Haunted by Ghosts from my Past!

ghosts

I’ve always considered myself to be a mentally tough person. Someone who isn’t easily flustered, or even get overly emotional about things. It’s not that I don’t care, or that I’m an unemotional robot, but I don’t let my emotions blind me to my task ahead.

I started writing a few years ago, and it seemed a welcome release for my thoughts. Instead of keeping them inside, there was a feeling of release by expressing my thoughts and feelings. As I learnt to voice those thoughts more and more, I came to realize that having feelings and showing vulnerability was not only normal. It also had a bit of a cleansing feeling, keeping your feelings berried deep could be toxic. Knowing all of that, it came as a surprise to me when a few months ago that all changed. I had reverted back to keeping my thoughts to myself, to internalizing my feelings, to not be as social with friend’s and family. I was having a hard time understanding why there was this sudden change in my mental state. Of course the past few months have been fraught with national tragedy after the next. Whether it was the shooting in Charleston, the shootings in Ohio, the police incidents with Black citizens in South Carolina, Texas, or many other cities around the country. It seemed each week brought a new tragedy to the headlines. Given that back drop, I felt like my words were pale in comparison to that kind of grief.

In the time that I’ve not been writing, I’ve instead been doing a lot of reading. From Between the World and me – by Ta-Nehisi Coates to After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey – by Dan Sheehan. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book shook me to my core, awaking me from my slumber. For awhile I was naive in believing that those Black people that lost their lives, somehow did something, “I would never find myself in that situation” “That would never happen to me” Yet in examining each case more closely, there wasn’t anything I would have done differently. Ta-Nehisi’s words dislodged something in me, perhaps it was my cognitive dissonance as to what it is to be Black in America. Perhaps it’s because I was born in a different country, some aspects of the African American struggle are foreign to me. While this new insight did awaken me, it wasn’t until I read Dan Sheehan’s After Action, that there was any real awakening to the lies that I’ve been telling myself.

Some of you may know from my other posts that I was an Active Duty Marine. As a teachable moment, don’t make the mistake of saying a Former Marine, or Ex-Marine, lol they get VERY offended about that. There’s a mantra, once a MARINE, always a Marine! Which get’s complicated because if I say I’m a Marine, you might thing that I’m still currently serving.

To be clear my Active Duty service ended in 2007; almost 10 years ago. In my time in the Marines, I did also go to Iraq. My primary job was a Helicopter Mechanic, working on AH-1W Super Cobras. While I was in Iraq, and just a few miles away from Fallujah, the epicenter of some of the biggest conflict of 2003-2005 in Iraq. I wasn’t directly involved in the fighting, I was on a Military Base on the outskirts of the city. My main focus was on making our Helicopters Combat ready, and working despite the harsh desert conditions.

The Myth about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Marines like any other Military Service member hold themselves in high regard, we think of ourselves as Warriors, capable of any feat. Not the kind of people you’d want to tussle with. I’m sure in some circles, those Chuck Norris jokes, are actually about Marines; well that’s how they think of themselves! There’s a kind of an idea about PTSD, in that the sighs are those who are abusive, suicidal, and overall incapable of functioning in society. Even more dangerous is the notion that only those who have killed, lost limbs, or seen their friends die; are somehow deserving of having PTSD. In the case where a warrior has suffered those horrible experiences, and isn’t a complete mess. Anyone who suffers an experience less traumatic, isn’t deserving of claiming to have PTSD. If you didn’t fight in WWII or Vietnam, you didn’t do anything deserving of having PTSD. While this isn’t the medical diagnosis of the disorder; this is how military service member’s see themselves. The book I mentioned earlier After Action by Dan Sheehan, was written by one of the Pilots in my unit. Many of the people and references he made, I had first hand experience or knew those same people. Like many veterans, Dan had a kind of a cognitive dissonance about his experiences. Seen in this except:

