The term disorder as the last letter in the acronym PTSD is one I’ve always called a misnomer. It’s an injury, regardless of where you got it, how you got it, or if it was caused by a single trauma or, as in my case and many like me, in the workplace over a long series of them. It is not an illness in the more specific sense, though it can be argued the broader, more general definition of an unhealthy condition might apply. I don’t think, however, that anyone can debate it is not a mental health concern regardless of its nature, if only because of the raw and often debilitating secondary conditions it can cause. Things like clinical depression, generalised anxiety disorder, OCD, agoraphobia, substance abuse, and so on.
I can only speak from my own perspective – it’s all anyone can do really, but I’m going out on a bit of a limb here to talk about something not particular to me, or anyone injured from post-traumatic stress, but anyone with a condition that inhibits or otherwise interferes with living a relatively normal and productive life. I call it relative because, let’s face it, nobody ever gets away without a glitch of one sort or another. I know men who are living quite contented and productive lives yet still can’t use a public urinal, but this is not about them. To be honest, the thing I want to talk a bit about can have a massively draining effect as well, but it’s not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders except as a symptom of other problems (most specifically Illness Anxiety Disorder, what we less edumacated types call hypochondria).
Anyone actually suffering from depression knows that self-pity, feeling sorry for yourself, is not that, so let’s put this idea to bed right now. It’s not just sadness, either, though that certainly is part and parcel. No, sadness is a normal but more general emotion you can experience while reading a Nicholas Sparks novel or any number of otherwise normal daily things I won’t list here (because they’re freaking sad), but for our purposes it’s just a side effect, like having a coronary while shoveling your driveway in the winter.
Okay, bad example.
Self-pity is not a mental illness. It can be totally destabilising, inspiring, or have no more effect on you other than a heavier step as you go about your regular day, and it’s both the level and duration of these things that make the difference between it becoming a real concern or just a bothersome moment of self-reflection. I’m almost ready to call it a normal, though unpleasant, emotional state because it has all the hallmarks of one: generally caused by circumstances outside of ourselves, transient, and often easily displaced by another. I keep meaning to explore deeper into those definitions, but other ideas (like stupid memes, apparently – see yesterday’s essay) keep getting in the way. Another of these, actually, is that feeling sorry for yourself, like emotions we often think of as negative, is neither good or bad in and of itself but takes on those properties only when we apply them. Or, as I said above, when they adversely affect our well-being in a way that’s divergent from the typical.
But normal, valid, human emotions also have purpose, right? Fear warns us of a potential threat, anger helps us react to that threat and counter the fear, regret tells us we probably overreacted and should either fix it or not do it again or both. Admittedly some pretty broad strokes, but you get the idea. What possible, credible, purpose can self-pity have?
It’s no secret that I’m not in the best financial position I’ve ever been in (thanks a lot, WSIB). My disability makes it very difficult for me to do the simple things of a normal life, things like walk out the door, interact with people, or anything substantive like make a living. That’s pretty much the definition of disability, though, isn’t it? I’ve been pretty good with not feeling sorry for myself lately, though. I have food in the kitchen, enough gas in my car to putter around town as I need to, rent and auto insurance is paid, and though I’m a bit behind they’re not going to shut off my power or Internet just yet. I learned long ago that having no money is okay if you have what you need to survive until you do.
I woke up this morning and immediately checked my bank balance because benefit cheques are deposited early in December and I’m down to my last four cigarettes (don’t even start. One vice at a time). It hadn’t changed, and the $10 left of my overdraft wouldn’t cover a new pack. So yeah, the pity train pulled up to the platform. Self-awareness can be a curse, but it’s still an important aspect of the human condition, and in this particular situation feeling sorry for myself has become a call to action. Beginning the administrative paperwork to apply for a disability tax credit, something I’ve been putting off for like ever, won’t get me more cigarettes today but it will be doing something that will help later. Pretty specific and personal, but as an example of a valid purpose it works for me. I bet you thought I was going to talk about being alone during the holiday season, but I am surprisingly okay with that.
Allowing ourselves to indulge in it can also be pretty cathartic, like a good solid cry, so long as it does not become the place we live. Take a ride on the Reading, but get off at the next station. Or two down the line if that’s what you need, but be sure you do eventually. It’s never a state of being, and if it is then you’re doing it wrong. Let the thing wash over you when it comes, acknowledge and experience it, then let it go when it wants to, because it will want to eventually.
I will admit that despite all of these fancy explanations and dissections, guilt and shame still come with self-pity, but I’m working on that. It’s a cultural construct we build around it because you know, it’s selfish and narcissistic, isn’t it? No, it’s bloody well not, but I am still a product of that culture, and taking a wall apart brick-by-brick takes as much time as it takes.
And someone stole my BFH.
PS: About 5 minutes after I published this, I checked my bank balance again, and my benefit cheque had been deposited. I am still going to work on that paperwork, though.