May is mental health month. I decided to open up a little more about my mental struggles. When you hear the word scar you likely think about a physical scar that you can see. Just exactly what scars do you have? Do you have physical scars from an unfortunate slip of a knife while cutting up food in the kitchen? Maybe a cut from a broken piece of glass or jagged metal? How about a skinned up knee or elbow from a bike crash?
At my age I have made my share of trips to the emergency room for treatment of cuts and many other medical issues. The results are many physical scars on my body from head to toe. My right leg has had four surgeries with plenty of stiches and plastic surgery. For many years in my youth, I was reluctant to wear shorts because my battle scared leg would show. My poor left hand has endured multiple different encounters with sharp objects from saws, routers and mower blades. One required surgery, the others just stitches. I have a permanently crooked finger to show for it. I’ve had four different surgeries to remove a few organs and repair the inside of my abdomen thanks to pancreatitis. The result is a long scar from my breastbone to well below my belly button.
But what about emotional scars? We all have likely to some degree been traumatized in our life. Depending on what happened, how we process it and ultimately how we handle it, these scars can and do impact our lives. Physical scars are often a close relative of emotional scars. Military personal are subject to physical and emotional scars. The term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, has been widely discussed among the military. The truth is, anyone can have PTSD. PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which there was serious physical harm or threat. PTSD is a lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals that cause intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Examples of things that can bring on PTSD include sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, an accident, war, or natural disaster.
I have anxiety, depression and PTSD. Even though it covers all of my life, a large percentage of what I deal with mentally has been within the last 11 years. The brain is sort of like an odometer in a car. As we go through life the mileage accumulates. There is no way to turn back the miles on our brain. All the good things in life are stored in there along with the bad things. When my first pancreatic attack happened, things took off at warp speed. The unwelcome miles in my brain started accumulating faster and faster until I couldn’t control it. Some people deal with emotional scars by not wanting to talk about it. They push it to the back of their brains and basically try to forget about it. That is what I normally did until it overflowed. So now I’ve learned how to manage the symptoms and triggers most of the time. This was done mainly through counseling and medication. What triggers and sets off my anxiety or depression can be literally anything from a picture, a song, a smell, something on TV or seeing a particular object.
A few lyrics of the song Scars by Rush say a lot on how things have affected me over my life.
Each emotional injury
Leaves behind its mark
Sometimes they come tumbling out
Like shadows in the dark
I get this feeling
When I think about all I have seen
And all I’ll never see
When I think about the people
Who have opened up to me
I get this feeling
Pleasure leaves a fingerprint
As surely as mortal pain
In memories they resonate
And echo back again…
The lyrics are very accurate on how I have accumulated the miles on my brain but also as a person who has met and talked to hundreds of others suffering from this disease. They have opened up to me and told me the struggles they have.
Seeking help for depression, anxiety or PTSD is not a weakness. In fact, it is a strength to admit you need help with how to handle these struggles. I would encourage anyone who needs help to seek it. Don’t keep it all bottled up.