I could relate to the feeling the veterans were having, yet my experiences ranked nowhere near theirs in horror, guilt or pure trauma. I felt like an idiot with a sunburn whining in the burn ward of a hospital. I felt so weak for feeling my discomfort in the face of such real suffering.- pg 347

For context, here’s another excerpt Dan made about 1 of many enemy soldiers he killed from his Helicopter: (Warning the following mental images are quite graphic)

My missile streaked into the cab and exploded in a nasty puff of grey smoke. The three who were closest simply ceased to exist, their organic matter reduced to particles too small for me to see…it happened so fast that I didn’t see him go up, only his clothes coming back down…- pg 204

The imagery of killing those soldiers is graphic and visceral. That was 1 incident over several weeks, and only at the lower end of the traumatic experiences of all his other experiences. My point is that to walk away from an experience like that and be completely unscathed, is virtually impossible. In my mind much like Dan’s interpretation of his Combat experience. Mine was not even remotely close to his, therefore I shouldn’t be traumatized by my experience. In describing my time in Iraq, it went something like this “I didn’t have to use my weapon, or didn’t get shot at ( although we were regularly attacked with rockets and mortars, which would have had a similar effect as the scene described above), so I came back ok. For me that meant I wasn’t an alcoholic, I wasn’t physically abusive to my family or those close to me. I wasn’t a recluse, or someone who was jumpy at any sudden sounds. But I’m learning that the effects aren’t always so overt. The absence of those symptoms doesn’t mean that you don’t have any subtle ones lurking in the shadows.

It’s important to compare Apples to Apples!

In his second book Continuing Actions: Dan Sheehan makes an important distinction about what PTSD is. Comparing your experience to someone with a worse more visceral and traumatic experience, isn’t the predictor of whether you will have mental scars from combat. While my experiences were virtually harmless compared to his or 1000’s of other veterans, it doesn’t mean that it is any less traumatic to MY mind. Despite what I may have thought about my time there, my body was telling me something very different. While still in Iraq, towards the middle of my tour, there was an incident where I thought I was having a Heart Attack. This episode took place when I was sitting reading a book, not doing anything dangerous, or not even after any of the Rocket Attacks by Insurgent Soldiers attempting to hit or base. After returning home, this continued for several months. While I wasn’t jumpy or having any other overt signs of PTSD. There were many other occurrences when I would wake from my sleep because I was having a panic attack. Which was confusing because this was never preceded by flash backs, or nightmarish memories playing back in my mind. Even though it’s been 10 years since I left Iraq, from time to time I still have these episodes. I’m not sharing this to garner any sympathy, but I’m sharing this to show my unconscious mental reaction. While overtly I may say I’m ok, my mind clearly is showing something differently. I think this is the mistake many veterans make. We say that were not effected by our time in combat because a) Another Veteran with a worse experience is fine, ergo we should be too. or b) I don’t see any of those BAD symptoms, therefore what I’m experiencing must be something else.

Acknowledging there’s a problem is the first step!

While this revelation isn’t a source to ALL my problems, it’s a window into my overall mental state. I’ve always been under the impression that I was unaffected by my time in Iraq. Since I didn’t show any overt symptoms, I wasn’t mentally effected by my combat experience. Secondly because my experience wasn’t as traumatic as countless others, I don’t feel worth of claiming that I’m experiencing mental trauma from my time there. While I may only have a “paper cut” of an injury, it still causes discomfort from time to time. My overall mental state is good, but as anyone with a paper cut knows; it sure is uncomfortable from time to time.

My hope is that for the few that read this post, will get the courage to talk to veterans you may know. They definitely won’t talk about it, but I also think that getting them to a stage where they’re willing to acknowledge that there may be more going on under the surface; is a step in the right direction. There is no real clear line that designates that some traumas will cause mental scars. There isn’t also any experiences that are too small or minute to not deserve to be called mental trauma. When evaluating your own Post Traumatic Stress, I think Dan says it best:

But you can’t measure the impact of experiences like that. Does it matter if a person is exposed to one second or ten years in combat? Not to that person. What matters is the impact that person’s experiences had on them – and that cannot be measured solely by duration or even by their intense or dramatic nature. What I experience inwardly in a given situation can be very different from the impact that same event has on you, the person standing next to me. My personal experience and yours are that unique – Continuing Actions (pg 527)

I’m flawed yet BEAUTIFUL!

