There’s a line I have used in my peer support group and with those individuals who have an interest or a stake in anything first responder/PTSD related, that you might have read on the About page here. It generally comes at the end of a story I tell about being an agoraphobic hermit for years, hiding from the noises outside my apartment and struggling to leave it to even do the laundry just downstairs. Eventually, my money ran out, and I had to make a choice. It’s dramatic, it’s deep as it is simple, and it is very true.
Either end the isolation or end myself.
There was no great epiphany that came upon me at the time, certainly no great breakthrough that happened in the stagnant pond of struggle I was soaking in. It was easily just as straightforward and uncomplicated as it sounds, and though it was a couple of years ago now, and I did, more or less, end the isolation, I am still pushing back the walls threatening to fall on top of me and I still can’t walk outside without some wee niggling anxiety or fear. Credit where credit is due, though. I walked back into the world like a boss. I’m awesome.
Man, it was hard, though, and is it ever still. There are leaps ahead often followed by stumbling falls backward, but generally there’s that thwumpsnick sound of my feet getting sucked back down into the mud, and there’s me with both hands trying to pull it back out to take another step. Overnight success doesn’t happen, panaceas for this stuff don’t exist, and there’s certainly no single moment of clarity that makes everything – anything – clear.
Quest stories are popular because they tell stories of the difficult work involved getting to the happy ending, and most folks can relate to that even if they can’t to a hairy-footed hobbit helping a band of warrior dwarves get their home back. Bilbo Baggins had the right idea when he said,
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
But he walked out his door after all, and look what happened to him.
Very early tomorrow morning I am expecting someone I have never met to pick me up so that I can attend a day-long conference on surviving trauma and building resilience for first responders, about a two-hour drive each way in a small car with a complete stranger. It’s organised by Badge of Life Canada, and one of the people responsible, someone I know only in the amorphous ether of social media, arranged both the ride and the free ticket because, I believe, she was sure I’d get something positive out of the experience. I tend to agree, but though I’d have also agreed then, as little as six months ago I would have probably just said thanks but no thanks because it would make me late for dinner. What has changed, though, is that I’ve begun to not just pull my feet up (often leaving a sock still stuck behind), but turn my head up from the ground to see a bit more of the clean, verdant forest edging the pit. What was a comfortable little nest, my apartment that protected me from the wandering trolls and rampaging orcs, has become just a little constricting.
Yesterday was a very quiet, comfortable Sunday, where I made a big pot of beef stew and watched a movie. I’ll leave you to guess which one. I wasn’t anxious about anything all day, in fact I was very relaxed and at ease, and a day like that comes very few and far between. Today I am feeling a bit nervous about pushing my comfort zone so much tomorrow, but not enough to panic or begin plotting escape routes. I understand where that disquieting apprehension is coming from, but the need to stretch my wings a bit is stronger now and I choose to pat Amy (my amygdala, the screaming, hard-to-please child in my brain) softly on the head. I am telling her that she can come with me, but she is not allowed to change the radio station.
Yes, that’s me paraphrasing Elizabeth Gilbert.
There are some, my GP for one, who will look at this as a huge leap forward, but I really don’t think it is. It’s important to recognise the quiet, daily work, even that which we may not see as forward movement, that’s led to this. It’s important to acknowledge the baby steps and realise that they, one after each agonising other, do add to a greater journey as much as we may become paralysed with fear just by thinking about that bigger picture (which we shouldn’t, so just stop it). This is a natural progression of things, as it should be.
It is my stop at Rivendell before me and my hair toes hit the dirt again, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. I do wish I had that stupid ring, though, in case it all becomes overwhelming and I need to hide in the corner.