TW: discussion of death and violence.
NOTE: this may be a more disorganized post than usual, but I feel it’s important to write it down, and get it out into the world – out of my head, and onto paper.
I can tell you when, and why, my PTSD really started to take me down.
The damage started with that first fatality when I was a park ranger. But then the damage was compounded by a series of other fatalities that same summer. And further compounded by other seeming impossible dramas and near-tragedies that turned my life upside down – and shattered my conceptions about how the world works.
I never was able to catch my breath. Every day felt like a street fight, for a few years after that one pivotal catalyst. I was lost, and angry, and fearful every day. I hoped that bad things wouldn’t happen on my watch. I hoped that if they did, I would be able to stay present. I hoped that if someone’s life was on the line, my shortcomings would not lead to their death.
I felt like Life kept smacking me down. And every day I had to get up and fight all over again. I had no idea what was going on, or what to do with myself – so I would get up and fight again.
But it wasn’t until I left the park rangering that the PTSD really took hold. Once I no longer had to fight to stay alive, all the fight went out of me.
It became too difficult to fight, too difficult to do more than get by. Sometimes too difficult even to get by. All the anger and angst and fear turned inward, and I collapsed.
Unable to escape the reality that Life COULD be too hard, unable to escape the fact that loss was as inevitable as it was permanent, I lost my incentive to fight. I lost my incentive to risk.
I am armed with too much knowledge of all the things that can turn bad, all the ways events can turn to tragedy. That knowledge pushes me away from risk, and towards safety and comfort.
How many people live out their lives hiding from Life and all that it can take from you? How many of them have been helped by platitudes such as, “it’s better to have loved and lost then to never have loved” – any? How many of the walking wounded have had enough of the pain, and just want a bit of personal peace?
So it becomes about a constant seeking for comfort and safety. Well, safety is only an illusion – so comfort temporarily brings the illusion of safety. In my home. In my bed. If I’m fortunate, in nature. There is no illusion of safety out in the world – women get attacked, children get shot, people die in car accidents. And of course safety at home is also an illusion – you still get the phone call that brings you to your knees, or violence comes into your home. And most certainly the news of sworn enemies killing each other, of neighbors vilifying each other, of a government cheating us and lying to us, makes its way into our living rooms.
Escaping into good fiction, watching children and animals playing. A big slice of chocolate cake, or tall glass of merlot. A soft pillow and the sound of rain. These things bring at least momentary comfort.
The deeper comforts we crave, the kinds that come from being vulnerable and making connections and taking chances, come at too high a cost. Safety is an illusion. So while we know this isn’t how we want to live out our lives, we settle. For the easy, familiar, and guaranteed comforts. No matter how fleeting.