Self Love

I was sitting here earlier and came across a post from a fellow blogger that made me stop and think about my life. More specifically to all the triumphs I’ve had despite my failures. Yes I’m talking about you thehappywappyblog. You can click the following link to find the post that got me on this thought process here: Confidence Booster!

A few months ago I started a project for a friend of mine. I wanted to do something to cheer her up. The project was a bit bigger than I expected, and I haven’t completed it yet. Not for a lack of not caring about her anymore or anything like that, I’ve just not been able to finish because it’s a lot of work; I really hope she isn’t reading this.

While I generally try to be a positive person, there are moments when I have to be really intentional about loving myself. To make an effort not to tear myself down, and to feel like I’m enough. While I’ve not had any kind of mental, physical, or deep financial turmoil in my life. I’ve been fortunate to not have any health or mental issues, despite that I’ve not been entirely content with my life. In a way I suppose that’s actually more normal than abnormal. Who really is 100% content with the way their life is, after all there is a Life Coaching and Self-Help Industry. 

In the lead up to the project for my friend, I started writing some quotes, things that I try to tell myself regularly. My thinking is that to love another person, you first have to love yourself. If you don’t love yourself first, it doesn’t matter how great the other person is, you may be asking them for too much. Relationships are already hard on their own, putting more burden on the other person, to love you more than you love yourself, might not be a task for everyone. I think the most important thing to any kind of success, whether it be career, family, or relationship; is for you to love yourself first. The truth is there will be large portions of time when you’ll be by yourself, not in a lonely kinda way. You might be driving, sleeping, working etc. Other’s may not be talking to or interacting with you, but you are in your own head. What better place to start loving yourself than in your own head. 

Here are a few of the quotes I like the most, and thought I’d share, enjoy!

  • Tell yourself “I Love you” speak loving words to yourself at every opportunity you get. Be conscious of your negative self-talk. If you find that you’re being negative to yourself, then change those occurrences to positive words.
  • Yes you’re broken, it’s OK. The truth is EVERYONE is a little broken. Your mistakes don’t define your life, they do however add dept to the wonder that is YOU. Even the most beautiful things have cracks, and in most cases they add to it’s beauty and character.
  • Whenever you look in the mirror today, tell yourself “I Love You” “I’m Enough.”
  • You can find small victories despite your circumstances. Believing that you can is the first step. Don’t let one bad occurrence corrupt your entire day.
  • YOU are everything you need. You don’t need anyone else to complete you, perhaps compliment. You’re already complete; thinking of yourself in this way allows you to feel more self-love.
  • Tell yourself I am worthy, and I have value as an individual.
  • From time to time we all fail at various things. But failing at one thing doesn’t make our entire life a failure.
  • Learn to sometimes be in the moment, if you’re too focused on the past or future, you may miss the good in-front of you TODAY.
  • ALWAYS do your best, sometimes that means you can only give 50%. If that’s what your capable of that day, then give that. Tomorrow is a new day you can do more then, just don’t overcompensate for what you didn’t do today!
  • Sometimes you have to “fake it until you make it.” If you think positively, that could eventually lead you to start feeling that way.
  • Learn to “Let it Go” occupying your time with thoughts of negative self worth only leaves you feeling defeated and depressed. Learning to let go of thing you can’t control is a great step towards Self-Love.

If nothing else I’ve said so farLove language-affirmation resonates with you, remember that you’re the person best capable of loving YOU. Others may try, but they can’t love you quite like you love yourself, after all you’re the one walking in your shoes. Treat yourself with love, care and grace. Speaking affirming words also applies to yourself, don’t forget to compliment yourself; of course I don’t mean any of this in a narcissistic way.

