Frozen with Fear (And How Not To Be)

When I was 16 years old, I was selling cigarettes and t-shirts in my hometown bar, working at night and going to school during the day. I was even smaller then than I am now – maybe 130 pounds if I had a 10 pound barbell in each hand. It was an educational few years for me: I saw adults who were well respected in the community fight, vomit, and initiate affairs under the influence of alcohol. I learned how to deal with drunks, and how not to be, in a general sense.

It was during those years that I experienced my first ever “fight or flight” moment. A group on group bar fight broke out right in front of my little cubby hole of a store. It was too early in the night – the bouncers were scattered about, not expecting trouble. Still getting settled. My reaction was worse than either of the “fight or flight” options. I froze. I mean, I was a kid, right? What was I supposed to do? The guys fighting were all wearing “Tap-out” shirts and seemed like they were trying to make a name for their MMA school – MMA was just on the up and up in those years. By the time I snapped myself out of the frozen state, the bouncers had arrived. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to call for them. I just stood there, frozen in fear. Once the fight was over, I’d beaten myself up for it for half the night. I decided right then that I would never be frozen like that again because of another man’s actions.

The next time a bar fight broke out, I was ready for it. Two guys – again, way too beefy for me to take on – were pummeling each other furiously. In a lot of ways, the second fight was worse than the first. The group had mostly been throwing each other around, making a mess but not really doing any damage. These guys were throwing real blows. Blood had already been spilled by the time I heard the noise. Don’t freeze. DON’T FREEZE.

“HEY!” I yelled in the most boisterous voice I could muster. It gave them pause, but they went back to pummeling each other. I ran in. Grabbed one of the beefy guy’s arms. Put him in an arm bar (I’d taken a bit of martial arts myself, but the passive philosophical type). I held his arm with all my might, and managed to stop his punches. Then, I realized by mistake. The other man was still free. He carried on punching the one I was controlling, and I inadvertently turned the tide of the fight. Then the bouncers showed up and rescued my 16 year old self again.

I was proud, in some ways. I knew I’d messed up, but I’d learned that the fight or flight “instinct” can be controlled. I learned that action is better than inaction, and I learned the first rule of emergency management: Don’t get excited.

Years later, those skills became increasingly relevant in a military setting, but I had one more freeze-up incident.

It was in the Horn of Africa, where I was part of a “Force Protection Liaison Team.” I’d spent months building relationships with everyone from human traffickers to tribal elders in an effort to keep Americans in the region safe. You can’t fight a threat you don’t know about. Anyway, a hotel fire broke out in one of two hotels in the Northern half of the Djibouti. By the time my partner – a Marine Staff Sergeant – and I arrived, the place was in terror. There were electric explosions along with things like alcohol and fireworks in the building, so that added to the chaos. We were in the desert and had no water to fight the fire with. All around me there were children screaming and women crying, and worst of all – they said there was still a man inside.

I froze for what seemed like eternity – it was really just a few seconds before my earlier lessons kicked back in. Already this post is longer than my average, so I’ll summarize to a great extent, but after a night of fighting for our lives and the lives of others – seeing men pass out from smoke, and attempt to fight a raging fire with dirt and sand – we managed to at least make sure everyone was safe. Even one guy who thought the best way to fight the fire was to stand on the roof and beat it with a large stick. He thought that if the roof collapsed, it would be more effective to dump dirt on the fire from above it. I wondered why anyone would want to force the collapse of a roof they were standing on. I questioned whether I would give my life to save his – he, who had made a stupid choice that could’ve resulted in hellacious pain. The conclusion I came to is my own to bear, but what I learned that night is this:

The fight or flight response is largely dependent on experience and priorities. These days, I often find myself running toward chaos where I think I can lend assistance (it typically turns out to be nothing more than a scare of some kind). I don’t know that there’s much that would make me freeze these days – though I’m aware it’s still possible, for anyone. But if you think about the worst case scenario and know what you’re willing to die for, there’s no reason you can’t prevent yourself from ever being frozen in fear.

If folks like reading about these concepts, maybe I’ll explore them further?

Much love,

Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)

The Crux of America’s Mental Health Problem

I typed in the name of my new website just now, so that I could begin sharing its intent.

W…w…w…dot.

TheQuietVisionary.com

As I did so, I felt a bit burnt out. More than that though, I felt the weight of conviction and a rebellious sense of purpose in a world that tells me I don’t have one, or that I can’t have one, or that I’m not qualified to achieve it. That I’m not qualified to achieve my purpose.

