Lyn the Trauma Lady looked decidedly tired and worn when I saw her yesterday. Lyn is the counselor who steers me, and a good many other people, through our post-traumatic stress disorder, that being her passion and vocation. She's had a tough week. The terrorist attacks triggered PTSD in every single one of her clients, me included. I'm fairly easy to handle; for the time being, I'm simply "doing" complete dissociation, although that will probably change for the worse at some point. Some of the others, however, were going off in all directions, like boxes of fireworks set ablaze. Which is why Lyn looked so tired. PTSD's like that.
And of course we're simply reflecting what's happening all around us. Some people in New York and Washington--particularly those who escaped and the rescuers--are going to be at high risk for PTSD. Many more people will be at risk for acute stress disorder, which is like PTSD, but is temporary, not permanent. Virtually everyone I've talked to shows signs of traumatic stress. Weird sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, jumpiness, high-grade anxiety, irritability, nightmares, you name it.
At times like this, I wish I could be more like my cats. The world might end tomorrow, but for the moment Jenny still curls up in a soft, small bundle with her tail over he nose; grey Max still looks puzzled; Dynamite stretches his back up to be stroked, standing tiptoe on his tiny midnight paws; Maggie still prances in on her long, strong legs, incarnational as only a tortoiseshell grrrrlcat can be. Of course in cats it's ignorance, not trust in God's grace, but I'd settle quite happily for ignorance these days.
I have found out something in the last week, however, and that is that I can choose to immerse myself in the terror and the horror, and anticipate further terrors and horrors, or I can say the hell with it and get on with business as best I can, given that I've got active PTSD. Which means yes, I have to stop for nightmare-ridden naps, but no, I don't have to tune into CNN non-stop. Yes, I have to cope with feeling snappish and detached, but no, I don't have to dwell on the pictures in _Time_. I took on the business of grieving for the victims, and I have done that, and I will go on grieving for their families, but I'm damned if I'm going to spend my time speculating on what the Bin Laden's boys might do next or fretting about World War III. I absolutely refuse to let fear have the upper hand, because that's what the Bad Guys want to see happen. It is other people's professional responsibility to do that sort of speculation, and I am not helping them by contributing my amateur efforts.
It might be that terrorists will come to my small town and do something awful, like bombing the new supermarket, which is the closest thing to the WTC hereabouts; but rationally considered, that looks completely absurd. We're just not worth their while.It's less unlikely, but still a remote possibility, that they might (say) try to blow up the American Embassy in Ottawa; but since there's absolutely nothing I can do to stop that from happening, it's not my problem and I'm not going to worry about it. Until there's a war on, there's no use worrying about that either. I am not facing any real potential danger worse than I have every day for the last umpteen years. Any fear I feel is unfounded. One good thing about PTSD: you come to understand that your feelings, while real and strong, may be completely out to lunch--artefacts of the past, not proper responses to the present or future.
Who was it said that the future doesn't exist? I know what C.S. Lewis said in _Screwtape_, and there is nothing truer: that our job is to live in the present and in Eternity, but not in the past or the future. "There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy"--God (XV, IX). If worry can do some actual good--if it moves me, for example, to demonstrate against war--then perhaps it's worth some (but not all!) of my energy and attention; but if it's just fretting about remote possibilities, then God has better uses for my time. After all, living in anxiety about what might conceivably happen tomorrow is a wonderful way of saying to God, "No, I don't trust you."
It's hard--terribly hard--to trust in God after the world has exploded in your face. Days like September 11th bring us up squarely against the Problem of Evil: how can a good and loving God let such a terrible thing happen? The answer, of course, is that God, having created biology, physics, and human free will, does not intervene to stop them from acting: and the terrorist attacks are human free will at its most utterly perverse and horrible. Instead, God watches and suffers with us, helping us to bear "the present cross"--the real stuff, not the possible horrors, God has chosen to suffer with us, instead of making us into good little automatons. Maybe we'd like it otherwise, but if we are truly free to love--and no other "love" is love --then we are also free to abuse our freedom and to choose hate instead.
And then, if we're willing to turn our experience Godward, God can help us learn how to spin these bitter nettles into the purest gold. For that's the weird thing about trauma: that properly managed, plyed together with prayer and faithfulness and the will toward God and good, it can actually bring us more than we can ask or imagine. Hard to believe these days, but it's true.
So I will do my best to get through the next weeks and months as my cats go through life, but not out of ignorance: out of trust. I will choose trust over fear, faith over anxiety. If I get blown up tomorrow, that merely fetches me up in the palm of God's hand, in perfect safety. Yes, I'm going to screw up and drop back into the simmer of fearfulness, because I am human. And there isn't a thing I can do when the PTSD gets triggered except to use my experience to manage it as best I can. But I promise God (and Lyn) to stay pointed Godward, come what may. That is all that's really needed.