Why does it seem the World around us is getting worse!

On any given day, there seems to be a new tragedy that plagues our Nation. America is a great nation, but I can’t help but ask the question, why do we hear of these tragic situations nearly daily? 

Last month it was the Church goers in South Carolina. Yesterday it was Marines in Tennessee. Time and time again we continue to hear of a new mass shooting case, while opponents of Gun Control argue that less guns is the answer, and proponents of guns argue more guns. It seems that at the heart of that they’re forgetting to look at the root causes. As some have said “Guns don’t kill people” while I agree with that statement, there seems to be no effort to get to the root cause of those instances. It seems evident that HATE is the central issue.

What kind of world do we live in where young kids now has “Active Shooter Drill” ingrained in their vocabulary?

What kind of a world do we live in where a young teenager can go out to get candy and a soda, and end up dead?

What kind of a world do we live in where a traffic stop, ends in you clinging to your life?

What kind of a world do we live in where unarmed citizens are dying in police custody?

What kind of a world do we live in where my skin color, is a motive for the violence inflicted upon me?

What kind of a world do we live in where Slavery and Jim Crow era is now looked at as Southern Heritage? I’d like to pause here briefly. It boggles my mind to comprehend how a society that was soo against Blacks prospering just a mere 50 years ago. In one breath say they’re proud of their Southern Heritage, while at the same time not recognizing that Racism was an aspect of that heritage. It’s one thing to say you’re proud of your heritage, and acknowledge the bad aspects. To remember that you’re also capable of bad thing, so that you can actively work to produce good. To simply forget about the bad aspects seems a recipe to repeat those mistakes. 

What kind of a world do we live in where Military Service members have to protect themselves living in our Country?

What kind of world do we live in where someone can say “I’m CHRISTIAN” yet openly spew hate towards the LGBT community?

These are just a fraction of the questions I find that I ask myself. The truth is I don’t know how to begin to answer many of these questions. For me part of it is a break down in empathy. How can you continue forward with any of these acts if you’ve ‘Walked a day in another person’s shoes’ A question that I love to ask is “why have you take the actions you have?” This question has always quipped my curiosity about people, to get to know and understand them beyond what I see. What is your motivation? Why did you say what you did, or more importantly what experiences have led you to your decisions? If you’re living your life and not making a conscious effort to think about many of these types of questions that I find plaguing my mind, it seems that Society as a whole may be in bigger trouble than I can imagine. Our world seems to be falling apart, is anyone going to try to address some of our faults, to make an attempt to be less violent with each other?

I have the FREEDOM to…!

Freedom

The debates over the past weeks have been interesting and aggravating at the same time. While we all have our own individual values and belief, we have the freedom to choose how we’re going to live our lives. The thing about freedom though is that if you’re free to think one way, others are also free to think another. The biggest most contested views of our time seem to be around Abortion, Guns, LGBT rights, and certain Belief Structures. I myself tend to be a bit more logical in my thinking, it’s not that I don’t use emotional appeals, I just try not to base my entire arguments on them.

Logical reasoning is the process which uses arguments, statements, premises and axioms to define whether a statement is true or false, resulting in logical or illogical reasoning – as defined by www.fibonicci.com

In contrast here an Emotional appeal:

An emotional appeal is a method of persuasion that’s designed to create an emotional response… Emotional appeals are considered fallacies, or errors in reasoning, because they manipulate emotions in an audience – as defined by study.com

With logical reasoning there’s usually someting specific, where an outcome can be measured and tested. A simple example could be: when it rains, things outside gets wet, the street is outside, therefore when it rains the street gets wet. This can easily be tested, you’d just have to wait until it rains, and you can check for yourself, you don’t have to take my word for it. In contrast Emotional appeals are usually based on stories or anecdotes, and inferences. They usually try to elicit some kind of emotion. For example fashion magazines feature well fit people, with body types that aren’t like the general population, and they ask you to feel fit.

