The power of meta-cognition

You have no clue when or how but, somehow you have slid into this odd air bubble filled with millions and millions of thoughts still, a deafening silence is what you hear when focusing on these thoughts.  Dozens of familiar and uncontrolled memories are flashing by still, somehow you do not quite recognize them. Even though you know that these thoughts and images are yours, being your past, it feels as if you hear and view someone else’s memories of which some even look as if they are written by an award-winning scriptwriter of the latest horror movie Netflix is broadcasting.

Against your better judgment, you try to get a grip on yourself but, whatever you do, your emotions and thoughts are one big mess! Where you once felt super excited you now feel numb. You are constantly alert, you lose your focus, and have trouble sleeping, “What the heck is going on, am I going nuts?!” Shame and anxiety start kicking in! “What will my surroundings think of me?  Will they think that I am batshit crazy?”

And so, you crawl into that, metaphorically speaking, ‘dark corner’, keep it all to yourself in silence because you feel that no one will ever understand what you are going through. “How do I explain this vivid effect that seems to have a tremendous impact on my thinking and behavior?” And, after a while, you retreat while trying to make sense of your emotions experiencing a bumpy roller coaster ride.

My personal results after taking the self-assessment “Do I have PTSD?” on the website of http://www.firstrespondersfirst.ca/

Do you recognize these, surface scraping, symptoms? If so, it might be that you, like me, are experiencing a form of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) what, according to many psychologists, is a mental illness and can be treated by you taking a huge amount of medications after they have been categorized you and, labeled you with a grim sounding disorder.

Even though the common thought of PTSD is involving the exposure of the frightening, stressful, and overwhelming experiences like being in a serious accident, being physically assaulted, being involved in a war – either as a civilian or as part of military operations, being involved in a natural disaster, such as a bushfire, flood or cyclone, being sexually assaulted or abused, it also involves the personal experiences of, among others, military personal, police officers, fireman/woman who are working under huge pressure and in unusual situations. Stories no civilian will hear…officially.

There is no doubt that almost everyone who experiences trauma will be emotionally affected, and there are many different ways in which people will respond. For some, the effects can last for years – or longer.  Luckily most people will recover quite quickly with the help of family and friends. Meaning, the symptoms of PTSD do not always have to last forever and can be reduced even without treatment from a therapist.

On the latter, even though I took this journey and wrote a personal Q&A along the road, it is not what I recommend to anyone as a first solution unless, you are willing to face and break the wall that is hidden deep inside you, surrounding your mind, by yourself.

Question:

From the deepest depths of my soul,

I plead with you, don’t leave me behind.

Alone in these fireless vaults of hell I am,

As I try to break its chains.

Silence is turning into cold emptiness,

Consuming me

The sound of my heart breaking becomes loud,

While my screams are fading

In these dark and echoless vaults.

Answer:

When time is being ripped apart, shattering the doubles glass walls, a ruin of illusions is what remains after the blast has removed the roof from this safe room. A cold and dim place has emerged, blazed away a sparkling and fairy journey…pushing it to the background of evolution. The one comfort within this foggy reality is, when looking back, the time experienced seems never to have taken place, to begin with. A dreamed memory of ‘time’, is an eerie concept indeed.

There was a time when I was in a really dark place

To unpack my story so that you have an idea of who I am and, why I speak with the passion that I speak with… as many know, I am the founder and owner of two scientific magazines with which I try to make science more accessible in a fun way and for all ages.  But I wasn’t always the publisher and editor of The Next Truth.  In my early 20ths, I was an armed, un-uniformed police officer arresting the scumbags. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like a failure. I actually felt successful and worthy. I felt like I was good enough.

But, as with everything in life, things have a run-up consisting of several little moments that accumulate day after day, week after week, year after year, and, ultimately, affect your behavior, thinking, and thus decisions.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, even though I have witnessed some of the grimmest and gory moments life has to offer, joining the force wasn’t a bad decision. At least, that’s what I realize today.

So, how did I, as a sensitive and empathic kid, end up in an invisible but armed team that was focused on arresting and interrogating, among others, drug dealers, human traffickers, psychopathic killers, (potential) bombers? Well, even though it is an entirely different story, in a nutshell, from a very young age I was taught to be silent, to place myself in the back-row and give others the stage.  After a while I stopped participating in social activities and, when it was time to say something, I wasn’t able to make any sound because of this fear of someone going to ‘teach’ me, in public, I was not good enough to gain any positive attention let alone to stand in the spotlights.

