Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Can Happen to Anyone
Continuing with the idea that we are not our diagnoses, we want to discuss post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) this week. PTSD has gone by many names: shell shock, soldier’s heart, combat fatigue, and war neurosis, to name a few. By looking at historical terms, it might appear as if it only affects soldiers fighting or refugees fleeing war. However, PTSD can happen to anyone.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in individuals who have experienced some type of trauma in their lives. By trauma, we mean a shocking or dangerous event that their minds were unable to process completely. It’s perfectly normal to feel scared in these types of situations. In fact, the body often naturally reacts by releasing hormones triggering a “fight-flight-or-freeze” response. Usually, these feelings will dissipate after the threat has passed. However, individuals suffering from PTSD continue to feel this reaction when exposed to events that remind them of their original trauma. For example, a veteran who saw combat may be triggered by the sound of fireworks or a car backfiring.
Treating PTSD at Barn Life Recovery
Barn Life does a very good job at facilitating an atmosphere that is a safe place to share and deal with trauma. Some of our clients have had some really scary things happen to them in their lives. Barn Life staff work very hard to build a rapport with every single person who comes into the program to feel safe, heard, and not judged. It is a special place with dedicated and caring people who are very good at reaching our clients who are struggling. It is important to continue to bring out those uncomfortable topics like someone’s trauma that they are terrified to discuss. Our clients come in giving all their power to their trauma. However, it is our continued role in their lives to show them they are in more control than they believe.
For some, “depression” is a scary word that carries a connotation of weakness and shame. For others, it’s a warm blanket to withdraw into over and over again despite knowing the suffocating ramifications. We may be fearful of it, comfortable with it, or just sick of it. Whatever the case, depression on some level is probably part of the reason that brought us to Barn Life. Though some may argue with this, depression is not simply biological or inherent. Your life experiences molded you and created it as a reaction. Of course, some therapists and psychiatrists may have made you feel you are helpless to the monster “Depression,” and that you must live with it.
Years of Internalized Low Self-Worth
It would be easier to tell you to rely on medication*. Or to just accept this is who you are and you’ll have a lifelong struggle. However, that’s simply not based in truth and does you a great disservice. Depression is years of internalized low self-worth. The degree to which someone is conscious of their self-worth varies. Some of us are extremely aware of the hateful thoughts that run through our minds toward ourselves and others. On the other hand, some of us have fallen into disconnected behavioral patterns that numb and keep it out of awareness. We don’t engage in self-endangering or self-imploding behaviors when we are truly connected to our value. We feel proud of who we are, living out our life with meaning.
Reshaping Negative Belief Systems
What drives those behaviors? Belief systems. Negative belief systems are ingrained in us from external forces – caregivers, upbringing, other people’s thoughts, failures, traumatic events, and so forth. Beliefs like “I will never be loved, I am stupid, I am never good enough, I will never amount to anything”. Reshaping these beliefs into adaptive truths such as, “I am enough,” “my life has purpose,” “I deserve happiness,” “I deserve to love and be loved,” are much more difficult. They require us to work from the INSIDE OUT. We will not change these beliefs simply by engaging in behavioral changes or hearing from others you’re worthy and lovable. We need to spend intimate time with ourselves adapting our thoughts. Furthermore, we need to decide who we want to be in alignment with our values. This takes great intention and putting away distractions including seeking validation from others.
How We Choose to Engage with Life
Depression may a part of a bipolar diagnosis or the aftermath of our mania. If so, reflect on what the words are that swirl in your mind during those low periods. Is it telling yourself you’re shameful for your actions? Is it feeling like a lost cause, feeling like you can’t ever do things right or that you’re doing enough? What thoughts fuel the desire to shrink from the world? Remember that our choices send strong messages to ourselves and others. Every day we have an opportunity to change how we internally speak to ourselves, how we treat ourselves and our bodies, how we treat others.
Remember that depressive symptoms result from beliefs, choices, and behaviors – overall how you live and interact with your life. You cannot control life’s circumstances. There will be depressing events and relationships in your life. How you choose to engage with them will make a difference.
*Please note Barn Life honors client choice in seeking medication for intervention and does not devalue the effectiveness of this for some clients (in conjuction with therapy).
