Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Mental Health day

"Called in sick" as far as writing was concerned today. That's not altogether accurate, as I did do a lot of reading and thinking, I just didn't get any words written. I'm OK with that right now. I have some serious issues that I have to straighten out before I can progress much further.

Almost every writer suffers from fear of failure. You're going to send out that first story. Your hands sweat, you can hardly catch your breath. Right up until the envelope goes into the box, there's a gopod chance you'll change your mind and go back for just one more look, one more edit. Maybe I can't send it out just yet. Maybe it's not ready yet. I'd better look one more time. Yeah, I had that, too.

Things have changed. Back then, I had no real illusions about being a success as a writer. It was just something I did in my spare time. Maybe I would publish something, maybe not. Now, I can see that I have reached a point in my development where success is a very real possibility, and that scares tha absolute Bejeezus out of me. I know where it comes from, the question is "What am I going to do about it?". It's almost paralyzing me.

So, among the things I spent time thinking about today was the issue of PTSD--Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I know I have PTSD, but I won't often admit it, and I keep trying to convince myself that it isn't so. But the symptoms are unmistakeable: Hyperalertness (the monsters are real and they're after me), withdrawal from other people (agoraphobia in spades), nightmares (every night), and on and on. I even read the diagnosis in DSM - IV-TR. Yep, that's me.

So why am I posting this here for the whole world to see? Because then I won't be able to deny it any longer. This is the root of many of my problems, and I have to deal with it. Somehow. Unfortunately, the psychiatric profession has few tools that really help. Recovery has to be from the inside out. That puts the load on me.

Back in time

PTSD? What trauma? You're a normal middle-aged man, you've never been in a life-threatenting situation or a war or a natural disaster. It would be a lot easier to see if I had been. The source of all this, though, goes back to 1961, when I was four years old. One fine spring day, I was riding my tricycle on the front porch and managed to go over the edge and down the concrete steps. Almost made it, too. Almost. Every day since then, I have had to look at myself in the mirror and see the scar and knot on my forehead and remember.

Lessons that four-year-old might learn from something like this:
  • The world is dangerous. You can die at any moment.
  • Heights are bad. Falling is worse. Hittintg bottom hurts.
  • Being out of control can kill you.
  • Your parents can't save you.
These are some terrible life lessons for a young child to have to absorb. But it got worse. PTSD didn't exist in those days. You got hurt, you got better, you got over it. But I didn't. Now I knew that the monsters under the bed are real. The only way to avoid them is to keep your head under the covers so they can't see you. Draw attention to yourself, and you're doomed. Four-year-old logic.

Some other factors that reinforced the problem:
  • An emotionally remote family. No hugs or kisses, or even pats on the back.
  • "Be tough. There's nothing to be afraid of, crybaby."
  • Being taught that all deep feelings are bad.
  • "Don't come running to me. Do it yourself."
And others, but those are just for me. I will just say that I have tapped into a deep vein of unresolved anger at my parents for their roles in not giving me the love and support I needed when I needed them most. That's hard to deal with.

I'm an emotional train wreck right now. Back to work tomorrow. I suspect my stories are going to take a turn toward fear and anger for a while.


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