Building new coping skills in the therapy room isn’t easy. For me, it’s an exercise in looking at my reactions and examining how I can approach things differently. Let’s just say that I grew up in a way that kept me on constant defense. I was so busy trying to protect myself that I spent most of my time mentally curled in a ball, my head covered, hoping I could save some little part of myself from being torn away while the rest of me was being torn apart.
When you don’t know or haven’t been shown how to properly process stimuli, the odds of responding rationally are slim. You go to what you know; getting in fighting stance, running away, or curling up in a ball, just waiting for it to be over. To try to navigate through it any other way is foreign. It’s like getting shoved out onto a frozen pond while wearing leather soled slippers and trying to walk back to shore, just something you know is not going to end well. But that’s where you suck it up, surrender and go into the treatment room and re-train the brain to cope properly with it.
From my perspective (which I’m finding out is more and more unique by the day), I’ve learned that most people live life at eye-level. They see what is immediately around them: front, back, right, left. But rarely do I see people who embrace living life in three distinct dimensions. In other words, they don’t look up or think of what is below them. It almost seems like they’re missing an entire dimension of life.
If your heart were at the point of origin where the x, y, and z axes intersect, where do you really live? Thanks to gravity, we can’t fly so, “up” really isn’t a natural option. From my viewpoint, we really only actively live life in the space between the X and Y axes. It’s almost like there’s no Z at all.
To me, the only people who really live in three dimensions are divers and pilots because they have apparatus that allow them to break the mold and allow an active Z-space existence, but still even with those exceptions, the time spent living a true three-dimensional life is limited.
So, let’s go back to being curled up in a ball, surrounded. From that viewpoint, life ceases to be at eye level, it’s ground level, nose-to-nose with the family pet. “Up” definitely becomes a non-option as it’s reinforced that you are where you belong – down or being crushed down by everything around you. Without any other input or stimuli over a span of years, the normalization of the down state becomes the lens that the world is viewed through.
The down state is what I refer to as “being given gravel sandwiches,” and it’s a unique perspective to have while going through PTSD therapy because it is a firm recognition of the down state and gives it a visual reference. It’s basically sitting underneath the banquet table of life, living off of emotional table scraps. It sucks and is no way to truly live. It’s survival mode, nothing more.
As I’ve been progressing through the process of re-training my brain and learning new coping skills, I’m finally able to live life at eye-level and I have to say, I love the view. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly thinking of living life three dimensionally.
We all know the magnificent revelation I had when I learned what “don’t take it personally” really meant and it really baked my noodle. Now I’m on to a different phrase, “rise above it” and my most hated of phrases, “get over it.”
(Please, for the love of God, stop telling people with PTSD to “get over it”; unless you have our illness, you have no f’ing clue what you’re talking about. Until you get educated on the illness — heaven forbid you try to walk a mile in our shoes — try being a little more understanding.)
Moving on, as I’ve stated, UP (thanks to gravity) really isn’t a natural option unless I’m in a wetsuit, gearing up for a dive, then of course I’m in a naturally three dimensional medium. Notice the literal logic. (Remember, I don’t “get” jokes because I’m very literal). So, you guessed it, “rising above something” was always answered with a very literal “how?” Laugh, it’s okay.
You don’t know how lucky you have it if you take knowing things like “don’t take it personally” and “rise above it” for granted. My universe is rooted in logic so all of those wonderful coping skills you take for granted are things I have to work really hard to get. Ya know, I can project trend three to five years ahead of the curve, I can see the connectedness of all things, I have talents that people would kill for and among all of the puzzles I can solve and all of the amazing things I can do, being human and human interaction are BY FAR the hardest things for me to handle.
Recently, I’ve felt like I’ve been completely surrounded by ignorance, bigotry, pride, greed, and just all-around ugliness. In my universe, to reject the idea of learning another language or refusing to learn about a different culture just offends me. To reject philosophy and the great thinkers, or to dismiss the sciences, or refusing to help people, or worse, being forced to live in an uncultured world is complete anathema to me because I don’t know of a moment in my existence that I didn’t value learning something new. I don’t know of a moment in my life that I didn’t appreciate art or music or debate. How many more facts can people twist until no truth remains? How did we come to live in a world where stupidity is a celebrated trait? No matter what I seem to do, I feel crushed by the ignorance that seems to permeate everything like an inescapable, choking sickness. Like Neo surrounded by Smiths in Reloaded’s Burly Brawl, I’m left trying my level best to take things one at a time and not feel completely overwhelmed, but it’s hard.
While you might have known that the best way to get out of a situation like that would be to “rise above it”, I most certainly didn’t, and I have wasted countless hours on trying to solve, change minds, anything and everything to keep everything at eye-level under control, coping with all of it.
It wasn’t until I was lying in bed last night doing my pre-bedtime meditation that I found an answer. With my anxiety through the roof after being triggered earlier in the day on top of trying to keep focused and steady all day, I was exhausted. When I began to meditate, I was just trying to get calm and still, but then my brain threw me a curve ball, visualizing being surrounded on all sides, then daring me to find an escape route. In the moment, it seemed the only way escape was possible was to go UP. Now, as I’ve stated, while UP really isn’t feasible in the literal world, I will be damned if it isn’t in the mind. So, I basically gave myself the ability to rise and get above what was troubling me. And DUH! I could look down and see everything, the connections, the trends, the why’s and the how’s all spread out beneath me. My brain did it all on its own and I couldn’t explain to you how I got there, all I know is that my mind presented a solution to me that I hadn’t previously considered.
It was a powerful moment, giving myself the ability to fly. To take my consciousness out of the fight at eye-level and look at it from above, rising above it and giving me the ability to examine it, or better yet, leave it behind. It made me feel better, more in control of my emotional state and I finally had an easy time going to sleep. I think I might have even smiled as I drifted away.
So, if you’re battling PTSD or your world gets overwhelming, you might try learning to fly. It helped me learn how to “rise above things” and no matter what, I now have a unique new coping skill based on a very old expression that I defined in my own way. While it’s not the assistance of a PTSD dog (that I want so badly), I found a way through.
Everyone’s PTSD is different. How each of us find ways to conquer our illness is up to us. The most important thing is that we stay in the fight, step by step finding our way into the light.
It’s been a while since I’ve done Song of the Day, so let’s go with “O” by Coldplay.