Exhaust, Trauma, Compassion, Love, and Life

I can’t speak for the cultures of other countries, but here in the U.S., we are raised on a steady diet of violence and war, conflict, power and aggression. It is as much a part of our national identity as baseball and apple pie. So is it any wonder at all that we tend to treat our own mental illnesses the same way?

For the longest time, I resorted to the age old perspective of “battling” my mind. I went to war with the demons that had invaded my psyche. I took the view that I needed to slay them each, to best them in mortal combat lest they smother me under the dark, heavy blankets they wove.

In our culture, this view is especially harmful to men. In addition to the expectation that we “handle our shit” without showing weakness or pain, we are also conditioned in a thousand different ways to act out in aggression and anger. The only acceptable emotions for the prototypically stoic red blooded American male are anger and rage.

Pain. Sorrow. Despair. Vulnerability. We are taught to view these feelings as alien, as character flaws to be brutalized and extinguished. These toxic views of masculinity, I’m sure, contribute to the rising suicide rate of men my age. Men just like me. Fathers, husbands, sons, soldiers, sailors, airmen and brothers.

But what if it isn’t a battle to be waged within us for the right to claim our soul? What if we are to take these dominant voices and soothe them the way we may sooth a colicky baby, or a puppy afraid of a thunderstorm?

We are taking the perspective of battling in the trenches, of brutal, bloody hand to hand combat, of using our strength and might against ourselves in an attempt to destroy a piece of our being that we don’t want to have.

Instead of blunt force trauma, of weapons designed to cut and maim, we should be using that energy, redirecting it to benefit us. It has gotten us this far in life, it MUST have purpose, have a reason to exist.

When I was in college, I would often watch a few students practicing Tai Chi in the shade on campus. I fell in love with the fluidity and beauty of it. I never practiced it or learned the movements, but I did learn about it.

Tai Chi is, unless I’m mistaken, the art of using a combatants own energy and momentum to gain an advantage. It is to redirect those aggressions, those actions we deem counter productive or harmful into something beneficial to ourselves.

What if we began to treat our mood disorders like that? What if instead of engaging in an exhaustive war that cannot be won, we redirected those energies, those voices, into something we could use.

Those voices, demons, terrorists, or squatters that have taken up residence in our minds are there for a reason. They are trying to guide us or protect us from something. It may be abandonment. Perhaps it’s trying to keep us from becoming complacent. In my own case, it often tries to protect me from the possibility of failure.

Instead, I have chosen to embrace them. Inside the prison of my mind, I look at my fellow inmates and thank them. I am grateful for what they have done for me. I am trying not to be angry at what they have taken because I know their intentions were pure. I have chosen to integrate them into who I am, to have compassion for them, and to redirect their energies into something I can use rather than something I must fight.

Is it working? In conjunction with my therapy, an ever-changing combination of drugs, and a few drastic changes to my life, yes. It is working. Some days are still tough. Some leave me feeling like the darkness will never recede, but at least now I can see the promise of being whole. As each of those fractured pieces of me is brought together, I can see a little more of what we can be.

War is exhausting and traumatizing. Compassion, though, is the foundation for love, and love is life.


Do you want to be part of creating a kinder, more inclusive society?