Anyway, skipping the details of the ordinary police training, I, approximately one year after leaving the classroom, found myself walking full-time in this team that was ready to kick your ass in a non-empathic and non-emotional manner. Better said, ‘I’ was now the one who was telling ‘them’ to be quiet, sit in the back-row, and give me the stage. I wasn’t that weak and silent duckling anymore! Needless to say that everything went according to the legal rules but I had this mindset of, “You f*ck*d up by breaking the law, taking someone’s life, and spreading injustice among the innocent…now I am entitled to drag your pathetic little ass all the way to jail!”

Over time, and this is only scraping the surface, I have participated in several of these deployments, experiencing several injuries. As well as viewing an avalanche of photo and film material showing, among others, sexual abuse of minors (some with horrifying endings), female drug smugglers who had cut open baby’s and used them as packing material.

I was there when several divers from the local fire department, carried several garbage bags with myriad body parts on shore, I witnessed someone overdosing, committing suicide – one by hanging and the other one (who was a police officer herself) shot herself through the head in the cafeteria of the police station. And, I was in a firefight which was also my very last activity due to the fact that, during this, a dear and close colleague lost his life.  An event that I blamed myself for because I had not expressed my gut feeling. To this day I still feel this guilt of which I am fully aware of, will never fade away 100%.

So, I know, from personal experiences, you are going through some hard times. I know your dreams are not always pretty and that life, at times, might feel rough or you might feel weird or things might be frustrating but it’s not always going to be like this.

Mixed emotions and thoughts are normal after a traumatic experience.

This was almost 3 decades ago and I have accepted that this nasty feeling of guilt will always be somewhere in the background of my mind. But even though I am, today, able to cope with 95% of it all, for years I found myself in a really, really weird and dark place. I struggled with my own alcohol abuse. I was hurt, I felt stuck and depressed. I felt weak and fought questions like, What is the purpose of life? Why am I here?  I felt like I could not fit in anymore.

I kind of felt like, well, people don’t really understand my story. They don’t come from where I come from and so I build a wall up. But you know what knocked over a huge part of that wall down? It was the patience and support some people gave me after almost 11 months of silent self-reflection that made me understand my own thoughts and the behaviors accompanied. And it took me several months more for finding the strength to step forward with my story.

Meta-cognition is a recovery

I know you are going through some hard times. I know life at times might feel rough or you might feel weird or things might be frustrating. I have been there. And, every now and then, I still am struggling with the gory details and the feeling of guilt.  But, you know what? I learned that I am not alone in this…you are not in this by yourself. And even you might feel like an empty vessel, there is still so much more power inside you to make a positive impact on someone’s life.

Yes, sometimes people develop negative thoughts about themselves, other people, and the world in general. These thoughts and feelings of, for instance, sadness, confusion, anger, usually lift as they start to come to terms with and recover from the traumatic event. But for some people though, a traumatic event can lead to mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, as well as impacting on their relationships with family, friends, and at work.

And, even though some think it is the ‘right’ path to walk, recovering from trauma does not mean forgetting your experience or, not feeling any emotional pain when reminded of the event. Recovery means becoming less distressed and having more confidence in your ability to cope as time goes on. Your mindset, your belief system are everything.

And so I am writing this article to tell you, you are not crazy. It is the lack of understanding and acceptance from those whose psyche has not been in those places yours have. Your backpack is filled with experience most psychologists simply cannot understand, so they are trying to impose their own framework on people whose psychology has experienced working under severe pressure and quick decision making in unusual situations.

What do we do with this opportunity that we have?

Life can be hard, life can be rough. You might feel like you have been pushed down in the dirt like people have been stomping on you and stuff has been raining on you but you didn’t realize you were just a seed. You have not been pushed down in the dirt and stomped on. You have been planted and placed in this pot for a reason.

And here is the beautiful thing about you, while you are going through your process, trying to navigate these waters, and still trying to tweak some stuff within yourself, you still got the power to save somebody else’s life. You got the power to speak up for others. You got the power to be the voice of reason for someone who might be on the verge of doing something they should not do. You have the power to brighten somebody’s day. Your words and energy are powerful for you to make an impact. You can make a difference by you just being unapologetically you.

Now I know you cannot always control what happens to you. But you can control how you respond to it.  Just keep in mind, your condition is not your conclusion.

 

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