Something James said in his post (Its, Okay, not to be Okay …) about being trapped in the house and it taking years to get his life back. That resonated strongly because it has taken me over a decade to get my life back from the time everything fell to pieces for me. I remember needing to take my dog to the vet because he was ill – for most of us that would be a relatively straightforward task but it was beyond me at that time. I had to ask my son to accompany me. I’m not talking about challenging stuff here.
I’m not talking about military style heroism or charging a gun placement at Goose Green. I’m talking about going into town: I’m talking about the simplest outing to the cinema, the café, the restaurant, things which others take for granted but which for me had become borderline impossible to do. I wasn’t always like that. My mental illness seemed to descend out of nowhere, or rather it crept up, started out feeling nothing very much and ended taking over everything. It changed my perceptions, those internal maps which in turn govern perceptions of the external environment. Some can trace their illnesses back to specific traumatic events, I can’t. It just became.
You want your life back – the normal one that you remember when you went to a party or to the office or to the school parents’ evening just because those were things that were on the itinerary and they were not special or extraordinary and required no special or extraordinary thinking or courage. My normal daily routine does not include charging a gun placement at Goose Green armed only with a spoon and plate, but my subconscious mind for reasons known only to itself, came to think that it did, and informed my body accordingly. Fight or flight became my normality.
I’ve read studies that say that the part of the brain that is malfunctioning when we start to feel like this (the amygdala) doesn’t recognise linear time. In other words it never seems to get to a place where it thinks, hell that was traumatic but it’ s OK it’s over now so we can all move on. It lives in this groundhog day of perpetual terror and makes the rest of our bodies do the same without any rational basis whatsoever. Our brains are millions of years old and perhaps they haven’t evolved as much as other more temporal aspects of our lives, as much as we would have liked them to.
I do go out again now. The life that I got back wasn’t quite the one that I used to have but I feel I’ve achieved every bit rather than just taking everything for granted. My practise of Nichiren buddhism has helped enormously. It’s been a struggle but I know that it’s made me a much stronger person, better able to empathise with others. If that’s a cliché then it is, but no less true for all that.