Every action has a Reaction!

It’s been some time since I’ve been in school, but everyone I’m sure remember’s Newton’s Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. How does this apply to some of today’s debates? Those opposed to Abortion may argue that it is the killing of an innocent life, that it’s barbaric. While I do support their individual beliefs, doesn’t that mean that other people are also FREE to have other beliefs that might not be similar? What I don’t like about the proponents of Anti-Abortion is that they’re basically saying I don’t like Abortion so you shouldn’t do it. I agree that this could be problematic in that there are many things which society deems inhumane that we don’t support. For me it seems there’s still a broad swathe of opinions on this issue, so we also have to have room for varying views. Many argue that the 1st Amendment gives them the freedom to speak their views, yet they trample the views of others that disagree with them.

A war against Religion! 

One of the biggest arguments I seem to hear the most is that people’s Religious Freedoms are being infringed upon. This is always an interesting argument, it usually goes like this. My religion teaches me that ______ (insert cause) is wrong, therefore you shouldn’t do it. This makes me laugh because as those who say their freedoms are being infringed upon, they are actually trying to take away your freedom to choose how you feel. Many say that the Supreme Court’s decision to open up Marriage Equality to the LGBT community is a step towards damnation for our country. While I myself favor traditional marriage, if you favor another kind, then so be it. If I’m free to feel one way about marriage, you’re also free to feel another. The notion that marriage is a Religious Institution is preposterous, and here’s an example that illustrates that point: In order for a marriage to be legally recognized it takes only a marriage license from a State Organization. No longer is the day when you’d have to get approval from a religious leader. Taken a step further, if you were an upstanding citizen, and were married by your local priest, had family friends and the entire community present, but don’t have a marriage license. Your marriage isn’t legally recognized. It seems that marriage hasn’t been a Religious right for quite a long time. For me the Religious that oppose marriage equality lack this basic premise. They believe that marriage is rooted in a religious base, yet the legality of a marriage is more of a Government approval. If the Religious community wants to worry about something, it should be that our Government doesn’t seek a religious opinion when writing laws, and haven’t for a long time now. For me we can’t have it both ways, give up our opinion or input when laws are formed. Then after the fact if we don’t like it, say people are infringing on our religious freedoms. Which is an oxymoron anyway, because the reality of those arguments isn’t that other’s are infringing on their freedom. Rather they’re looking for a way to stifle other’s beliefs, and only theirs should have any kind of standing. Which of course is everything the 1st Amendment isn’t about, something to think about!

What would Jesus do!

By now if you’ve read many of my writings, you’ll know that I’m Christian. However I have to say most of the Christian Voices don’t represent my views. Take any specific issue, the response form Christian seem to be this: “You’re an abomination to god, you will die a slow and painful death, and will live in eternity like that, you should confess your sins, and be saved from eternal damnation” I jokingly say that they don’t even say “hello how are you!” The problem with that approach is that it might not be entirely rooted in the Gospel. Take Jesus for example, I understand that not everyone is a believer and that’s ok. In the stores in the bible Jesus’s interactions usually went something like this “Hi there how are you, here’s some interesting news, don’t know if you know about this… A conversation ensues, then at some point the person will ask, “wait do you know who I am?” My community has shunned me, are you sure you want to talk to me? While I’m paraphrasing here, here are some direct resources to check out. John 4: 1-29; Luke 5: 27-31; Luke 7: 36-50. My point is this for the Christian Community, Jesus is our example. Interestingly when he interacted with people who were labeled as “sinners” he never addressed their sin initially. In many cases it was other people who brought up the sin, and Jesus was happy to interact with the person with no regard for what their flaw was. It seems that many Christians miss this lesson.

3. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4. How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5. Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

It doesn’t matter the issue, people don’t like when you point out their flaws, especially when you don’t know anything about them, or what has lead them to where they are. For me what people lack is basic empathy, and in many cases don’t take the time to know others. To really find out the why behind why they feel so strongly about a cause, or what has lead them there. If you’re to change someone’s mind, it’s easier to do that by changing their heart or their core. We all have our core beliefs, and they don’t easily change.

