Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist of Jewish descent, who also survived the Holocaust. The above quote is from his book Man’s Search for Meaning that talks about his life in the concentration camps of WWII and the impact it had on him. Let’s just say that it is without a doubt, a must-read book for anyone suffering from PTSD. And, this little quote is the exact thing that I am going to expound upon in this post.
Over the past almost two years of therapy and self discovery I have come to accept that I am a Jungian when it comes to psychoanalytical beliefs and it is probably why I latched on to Frankl in the process. For me, the ability and power to choose and/or make choices during my journey has been paramount. Regardless of how shitty I felt or how strong the Itty Bitty Shitty committee in my head was trying to keep me down, I learned that I had a choice. I could listen to the Committee or simply accept that my day is shitty and stay in bed, isolate myself and dive headfirst into the rabbit hole, or………. I could make choice for something else. And, believe me, it is really that simple. Let me explain why.
Just over a year ago, I was taking part in a residential treatment program for PTSD called Project Trauma Support. During one of the sharing sessions, I was hit hard with he realization that my PTSD was not the result of a single incident but was a collection of MANY situations. I was devastated at this realization and I have told others that this was the lowest point in my journey because it was the moment, I understood just how fucked up my PTSD was. I sat there after the session and cried and cried and cried. I remember being asked what was the matter and I remember saying “I just realized how fucked up I am.” And I remember being asked by someone, to this day I do not know who, “So what are you going to do about it?”
There it is the question that led me to make a choice. Do you want to stay “Fucked up” or do you want to move forward? Do you like the darkness or do you want to get back to the light? That’s it, that is how simply it is. A choice to keep on wallowing away in misery or work towards something else. So, I made a choice and haven’t looked back since.
I know. You guys and gals are yelling out BULLSHIT on this. PTSD has nothing to do with making a choice. It’s not that simple. You can’t simply decide that you don’t have PTSD anymore. PTSD is an injury just like getting injured and becoming paralyzed, its not a choice. Or my favourite, obviously your PTSD isn’t that bad if you think you can choice to be better (yes, someone actually made that comment). But to all the nigh sayers I will respond with “No bullshit about, sit back and listen”.
Let me peel off the one common argument that being injured isn’t a choice nor is it what we signed up for when we joined the military or became a first responder. I agree 100%, nobody chooses to get PTSD. I think we can all agree that PTSD is an injury or illness or disorder that affects first responders and military more than anyone else. But like any other injury, you have choices to make along the road to recovery. Simple ones like taking meds, going to physio / rehab, eating healthy, taking care of yourself etc. Choices to get better. So no, the injury isn’t a choice but what we do with the injury is our choice.
I know what your thinking, what if the injury is something that you can’t get better from, then what. Well, let’s talk about Christopher Reeves or Stephen Hawking. Both were subjected to varying degrees of paralysis brought on by a) a traumatic event and b) a slow degenerative illness, yet both made clear and definitive CHOICES to move forward. Being dependent on a wheelchair and or various forms of life sustaining treatment were not their choice to make but how they accepted their situation and using it to move forward was their choice. Reeves went on to live the rest of his life as an advocate for spinal cord research and pushed for many of the advancements we see today in the regeneration of spinal cord injuries. And Stephen Hawking, well what is there to say. I am pretty sure everyone knowns what he ended up doing because he chose to move forward and not accept what was happening to him. (and I mean the science stuff, not that fact that he starred in Big Band Theory.)
Hopefully, you are starting to see what I am getting at. Yes, getting PTSD is not a choice any of us make nor would we wish it upon anyone. However, how we use it to move forward is definitely our choice and something that we should be proud to own. Even when we are at our lowest, we make choices everyday. Just think of yourself in your journey. Everyday, you make a choice to get out of bed, to have breakfast, to sit in front of the TV, to take your meds, etc. Not all our choices are the move mountain types of choices at first, but they are definitely choices. As the journey continues however, there comes a time when you begin to make those “move mountain” type choices. This is when you decide that you no longer want to feel the way you do and you begin to make choices to move forward (yes, unfortunately, this is also the point when some people make a choice to end their suffering but I believe that there are other underlying issues that lead to this choice. Maybe I will get into this at another time.) But, choosing to remain on the positive track, this is when you choose to take the next step forward.
And yes, this is when you also begin to enter the fabled land of Post Traumatic Growth. You chose to get a therapist or switch to a new one. You chose to begin sharing with family and friends (one of the means of attacking stigma and moving away from suicide) that you have PTSD. You chose to break your isolation. You seek out peer support and you begin to live for the moment and dream of a future again. It’s the effect of Growth and my choice to thrive in it that has led me to the understanding that I am grateful for my PTSD. It has put me on a journey / path for my future, allowed me to met some of the strongest people I will ever know, learn so much about myself and the people I love and that I have the power to choose to move forward towards my dreams.
Making a CHOICE. It really is simply a question asked, but it is the hardest question that you must answer. By no means do I have this perfected. I still make bad choices from time to time, but I recognize them and try to readjust, if I catch it in time. If not, I try to learn from the wrong choices for the future. But I made a choice. And I will continue to make them, good and bad, so that I can continue to move forward.
Just do me a favour. Start making choices for yourself that will help move you forward, you will be surprised at what happens along the way.