As many of my blogs have suggested, I have struggled with finding my purpose and meaning while living with PTSD. So this week I have spent the time reflecting on why I need to have purpose and meaning. The only time life made sense to me was when I was teaching in the inner city. It was a time when I found I had great strengths in my ability to love, to be compassionate and empathetic. Furthermore, it taught me about people who hold power and the powerless. It ignited in me a strong passion for social justice. For me, these were values of my more authentic self. As I looked back at this week, I realized that this work also filled an existential emptiness in me that went so deep. It gave me reason for my ability to exist. It made me feel that I am enough and worthy. This is the reason that I grieve so deeply over my inability to be about this work.
In addition, finding my purpose and meaning at the age of 21 provided me with a freedom I had never felt before. It gave me a break from the internal war I was always in because I was about something bigger than myself. It gave me relief from searching for “happiness”.
I associate all these gifts as gifts you get for working and making a difference. I want that in a big way. The reality is I cannot work. I cannot build my ego on my ability to effect and change lives through my work. I didn’t push myself so hard to get myself educated so I could aspire to be on disability for the rest of my life. From a conversation I had with my therapist this past week, I heard her say that it was time for me to deal with the reality of my life and to move on from my trying to figure out how I could work. I say I heard her say it but deep down inside I think this is how I really feel.
I feel the emptiness that comes with that loss of meaning and purpose. I feel challenged to see that my dedication to my own self-evolution as a worthy enough goal. Can I see developing my fullest potential as an evolving universal human be my commitment to the common good and my being a productive member of society? Why do I need to have this so much in my life? Is it because of the stigma of people who are on disability? Is it because of what I use to think of people on disability? I was brought up to think that people on disability were taking advantage of the system and that they were lazy. I think my younger selves still hold these beliefs. I am terrified to think that other people think that about me. I see their expressions when I say I am on disability. I take on that shame. I feel weak and ashamed because I have failed over the last 10 years to cure myself. It doesn’t help that I have tried every technique research says can cure PTSD with no avail. I feel such shame that I am not living the life of the successful norm. I get this sense that I am looked down upon by society. This is why I can’t stop driving myself and convincing myself that I must figure out a purpose that makes me worthy of being alive.
There is this sadness in my heart. I felt I had healed the shame of living with trauma. Now I have to live with the shame that I cannot live the life that we are taught by society to aspire to so you can be seen as successful. Deep underneath I feel useless because I cannot work and save the world. I feel shame that my life is about managing a physical illness although it is labeled as a mental illness. PTSD is a result of the effect trauma had on the brain and body.
I still have not grieved the loss that I went from having a successful career for 25 years to seeing a successful activity as getting dressed and taking my pills. Deep down inside I am terrified that I will never be able to work. However, I am learning to redefine success. I see I live a successful life because I have this complete openness to evolve and grow into my fullest potential while managing PTSD. Furthermore, I see I am leading a successful life because after 10 years of deep inner work, I have the skills and ability to embrace love and being loved. In addition, I see the value of being an authentic, vulnerable self who shares these gifts with others.
Although I am redefining success, nothing seems to take away the emptiness of not being able to work. I grieve it deeply every day and I am trying to appease this grief by redefining a purposeful life.