Saturday, June 1, 2013

Art, Books, and Patrick Stewart


And also: revealing. I looked at the slideshow of some of the art pieces created there, and I recognize so much in them. Enough that most of the time, the description is unnecessary. 

An example of the art works produced at NICOE. Click the image above to see the story.

The effects of PTSR are universal, regardless of the cause. As I've learned from reading Peter Levine and Diane Poole Heller, trauma isn't in the event, it's in the body's response to the event. This is why people can be traumatized by so many different kinds of things, and why people are affected differently and to different degrees, and why it can be so very difficult to know when you are suffering from PTSR.

And because I subscribe to the belief that PTSR is, at least in part, a shame disorder, I think it's important to emphasize this point; trauma is not in the event, it's in the body, because it's very easy for people to think that they shouldn't be affected, or that their pain isn't as "real" as the pain of others, because they didn't experience the same kind of traumatizing event.

For example: I belong to a PTSD group on Facebook, and recently saw a post by a man who was in a horrific car accident three years ago, in which he lost a leg. He was describing the fits of uncontrollable rage he was experiencing, including violent episodes that left him afraid for his own safety and the safety of others, and then he said this:

"I tried going to a PTSD support group, but everyone else there was a veteran, and I felt like I was insulting them by being there. They've been through so much, and I don't feel like I have a right to say I'm suffering the way they are."

This man is a paraplegic. He had a part of his body literally ripped away from him. And he doesn't feel he has a right to seek help for his pain because it didn't happen to him in Afghanistan.

I see this happening the other way around, too: veterans returning home with TBIs and PTSR, and struggling to assimilate back into civilian culture, or to cope with the feelings of fear and isolation that they don't understand and are ashamed to admit to their families and friends. 

There is no understanding of this condition in the general population. There is no support that isn't stigmatized in ways large and small. There is a psychological barrier that prevents so many PTSR sufferers from seeking help, and it's so incredibly frustrating and demoralizing to someone like me, who has experienced some of the healing that is available to us now.

I'm so glad to hear about programs like the one at NICOE and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I want to learn more about them and what they're doing. We need more of them, and we need to work harder to remove the stigma from this condition so that not only will more people have access to help, but more of them will be willing to seek it out when they need it.

So this is beginning to become a mission of mine: to do what I can to help veterans and other fellow sufferers of TBIs and PTSR. This blog is for me, sure, but I would never have started it if helping myself were my only goal. It's a platform, and I am a teacher, and I began writing about my experiences in the hopes that others would read them and be inspired to find healing themselves.

And by all accounts, in my tiny little world, it's been working.

I want it to work better, and for more people.

I've said from the beginning that I wanted to turn this blog into a book, and that I wanted to find ways to connect people who might be helped by it to my story. I've reached the point where I'd like to start trying to make that happen.

I don't know how.

I have some ideas. I joined that Facebook page, for example, so that I could post links to my blog and offer words of support and encouragement to the people who post. I try to do that regularly. There are other forums I can join and link to as I try to build a network. 

Of course, I have a natural aversion to self-promotion and I always feel uncomfortable with leaving my link when someone is sharing their painful experience, but I know it's the only way to get it out there, and I also truly believe that my story can help others if they choose to read it. So I've been pushing myself to leave that link. 

I'm ready to push myself some more.

I sometimes check my blog counter to see where my readers are coming from-- I can see the most recent 20 IP addresses to visit, when I check-- and I've been encouraged by a few visits in recent months from IP addresses located on US military bases, the Department of Justice in Washington DC, and-- most exciting to me-- a US army base in Afghanistan.

I want to be a resource for people who don't know what is happening to them or how to find help. I want to show them that they're not imagining things, and that it won't just "go away," and that it isn't a weakness to be hidden, and most importantly, that there is healing to be found.

And that they deserve it. 

So, although my time for writing and focusing on this blog is limited, I'm on a new mission to build a better network. I want to make a difference. I want this to mean something. I want to share what I've learned with others so that they can find their own path out of the darkness.

The other goal is to turn this blog into a book. I don't know what that would look like or how to go about doing it, but I want to do it. And it's time to start figuring that out.

So I'm starting with you, my readers. There are a lot of you out there now, from all corners of the world, and I would love to hear your ideas for how to turn this blog into a book, or how to get my story out to more people who need to hear it.

Can you help me?

You can leave suggestions in the comments, or you can email me here. I am hoping that in the collective wisdom of the little community we've created here, we can find new ways to make an impact. You've believed in me all this time, and I believe in you, too.

Two other items of interest before I go:

First, I saw this video of Patrick Stewart answering a question about the work in his life he is most proud of, in which he talks about his fight to end domestic abuse and the roots of that fight in his own childhood experience. 

Or he starts there, at least. Then his answer takes a turn I didn't expect but find, as you'll see if you watch this, amazing and personally relevant:

So many lives, so many families destroyed by the effects of PTSR. I have so much respect for Patrick Stewart for the remarkable generosity of spirit that allowed him to understand this about his father after all this time, and to forgive him and show such compassion for him in the best way he possibly could have: by helping others who suffer in the same way so that no more lives are lost to this terrible condition.


The other thing is just a funny little random coincidence that occurred to me as I was writing this piece that I thought you might like to hear. 

I grabbed that story about NICOE and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last week and have been thinking about it ever since, and before I sat down to write this piece and did a little research, I didn't realize that I'd actually known that famous facility by another name for my entire life.

I always knew it simply as the Bethesda Naval Hospital. 

Until today, I didn't know this was the same place that would house groundbreaking research facilities established by the Department of Defense for the evaluation, treatment, and education of service members and their families who are touched by the same condition that would affect my life so profoundly. 

I didn't know I would someday share its goal to reach past the walls of PTSR and help to truly  bring our servicemen and women home and leave the horror and trauma of war behind them.

All I knew about the Bethesda Naval Hospital was this: 

Forty-one years ago, I was born there.

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