Newton’s first law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. Pretty simple concept when you think about it. For example, a ball will be stationary until a force is applied, and then it will continue to move until a force stops it. But what if you imagined your mind and thoughts as a ball, how easy can you apply force to stop or start a thought? I would guess for some it would be quite simple, as simple as pushing a ball. For others, take myself, it is hard to control the start or stop forces that trigger my mind to think. Sometimes, the forces are not even real. So how can you stop a force you did not even see coming?
Everyone loves control on some level, it provides comfort, safety and an underlying sense of purpose. So what happens when that control is suddenly gone, and your ability to apply force to your thoughts is taken away? What do you have left? Yourself, or in my case, myself, or for a long time a shell of myself. Last October, almost a year to the date I was originally diagnosed with PTSD, I was raped. When the ability to give consent over my body was lost, all sense of control and essentially the power to apply force to my thoughts went with it. I was held hostage in my mind, while intrusive thoughts and replays of that night’s events played like a movie in my head. When your body is in flight or fight mode, protecting itself from danger, your body is much more aware of its surrounding, and you are more likely to respond with instinct rather than logic. However, when that perceived danger is gone, your mind has a beautiful capability to snap back. Not so much with PTSD – you are in perpetual motion. You are at the mercy of your thoughts. So again, how can you stop a force you did not even see coming?
Some may say therapy, others may say medication, meditation, friends, and talking help. But those things are only temporary, and people cannot always protect you from things, especially when those things are your own thoughts. Do not get me wrong, all of those things are great and should be encouraged, but sometimes the biggest secret to success is being committed to yourself.
So, how can you stop a force you did not even see coming? You cannot, but you can learn to stop them once they start. I realized that control was not limited to the initial start, but the entire process. I slowly allowed myself to feel out of control then tell myself, “I am loved,” and I began to fight back. Allowing myself to have those bad days, allowing myself to succumb to crying in the shower when I did not feel clean enough, allowing myself to take apart that disposable razor and ponder just how much is enough to make myself feel physical pain so the thoughts would stop. Because in those moments, I was freeing myself to enjoy waking up after a full night’s rest and no longer waking to the sounds of screaming, only to realize those screams were coming from me. I allowed myself to enjoy the day I took a shower and felt clean again, I enjoyed the moment when I no longer need to take apart that razor, but instead simply told myself, you are loved. I realized that in order to regain control, I needed to let myself experience lack of control and allow myself to not be angry. Some days the battle of force applied to my thoughts is tough and I am not as victorious as I would hope, but after six months of fighting, I am seeing more and victories. The biggest one was realizing that if I truly wanted to beat my PTSD, I had to be committed to myself.
This is part of our yearly #SACommits series on mental health in Student Affairs. This May, we are exploring what mental illness looks like using different forms of expression – photos, drawings, videos, writing, etc. We hope to create better understanding of what it is like to live with mental illness, in an effort to stomp out stigma. Each week will have a theme -Throughout the lifespan, With Loved Ones, At Work, With Myself. For more information, see the intro post by Kristen Abell. Check out the other posts in this series too! You can also join the conversation by using our unique #SACommits Selfies print outs.