PTSD

Demons that Lurk Beneath…Part III

Demons that Lurk Beneath…Part III

(Part I can be found here) (Part II can be found here)

The demons grow in anonymity. They love the dark and seem to feed on things inside of us that we can’t put our finger on.

Sometimes, you don’t even know what it is that’s creating such turbulence inside until you tell a friend what you’re feeling.

Then, like the sun shining brightly upon a field, you begin to see what’s swirling around inside.

Then the power of it lessens, its claws lose their grip, and you can breathe again.

It has always amazed me how much clearer I can think after I’ve journaled and shared with someone about what’s inside.

It’s magic.

In Part II, I wrote about the first step I took in recovering from the demons.

And, you don’t need to be someone from an EMS background…we all have demons we wrestle with.

For brevity of this post, I quickly touch on the things that helped me and I know they’ll help you.

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You have to start somewhere. Some go straight to counseling, but not me. I tried as you’ll see, but journaling for me was the place I started, then…

  • Talk to someone.

At first, I tried to talk, but I got a blank look in return.

I shouldn’t fault anyone, I mean, unless you’ve held someone in your hands that’s bleeding out, how can you even grasp what that’s like?

Then? I stopped. Stopped trying to relate any of my dark experiences with anyone.

I would cruise the internet visiting suicide and PTSD pages. On every page, at the top, was a bullet point telling me to talk to someone trusted.

What a crock! I didn’t trust anyone so who was I supposed to talk to?! It only made me madder.

Once, I used my agency’s counseling services.

What I encountered?

The first 15 minutes of my session a psychologist explained her pricing plan. Really? I told her nothing of importance and got the hell out of there.

I never went back. I buried my crap even deeper.

Back to the journal I went. It helped me work through the anger. And, it made me realize that not every professional is concerned about money.

So, who to trust?

Ease into it. Leak a little information to those you think you can trust and see what happens. Take it from there.

On getting “professional help”, AKA-counseling…do it.

However, paper on the wall from some university does not impress me anymore.

What I do now in finding a counselor is this…

I ask others in my vocation to recommend a professional that understands the peculiarities of my work. I research their experiences. What have they seen? Is this counselor going to be able to relate to me outside of a clinical setting?

Finding a counselor hasn’t been easy but it’s worth it when you find someone you can work with.

Bottom line is this, sharing what is going on inside of us with a confidant is like turning on a flood light inside…demons run screaming!

Next…

  • Your 4 Pillars. I think of life in terms of a table top; life can toss anything on your table and it’ll hold strong if its four legs are sturdy.

– Spiritual — There’s ton of research out there on the benefits of meditation. This has nothing to do with me telling you what to believe. The time you take each morning (even if it’s 5 minutes) to quiet yourself and either pray or meditate, will give you fresh clarity and vision for the day.

– Physical — So much of what goes on during the day gets stored in our bodies. Especially traumatic events. Stress grinds away at us. Exercise comes in many flavors. Pick one type, or a few, to get moving during the day and burn off that stress. Start slow and work your way into it and do something that’s enjoyable.

– Mental — The brain is amazing. It will be busy whether you like it or not so might as well give it something healthy to chew on. Read, do puzzles, take an online class, do something to exercise it. This is a great way to start living more intentionally.

– Emotional — Apathy is the lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. We stop feeling. We turn it off when we go through traumatic events and it’s supposed to be a short term coping mechanism. Unfortunately, it becomes a way of life for us and the death of healthy emotions means the death of many good things around us that we used to hold dear. Here are few things I put under the Emotional category…

– Gratefulness was a huge leap for me in the process of healing. UC Berkeley’s website called The Greater Good is packed with research.

Studies show that practicing gratitude actually rewires the brain. I needed that. I needed this broken system, organ, muscle, whatever you want to call it, rewired.

I worked a child abuse case once. Investigation took over 6 months. I reviewed over 33K porn photographs. It burned a hole in my head. I thought to myself for months afterward, “I wish I could take my brain out and soak it in Clorox.”

Practicing gratitude helped me rewire my thought patterns and emotions.

Here’s a simple actionable way of practicing this: Every day, think of ten things that you’re grateful for. Grateful for who is in your life and why. Grateful for the food you eat. Grateful for the shapes in the clouds (remember how we did that as kids?).

I do this everyday. After a while, I began to view people, events, and life in a different way. It changed my filter set. I’m grateful for it!

-Surround yourself with positive people. If you want to change and get out of the mire in your own head, you must change who’s around you.

If you’re around folks who are always negative, filled with drama, and packed full of gossip, you will find your energy stolen at the end of the day.

Surround yourself with people that after you leave their presence, you feel refreshed and hopeful about life.

  • Do the hard work of loving yourself.

When your vocation is to help others; you serve without care or thought of yourself.

You give and give and give.

But, rarely give to yourself.

The demons will scream that you are not worthy. You are a failure. You are stupid.

It’s hard to love yourself with such negativity sounding off in the dark.

Do this, first thing in the morning, look yourself in the mirror and say, “I love you.” Sound weird? Maybe, but it works.

Here’s a quote I had on my mirror for a year. Now, it lives on the desktop of my computer to see every day.

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – To breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love” ~ Marcus Aurelius

  • Stop talking negatively about yourself. This is hard, but as you begin to love yourself, it becomes easier to say things positive to and about yourself.

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The demons are real. But…

So are the actionable steps listed above.

Looking back over the past few years, I am amazed at the changes I’ve gone through and those changes are a direct result of implementing the above strategies.

