Nothing to Fear
I'm afraid…I'm becoming more afraid. Of everything.
Take the balcony of my new apartment. I'm four floors up. That's not really that high.
And I hate it. I hate that phucking balcony! I'm very rarely out there. I've got three windows in this apartment and they're all magnificent—anything worth seeing I can see through them.
It's the height, man. I mean, I don't even like going up a ladder anymore. I used to climb the tallest trees I could find…and just hang out. Up at the top. Swaying in the breeze. I'm pretty sure at this point, I couldn't make it past the branches closest to the ground. What the hell?
If it was just the height…if my only irrational phobia was heights…
It's not. These days water scares me. I know, I know, that is what my friend Cory calls a real dicky-scratcher. Considering how fundamental water is to life.
All my life, I've wanted to live on the beach. The ultimate vacations always included an ocean and a beach. Now? The ocean scares the living poo out of me! I'm not kiddin'. Any large body of water, hell, anything over a bathtub! I can't ride my bike along the path by the canal because the water frightens me. That's ridiculous. You feel me? That's just unacceptable.
But what can I do?
It's not like I'm skippin' my courage pills or not doin' my bravery exercises. I don't want to be afraid.
I find myself wondering if I have some form of PTSD. I mean, that's what it sounds like. In the psych ward at the VA, I'd listen to the vets talking about getting blown up while crossing a bridge and then afterwards not being able to cross or even get anywhere near a bridge. I know a guy who found his brother dead from a suicide in the bathroom—and subsequently developed the symptom of not being able to use the bathroom after that. Imagine what kind of a disruption that would make in your life. He got lucky—he found a good mental health practitioner and can manage his symptoms. A lot of those GI's are stuck with their particular trauma.
I don't have nightmares like most PTSD patients do—but I do have dreams about being near water and looking down into the water and being able to see all these wickedly bizarre fish just below the surface. I mean, fish are bizarre enough as it is. Anything that lives underwater might as well be space invaders, far as I'm concerned. And the fish I see in my dreams…all the fins have long, pointy spikes, and the eyes are horrific and the whole thing gives the overall impression of something H.R. Giger would have painted while on a bad acid trip. I know, that sounds like a nightmare. It's definitely borderline, if not outright, nightmarish.
One of the things done to treat PTSD is referred to as Exposure Therapy. That's where you confront whatever it is you're afraid of. So, our GI with the bridge problem. His therapist would, at some point in the treatment, take him to a bridge, where the patient would just stand/sit there in proximity to the bridge. I haven't been through such treatment so I won't pretend to be an expert and know precisely how the therapy session at the bridge is conducted.
The overriding principle is the exposure. Taking someone to hyperarousal on purpose…
I've tried sittin' on that phucking balcony! I don't make it more than a minute. Serious! The feeling that burgeons inside me is strong enough to drive my body off the balcony even if I'm thinkin' I want to sit there for a while. I just. Can't. Stand. It.
I'm not goin' out of my way to solve my water problem. Vacations are out of style in the pandemic anyway.
No, I'm just going to have to nurse my little fears. What if another one develops? What if I get scared of something else, maybe something completely irrational, like an alien invasion? Those poor guys with PTSD, it always seemed to me like there wasn't much the mental health professionals could offer them in the way of relief. The medications for the nightmares seemed largely ineffectual.
Jeezuzz. Now I'm making myself frightened of becoming more frightened! Perhaps it's time to bring this communication to a close.
I'll just end with this: Trauma is everywhere in our society. People living with experiences that deform and distort their lives, with symptoms that drive behaviors that may seem decidedly antisocial. We, as a society, can't turn our backs on these people. There are so many, we're never going to solve the problem with 'professionals'.
We solve it with community.
We solve it with compassion and kindness. Since we're unlikely to get an opportunity to walk a mile in their moccasins, we're going to have to open our minds, and our hearts. We're going to have to accept, and not judge. To forgive and even forget. To open our arms to those who can no longer care for themselves.
It's a lot to ask…but at this point in mankind's history, this is it. This is the do or die moment. Let's not let this turn into a Cormac McCarthy novel, okay?