If you want to feel better, learn how to cope, or change, what gets you down.
By Trish Russell
Sitting with my 80-year-old grandmother during the holidays, sipping coffee at my mother’s table, I gleaned wisdom from someone who lived through the Vietnam War, was stationed in Germany during the Cold War and remembered a time well before smartphones and WiFi.
As the eldest of six and the only girl, she approaches life in a very pragmatic way. When she joined the military in the 1950s, most of her peers were settling down and raising families. She chose an unconventional path for a gal 70 years ago. Her perspective on life brings a truth that is hard to ignore because hard work, failing, getting back up, and moving forward is not easy.
During our chat, I shared my struggle for accepting my brain, how it has changed with PTSD, and that I want things to be different. When she asked me what I want to be different, my answers came readily.
Not to have an explosive response when my kids aren’t listening. Be able to adapt quickly when family plans change instead of experiencing a panic attack. Empathize when someone is having a stressful day, even if I don’t understand.
My gran looked at me and said, “Well, if there’s something about yourself that bothers you, you have to learn to do something about it.”
I started to laugh. It can’t be that simple. She looked straight at me with her wise eyes and asked, “Why not? What else are you going to do about it?”
As I stared at her, reminding myself she has lived a lifetime, I wondered: Could I learn to live with the impact of PTSD and accept the responsibility to make changes? I paused in all my assumptions and decided to ponder her decades of wisdom, whittled down to one phrase.
If there’s something about yourself that bothers you, you have to learn to do something about it.
I started to think about the New Year coming upon us, the beginning of a new decade, and all the conversations around goals and change and resolutions. All the information I’m receiving for different fitness programs or self-improvement solutions. The messages are quite overwhelming; there is too much pressure to make a choice, and it causes me to feel helpless.
Is there a different way to approach the New Year without listening to the marketers? Instead of feeling pressure to write a list of goals for 2020 we chose something else.
How would life shift if we made a resolution to become students again?
What if we decided to accept who we are today, the good, the bad, and the ugly and commit to doing our best each day? When we mess up, there’s an understanding that we have chosen to learn more about a behavior or response we are not thrilled with, and it will take time.
For example, we never expect a baby to learn how to walk in one day. It takes time for the motor skills to line up with what the brain is telling the muscles to do. The same is true for us. As I continue to learn how to live with PTSD, I am continually swinging between my fight or flight. When my gran said this phrase, “If there’s something about yourself that bothers you, you have to learn to do something about it,” my thoughts shifted. It reminded me of being in the classroom again.
Our teachers would introduce new material, and we had time to learn, practice, rinse, and repeat it. We did not have to master the topic immediately.
What if our resolution for the New Year was to approach our life with PTSD as a student. Learning as we go, adapting with support, and accepting our goals may not be the same as those around us.
While a friend’s goal is to run a marathon, my goal is to not binge eat all the cookies in my house after a flashback. Some hope to take their kids on an epic vacation. My focus is to laugh with my kids.
Even though we can’t take the impact of trauma away, we do have the opportunity to learn how to live with the effects. I hope with years of practice, one day, some of the things about myself that bother me won’t be as pronounced. At the very least, when I’m 80, I’ll know I tried.