Strategies, that when you begin to practice daily, will have a profound effect in the way you think, feel, and interact with others, and yes, even with yourself.

If you made it this far…I appreciate you.

You’re not alone. You can heal.

There is hope!


Photo by Justin Dickey

Posted by Christian Martin Jr. in PTSD, Reinvention, Self-Improvement
Demons that Lurk Beneath…Part II

Demons that Lurk Beneath…Part II

(Part I can be found here)

The nightmares just. would. not. stop!

For years.

Even after I retired, eight months later, still the nightmares…every. damn. night.

Vicious, hideous, savagely ending nightmares. I would wake up with sweat down my back, muscles quivering, and fear. Sleep was done after that point.

As a cop, I put in about 15 years total on nights. I hated sleep. Just one more layer of living through some serious shit experienced dealing with human nature gone bad.

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Before I go any further, I need to say this; I am NOT a counselor. If you think you wrestle with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), find someone to talk to and get help.

Right? That’s what everyone is supposed to say. But…

When you’ve seen the darkest of human nature as a cop, combat vet, any flavor of EMS personnel, or you’re the victim of a heinous crime, talking to someone requires trust. That’s hard to come by.

We don’t wake up and say to ourselves, “Hey, I think I might have PTSD.” Nope, not one bit. We actually deny the hell out of it. We won’t believe it and even argue with anyone who says we might be struggling with such a demon.

What we do see is nightmares that we dare not tell anyone.

What we do is bury and repress our experiences that no one else has gone through—that’s just what we think, that we’re the only ones that have had a buddy die next to us in combat, or watch someone die in our arms that was a direct result of some savage attack or car crash.

Why do we bury these things? Usually, because we don’t have the luxury to decompress right away.

One afternoon, I covered a shift, alone. Just how it is for a rural county sheriff’s deputy. I had three big calls during that shift. Two involved family members beating on each other. The third was a riot of about a dozen people with weapons. In between these three calls I handled everything from barking dog complaints to helping motorists broke down on the side of the road.

I didn’t have time process life-threatening situations; I had to put my game face on for the next call. I had to go from someone who needed to end violent situations with violence, to being a sweet charming deputy helping an elderly couple get a tow truck.

It’s wearing. It confuses the internal system.

Then, no support…

An administration that is concerned with numbers and statistics isn’t concerned that you may have just held a child in your arms for its last breath.

And, possibly little support from a home life that did not educate themselves about the emotional and physiological effects of this lifestyle.

So, you bury the experiences just to survive, do your duty, and become a machine.

And that…is where the problem lies.

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I had a friend who noticed some things. Like, I almost always talked about death. Even bragged about being dubbed by the county coroner as Deputy Death—seemed like I was the cop on duty for most of the deaths in the county, and I was the cop that handled every suicide that came in for many years.

My friend suggested that I might be in need of counseling. I scoffed. Yet, when my friend mentioned a list of behaviors I exhibited (shared in Part I), it gave me pause.

Like the frog slowly boiling, I had no idea what was happening except that I thought I was losing my flippin’ mind and figured that if things didn’t get better soon…well, shooting myself sounded like a good idea.

That one conversation started something that led to big changes later. Now, I’m in a much better place mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually because of my friend’s suggestion.

My friend told me I should try Journaling.

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I start with Journaling, because Journaling started big changes for me. It helped me to start to crawl out of the dungeon in my mind.

In an article posted by BJPsych Advances, it cites a study whereby those who journaled about traumatic and emotional experiences for as little as 3 times a week saw great improvement in emotional and physical health.

At the time, I didn’t care what research findings from whatever institute had to say about journaling.

So, I immediately thought it was girlie. Being a S.W.A.T. dude, girlie and a cute pink latched diary book didn’t fit into my macho-scheme of things.

“What the hell do I write about?” I asked my friend.

“Whatever the hell you want, let it rip,” my friend answered graciously, and then reassured me that it wasn’t girlie, and it was for me and me alone, no one else.

So, I began to journal on my computer in Word.

I noticed something interesting, journaling didn’t fix anything at all, but it did bring up a lot of emotion that I had buried.

Dark, curse-filled, bitter entries in the beginning.

I found myself crying at times. Then furious at other times.

In the midst of it all, for some reason, I felt a bit better.

Then, after a few weeks of journaling, I found myself thinking a bit clearer.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way, says this, “Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”

Journaling is like turning on a spotlight on the dark things that swirl around inside.

Once exposed, they don’t have the same power over us.

I’ve lived it first hand. I encourage you to do the same.

You don’t have to write long. Don’t spend a lot of time on it, unless you want to. Spend five minutes a day writing your thoughts and emotions down that no one else will read.

It’s a great actionable step to processing and healing. This one thing will astound you.

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You have to start somewhere, and you don’t have to be a combat vet, or any EMS person; anyone can and should do this.

Why?

It’s a simple call to action and if you have a hard time trusting others to speak with, this will help purge some of those misgivings which will lead to the next step: talking to someone.

Journaling is actionable because we take control. Another step in which we live intentionally.

To journal is like opening up the lid on the crawlspace below and letting in the Light and fresh air.

And that is exactly what chases the demons away and will allow you to breathe finally.

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Next week, we’ll cover the rest of the steps that will expose dark areas so that we can Flourish and Thrive.

If you made it to this point, I appreciate you.

You are not alone!

 


Photo by Anna Wangler on Unsplash

Posted by Christian Martin Jr. in PTSD, Reinvention, Self-Improvement