Lessons I’ve learnt from not having a Plan!

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I’ve been a bit quite in the past months, while I’ve wanted to write, I instead took time to be a bit introspective. For the past 2 years I’ve been single, and have decided to be a bit more intentional about getting a better understanding of my personality. I’ve learnt so much, and I’m also very excited to see what comes next. I’ve always been the type of person who has a plan (5 yr, 10 yr, 15 yr…). Despite my best plans my life hasn’t worked out how I thought it would. With a bit of a mix of frustration and wanting to change things, I decided to forgo any new plans, and just live and see what happens. In the past that would have scared me to death, not having a plan is going against every fiber of my being. What’s remarkable is that first of all I’m still here, I haven’t succumbed to failure, and I’ve also learnt a lot more about myself and have rediscovered my faith along the way.

What is SUCCESS!

Everyone talks about being successful, yet we all have varying meanings for what success looks like to us. At it’s root success is a kind of a Social Agreement, in order for you to be successful, it doesn’t just depend on your definition; others have to agree with you. For me my success is tied to my childhood, and family upbringing. Although I consider myself as someone who follows his own decisions. My past also determines what I see as success, the messages I’ve heard as a child back home in Guyana play a big role in my definition. Despite what I may say, having a family of my own, having a stable career, are all tied into what I consider successful. For the past several years it’s been a bit of cognitive dissonance, I know what I want, but despite my best efforts I can’t seem to quite get there. For the first time in a long time, I feel as though I may finally have the tools and drive I need to push ahead.

Fear of Failure my Nemesis

I’ve been recently reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In one of the chapters Brene talks about how shame and fear can hijack us. Sometimes it seems that my greatest enemy isn’t others, but how I think of myself. In my mind sometimes I ask “what will others think if…” That shame of letting others seem ME is sometimes paralyzing. Of course the other thought is “will they like or approve of what I have to say?” There’s a hidden danger to that type of thinking. For example when I first started this blog, it was because I saw how my words could encourage those close to me. So I thought that if I reach a larger audience, I can help and impact more people. Somewhere along the way I became more focused on whether I received any likes, or if anyone read or commented to my posts. So I stopped writing for a bit, at least until I can write based on my initial motive. I will admit that I’m not immune to other’s impression of me. I’m learning to not attach my self-worth to what others think, that seems a quick way to end up down the negative self-talk and depression roads. Sharing something that is special to me with others without regard for whether they like it is a way to be more authentic. I have to learn how to not let my worth be dictated by how others perceive me.

Not everyone will like or agree with you!

I tend to be a bit more logical in my thinking, I’m an INTJ on the Myers/Briggs if you follow those types of Personality Inventories. Making decisions based on emotional appeals doesn’t usually work on me. As a result I can seem a bit stubborn to most people, where others may have a strong emotional connection to a decision; I tend to be more logical and practical. With each passing moment and day, I think carefully about decisions I make. I decide what is best for me, and I know that others will disagree with me. I’m ok with that, afterall I’m making the best decisions for my life, while they’re doing what’s best for them. Of course the hope is that with those close to you those decisions will overlap.

(It was a few weeks since I originally started writing this post) I’d like to end with another quote from Daring Greatly

Perfection is the enemy of done.”

For me that means that regardless of whether I think this post is good enough, I should post it. I got the opportunity to visit New York for my lil sister’s Graduation, it’s funny that I still think of her as a little kid, but she’s a grown woman. Being back in New York, served several purposes. Of course the most important was to see my sister Graduate College. I also had a few brief moments where I was able to relish in the thought that, I’m at a stage in my life where I can take off for a few weeks to go to New York. Despite what I may think of myself, or my lack of career progress, I still have the time, energy, and resources to take trips like that. For that I’m grateful and feel blessed.

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