Extreme and constant emotional states (i.e. mania, anger, fear, sorrow, grief, and worry) lead to serious mental health disorders (i.e. anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc). Anxiety, for example, is a normal reaction to stress and certain life situations. Getting rid of it or ignoring it is akin to shooting the messenger because you do not like the message. That approach fails to generate change. Anxiety helps one to cope and alerts us of an unresolved opportunity to grow. However, it CAN become excessive, like any good/bad thing. The constant dread of possible future moments can literally paralyze a person in and terror. This is when anxiety devolves into a crippling disorder.
Harmonizing with Anxiety
Re-framing anxiety as an invitation to engage in our own healing process is an important overall motto we are keeping in mind this week. What sorts of practices and life patterns can we help teach clients? What useful and VERY SPECIFIC practices and habits can we learn that will help interpret what anxiety means in our specific and personal realities? Again, we want to offer tools and encourage change, not just talk about feelings. Action steps are vital. So we are coming up with some great ways to harmonize with anxiety and seeing what it has to teach us all!
Becoming Masters of Signs and Symptoms
Anxiety manifests itself in several forms in Western medicine: Generalized Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, PTSD, Social Anxiety Disorders, and phobias. We are exploring all of these conditions this week. The general idea is that this feeling can be a useful warning system that we can use to get ahead of an episode before it fully manifests. Clients need to become masters of mental health signs and symptoms so that they can train themselves into a better NOW. Knowing the terrain (how anxious feelings are triggered and how do they present in my specific life) is vital. Building a plan with specific tools and techniques is next. Putting that plan into live-action when the bullets fly is after that. We will find out what works and what doesn’t. Each of our clients is unique.
Maybe think about how you personally deal with the emotional stress that manifests as anxiety. Maybe explore the approaches other cultures use to treat it. Perhaps explore common triggers and complex triggers that affect us and propel us into a frenzied state. Again, anxiety is not an affliction to remove. Rather, it is an invitation to transform.
Navigating the Sea of Modern Mental Health Diagnosis
Our themes from this week forward are going to be a general overview of mental health diagnosis. However, we want to do it in a systematic order week by week. We will start with the root and move outward towards the branches. Everyone knows the modern definitions for depression and anxiety and bipolar disorders, etc., etc. Some even wear these labels as badges of honor or identity. Other people overidentify. Some are blind to any labels or words existing for what they are experiencing and need help organizing and learning these ideas.
Finding the Way Back Home
The human psyche is vast, wonderous, and treacherous. We have depicted it in so many ways in so many great stories and paintings and movies and music and books across epochs of time and thousands of cultures. The human psyche is baffling and addictive and keeps ya’ coming back for more and more. Why? Because we all have one. And we all haven’t a clue as to why. Just opinions, best guesses, and the occasional “proof was in the pudding” moments. If we can find some new ways or old ways or a mix of ways to help people navigate the seas of depression and anxiety and all the other waves of diagnoses, we can maybe help them find their way back home, or perhaps make a new home.
Starting with the Roots
This week we will introduce the idea of EMOTIONS and THOUGHTS. This is the root. This is the fertile soil where it all begins and ends. You experience mental health disorders AS A RESULT of emotions and thoughts. Maybe think about what emotions are, exactly. What if you felt an emotion that doesn’t have a name yet? Ouch. Is that like creating a new color and naming it? Hard to fathom. Or perhaps explore the world of thought and where thoughts originate. How do they morph and grow into actions and patterns? How can I change my thoughts or at the very least guide them in some cooperative way?
Making a Real Difference
Where to look? Explore Western culture and its philosophies over the millennia regarding emotions. Have they changed? Why have they changed? Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have a few ideas. St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas had some thoughts. Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Hume, and Kant are all weighing in on this topic. There is also the James-Lange Theory of Emotions, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the idea of the reptilian brain. This topic is so rich with so many branches it is literally mind-blowing. So, shop around and find some stuff you like. Just get curious. We have an amazing opportunity to make a real difference in the world, and we have to rise to that challenge if we want to be on the front lines.
Have you ever thought, I would like to be a little less crazy? Or, I would like to be a little more tolerant of ignorance, or I would like to stop drinking so much. Or, I would like to begin learning Aikido. Get into better physical and spiritual shape. Or, I wish I could make better choices so I could live a life I love instead of this inherited life that has me at the end of my rope. Why is it so damn hard to make these desires a reality? What is stopping us?
The desire to improve one’s future seems a common drive for most people. Removing shortcomings and replacing them with our visions for a better future and a better self. To become something. Something more! Yet, despite these desires, here we sit, the same as always. We may think, all I have is this broken-down body and a mind that is as stubborn as a bull. How can I manifest real transformation when I have no money for Aikido classes or even a gym membership? Or maybe we are “genetically predispositioned” to drink and eat too much. Or maybe we were just born crazy as hell and no matter what we do, the same bat shit crazy nonsense happens to us. Maybe I was abused and neglected and do not know how to form close bonds with others. How do I change that? How does one transform oneself into something else?
