Can I be cured? There’s a question and a half, and one without an easy answer. I recall once telling my doctor that I was sure this would never go away, that I was never going to not have PTSD, and the look she gave me (she always has trouble keeping a professionally straight face with me) was one of shock with an equal measure of worry. Whether that was because she believed differently, or she thought I may have been giving up, I’m still not sure, but I do know there are those who struggle against it and constantly lose ground because they think they’ll never be done with it.
There’s a woman I know of, an advocate primarily for veterans, who believes it can be cured and has argued almost vehemently sometimes when someone suggested otherwise. She’s made cases for “retraining the brain” and the avoidance of medications as simply a crutch keeping you from strengthening the bits of yourself you need in order to do that. Mostly she fights for the rights of the injured, and I tend to think she should stick to that because she’s quite good at it. Not so much the other thing, the giving of advice on how to deal with the daily efforts often required from those with the injury, despite having it herself. Despite, or because of, I’m still not sure.
A few things I am sure of is that post-traumatic stress disorder is an injury; it causes physical changes in the brain; untreated, or at best treated inadequately, it can lead to secondary comorbid conditions that can often be just as, often more, debilitating. You might say that some of us are just stronger than others, but I dislike comparing disparate psychological fuel levels to strength since it implies the other side of it is weakness, and anyone who gets up every day to face the big frightening world like we do cannot be called weak. I’m goddamn positive about that. I have seen therapists and self-proclaimed life/health coaches, most with dodgy credentials, actually say they could cure PTSD through various techniques, not all of them completely whacky to be honest. There’s some merit in what most of them do and how they do it, but to promote themselves as having an ability that even the professional psychological community cannot agree exists is just stupid dangerous at worst, and self-serving at best. Avoid them if you can, because they know not of what they speak.
Surprisingly, for the purpose of this essay, what I think doesn’t matter but I’m going to tell you anyway so you don’t ask me later. Once, while enjoying a very nice cinnamon latte with that woman I mentioned, I first used what I’ve come to call the shark-bite analogy: A swimmer has a big chunk of thigh meat taken by a shark. The wound is horrible, huge, and ugly, but he survives it and begins the very long road to recovery. Eventually, it scars over, he’s able to walk after much therapy, and there’s no more risk of infection (a secondary comorbid condition – see what I did there?). Full function and appearance, however, never returns to how it was before. The swimmer is forever changed and must move forward through life with a new normal. Take from that what you will.
Why doesn’t it matter what I think? To be perfectly honest, it matters very much to me, but pretty much nobody else, and even though I’m writing this stuff primarily for my own well-being, because it’s public I do want it to be useful. It’s good practise for when I write my book (and eventually take over the world). Whether PTSD can be cured or not is a question that is no more useful to the wounded than a philosophical debate over the nature of existence is to the homeless person waiting in line at a soup kitchen. And it can actually be detrimental if mulled too deeply. Think of the scary big picture about going out into the world when all we need to do is put one foot in front of the other, then celebrate that accomplishment. Leave the deep thoughts to the academics, because if we think there’s a cure in our futures, our setbacks, and there will be many, may affect us worse than they otherwise should.
Though I do have my opinions, whether or not I can be cured has no bearing on my path forward. My focus is on getting better, and that is not the same thing. Getting better means having the abilities and tools to manage my regular, everyday life and sharpening them up as best I can, when I can. Getting better means lessening the effects of the memories and reducing the things that trigger them. Getting better means not sitting in my doctor’s waiting room feeling like a caged animal, and, quite possibly, looking like one too.
There’s a quote from Lewis Carrol that resonates with me in so many different ways, and in this as well:
“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
Can you be cured? Maybe. Does it matter when all you want to do is go shopping in a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon?
Not one little lick.