That PTSD thang

This is the bit about me and PTSD (and obliquely about me and Buddhism).

Let’s see. Two years ago, things went a little crazy after my housemate/landlord moved in someone I’d barely met to be a new tenant/housemate. This new person was scary (it turns out I’m in no way the only person who felt that). I went to Paris and freaked out while I was there, thought my thyroid had gone mad and was making its own speed. After a month of blood tests, the doc decided it was my brain messing with my body chemistry, and not the other way round, and first called what I had PTSD. I sort of learned to deal with it after a couple of months of hell. It was like having a part of me that snapped awake and alert for no apparent reason (I’ve already mentioned calling it my Inner Meerkat, haven’t I?)

Then this January, it really kicked off much more full-time. It seems to be fundamentally connected to being abused as a kid, and beaten up by teenagers 5 years ago – and by a lot of bullying and homophobia/transphobia before, between, after, much of which related pretty directly to my gender ambiguity broadcasting itself and making me a juicy target.

In retrospect, it’s really obvious that this PTSD has been kicking off sporadically since my teens.

This has made being a Buddhist interesting! There’s a sort of view prevalent among at least some Buddhists that Buddhism is the cure for everything, or should be. So I’ve had an interesting time since the PTSD has kicked in over the last few years, since meditation in the traditional, formal sense that I’ve been practising it for 21 years, became pretty much impossible. I was lucky enough recently to find a partial explanation for this: apparently, the part of the brain that does mindfulness in Buddhists is also the part that triggers panic reactions in PTSD sufferers, which explains why every time I got mindful, I’d have to get up and leave (metaphorically or literally). This has been an odd blessing actually, because it’s forced me to find a new way of being present that actually works, and damn tradition and people who insist it must work.

I discovered that I had to stop trying to make things happen, and start letting them happen instead. So these days, what I can do is visit a safe place I go to in my psyche (beech forest with bracken and wild garlic, sigh…), and then just wait to see what’s going to emerge. I’ve had some very positive experiences that way – most recently being pushed flat by a bear who told me “…and stay down! Stop trying so hard!!” (in a friendly way, of course).

There’s surprisingly little in traditional Buddhist teaching about working with ordinary fear. There’s lots about dealing with the existential fear of death and that, but pretty much nothing that could tell me directly how to respond to sitting safe at home feeling like I was terrified. So again, I had to work it out for myself. And the most amazing discovery I made was to stop trying to change it, stop trying to push it away or transform it, and just start to keep it company instead. Fear deserves compassion, and I’m bigger than just the fear, but I am also the fear, so why would I want to destroy it? Stuff like that. Which when you come down to it, is basic Buddhism: the cultivation of loving kindness, and its response to suffering.

My life has become a lot narrower in the external sense since the PTSD kicked in so much. I can’t do as much, its harder to go out, I’m more likely not to meet commitments because of fear or IBS caused by fear. But my inner life has spread out bigger, because it’s needed to.

Oh well, and I’m watching a lot of scifi :).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s