Starting at the Beginning
Lean in close. It begins with thoughts. Yes, that is correct. Thoughts are where this all begins. They cost nothing. They are yours for the taking. They require little training and they are highly suggestible. Thoughts shape everything around you and give form to ideas. Put simply, thoughts make stuff real. But how? Recent scientific study into the human genome in the past 20 years has revealed something astonishing. We can alter our genes with our minds. Did you hear what you just read? We can alter our genes with our minds!
Ok, so what are genes again? Genes are the blueprints you inherited from your parents. And up until recently, conventional wisdom and science suggested that you are stuck with whatever you get. Like a bad hand in poker. However, this is incorrect. Even if you are “genetically predispositioned” for this and that, you can change all that by thinking. Not only that, but you can change it remarkably fast. Our minds and how we direct our minds can unlock genetic sequences we cannot even comprehend, yet.
Altering Genes Through Our Thoughts and Environment
Research has proven the placebo effect. People with cancer or other afflictions think they received a cure even though in truth they have not. However, because of their strong conviction and belief, they cure themselves. People who walk on fire and do not burn. Those who lift up cars to save small children trapped underneath. People who handle poisonous snakes and get bit yet do not die. These are astonishing examples of mind over matter.
Epigenetics is one way to view this process of transformation. This is a new form of genetics where we focus on altering genes through our thoughts and environment. Instead of messing with the sequence of genes, we instead work with what we have. Genes determine so much. But those genes only know what to do because you direct them. When you decide you are worthless and do not deserve happiness, some genes turn on and some genes turn off. As a result, all the proteins and building blocks for worthlessness and depression are produced. If you believe you are fat and will always be fat, certain genes are alerted and make that reality so. If you believe you are mentally ill then genes begin the work of making that a reality for you.
Shaping Our Destinies
However, it works to your advantage as well. Using nothing more than thoughts, you can tell your genes exactly what you want. And they will respond as if you were ordering food from a menu. We are not victims of the past or some genetic garbage we got from someone else. Rather, we are great creators and mighty shapers of destiny. We conjure our lives from thought and our genetics respond making all that we think…a reality.
Transformation is a process of changing something. This week let’s identify what we want to change about ourselves. One or two things. Start small. By week’s end, we will see how much we have altered our genetic code. The proof will be in the quality of the reality we make for ourselves.
People misuse the word, “holistic”. This week, we are going to bring it all back home. Bring it back down to the grassroots, to its intended meaning and purpose. Note, we can also write “holistic” as “wholistic,” even though your spell checker may not agree. The alternative spelling gives us a much better clue as to the meaning of this misunderstood word. Holism is where the idea of a holistic approach comes from in the first place. It is a philosophy that states that the parts that make up a whole are interdependent and contribute to the whole in a way that is more valuable than the individual parts. “How” the parts connect becomes the important question. The relationship between the parts.
The Need for a Holistic Approach
Keep in mind, we cannot understand each part separately from the whole. All parts are interrelated thus all parts must be considered. For example, a person reports they have shortness of breath. His general practitioner sends him to a pulmonary specialist. The lung doctor sees that an inflamed liver is pushing on the lungs. Since he is not a liver doctor, he refers his patient to a liver specialist. The liver specialist then discovers that excessive alcohol consumption is inflaming the liver. He then refers the patient to a substance abuse specialist who discovers that the reason the patient drinks alcohol excessively is that he is severely depressed. So, he refers him to a depression specialist. And so on and so on, the drudgery lumbers forward. A holistic approach to this issue would consider all these factors and contributing forces…simultaneously.
A Series of Chain Reactions
Each issue created a chain reaction that created another series of chain reactions. How these chain reactions communicate and relate to one another is what wholistic care is all about. If we isolate a component and only fixate on that singular component it is like giving a free house to a homeless person. As you wash your hands and pat yourself on the back for “fixing” the issue of homelessness, you cannot help but realize that there is still a potential learning disability, trauma, mental illness, addiction and or a host of other issues that contribute and overlap to the overall identified problem, which is homelessness. Buying them a house does not remedy the issue. Only by looking at each issue and how it relates to the next can we gain the insight that necessitates and supports true healing and change.
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