The mind is a strange wasteland, full of moonscapes and pits and dark places. Radiant, beautiful places exist as well, but it's the wasteland, the badlands, that make for more interesting stories. Maybe this is the place Meredith and Christina (Grey's Anatomy) are hiding out when they refer to themselves as being in the "dark and twisties."
Studying psychology and having had mental illness running in the family has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about the dark and twisties. Even more so, being in recovery, being mildly bipolar myself, and knowing a lot of people have all led to even further insight into this dark place.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something lots of people have heard about but few understand. I certainly don't understand it fully. They used to call it "shell shock" back in my father's tour of duty in the Army. He came back from WWII a changed man who went on to father six of us and then to be abusive to us. What made him that way? Is PTSD like a brain bruise of sorts? Does it leave an indelible mark on the psyche, forever changing one's personality? What can be done to route new connections around that wasteland?
It isn't just war that can cause such a bruise. Many things in life--sexual abuse, rape, car accidents, and so on--can leave a terrible mark. The ways in which one learns to cope with and incorporate the bruise into one's life are myriad. Some people start drinking. Some people start using drugs, cutting themselves, or acting out in inappropriate ways in order to handle what is going on inside of them. What can be done?
My father exhibited the strongest signs of PTSD after his surgery for lung cancer. He was medicated (on morphine) while recovering at home, and I remember him yelling out to people who weren't there, men who were in his unit. My brother-in-law (at the time) had been a medic in the Army during Vietnam. He came to visit my father one day, and I remember Dad sitting up in the bed, just his shorts on, looking down at the marks on him and the scars.
"Mike," he said, "they shot me. Why did you let them do that?"
What he was looking at was not a gunshot wound but a mark over the clip at which the radiation would be directed when treatment started. I was 14 at the time and remember feeling the strangest sense of disconnection with my father. For the first time, he looked sad and young and lost. He no longer looked hard and cold, as he could look when that violent switch flipped in him. I saw him as a teenage boy in the trenches during WWII. I saw his innocence about to be stolen from him.
Those memories stick with me today and inform much of my non-professional work (blogging, poetry, grad studies). Getting an insight not only into myself and my father but also into others who have suffered such bruising is important to me. I want to peel back the layers and see what the bruise looks like and how to fix it.
Just something I'm thinking about early this Saturday morning before the snow falls in Maryland.
Peace - D