced over the past six years.

After the summer of the marital breakdown, strike, and cancer diagnosis, I became more outgoing. I made time for friends. I allowed myself time to pursue my interests. These changes weren’t really different from what I was like. They were certainly different from what I had been like in the years prior to the crises. But they reflected how I had been in the past. I felt that I was becoming more of my “old” self again. And I was, once again, enjoying my life.

Now that I have gone through another summer of disasters – this time a wildfire, loss of employment, and vehicle accident – the change is occurring more in the financial aspect of my life. I am becoming more of an entrepreneur rather than an employee. Just as I had before I had children. I suppose the various crises and disasters I’ve dealt with in the last six years have given me the confidence to reject a mediocre lifestyle. If I have the ability to handle what I have been forced to handle, then I certainly have the capabilities to step off the treadmill.

See my blog titled, “Dealing with PTSD” for more details on the different crises I have experienced over the past six years, and for links on information about PTSD.

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