You see, I already know what my purpose is. Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt the strong urge to help others. To advocate for the broken, mistreated, or misunderstood. To heal them, show them how they should be treated, and to understand them. It’s all been inspired by my journey to to heal myself, to find those who treat me with kindness, or to find the people I can be understood by.

And they’re out there. You’re out there. It’s just such a complex problem to digest and address with a tone of victory.

The Quiet Visionary. Maybe I’m being too quiet – I’ve never been one to self promote, and I always feel like advocating for my own skills and purpose is too proud a thing to do. I think that a lot of people who can heal our world feel the same. But I couldn’t just start typing after I entered my web-address – there was another step before I got to my present screen. I had to click one more link.

“My Site.”

And that’s what this is, right? My site. My blog. My space. My voice.

Mental health awareness is such a huge issue that almost everyone from almost every walk has to at least acknowledge it. Which one of you doesn’t know a person who has ended their life early, or tried to? Which one of you hasn’t thought about doing it yourself at some point, but refused because of faith, honor, love, or fear? How many more could be reading this if they hadn’t already lost that battle?

Fuck mental health awareness. We’re already aware of it.

The problem is that so many people who could honestly contribute to the healing of our country are held back from doing so by misconceptions that have existed for FAR too long. I’m held back from doing so. And that’s not a complaint or a pity party, it’s a challenge. So many people survive adversity and come out on the other side with a story to tell, only to be warned that they shouldn’t tell it.

It’s too private. It’s too shameful. It’s too real. You’re not educated enough. It’s too late to become educated enough – you have a family now. You have responsibilities and bills and all you can do is keep working your life away in a desperate grind to stay afloat.

Nah, man. It’s time to challenge that.

Every single day people are literally choosing to blow their brains out or hang themselves in their own “living” rooms because the way we are treating mental illness is NOT working. NARCAN is now available over the counter, because people choose to run to drugs where a more obvious solution is absent. Almost every veteran I meet has been diagnosed with PTSD, because our nation would rather throw money and mind-numbing drugs at problems than to see them properly addressed. Many within my own circle will judge the stance I’m taking because people should just “turn to God.” I believe that God gave us the tools to overcome adversity together, and it’s not always enough to just project the things that pain us into the sky and be freed of them.

Most of the people you engage with beyond the surface level are proud to share with you conditions which replace their own names in illustrating the adversity they’ve overcome. You’re not a person – you’re a person battling depression. You’re a person battling bulimia, anxiety, PTSD, or anorexia. You’re a person battling. As if anyone out there is not battling.

You’re so thankful when you finally find someone else who is battling the same disease that you are…perhaps they can understand you. Disease, when written regarding mental health, is a word created by other people to monetize issues that have been faced since the dawn of humanity. The truth? The truth is that mental diseases and spiritual brokenness are the same damned thing. Honestly, at this point – with suicide rates skyrocketed and diagnosis at an all-time high – what’s the harm in trying a different approach?

I may not have a master’s degree, or a doctorate (though I hope to find the means to add those tools to my kit), but I think I have an even more valuable tool. MY story. I can help the broken to heal, because I’ve healed from being broken.

Anyone who scoffs at this post or the language in it hasn’t been in the place I’m talking about. But SO many have. And SO many are still there, and hiding it. Military leaders. CEO’s. Waitresses and strippers and whores and soldiers and children and happily married men and women and preachers and teachers and cooks and druggies and the homeless population that we try SO hard not to see. None of them is more important to me than the rest, and none of them has less potential than another. They all just need an advocate. Someone to give them the time of day, an open ear that won’t judge and can offer advice based off of practical experience, not some text book.

That’s the crux of what America’s mental health issue is, and it’s also the key mission of The Quiet Visionary. People don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to a therapist who tells them only that they’re “intellectualizing their emotions” and lacks any hint of empathy or compassion. If that sounds like a story based on experience it’s because it IS. The one time I sought professional help, I found someone who was professionally disconnected from the world’s problems. Someone who lacked the experience to relate to the world’s darkness. People bound by a code of ethics that prevents true connection or understanding, people who seek to drag the broken into the light without understanding why they haven’t been there in the first place.

Humanity is not a shameful experience. Real answers do exist. Cut yourself some slack. Pain is not something to be hidden. It’s something to be shared that others might better avoid it.

I may not have a degree like they say I should. And now, well into adulthood with a wife and child of my own, I’ve found myself thus far incapable of dropping everything to return to school. Sure, education is a great enhancement for tools forged by hard experience. By what use is a tool adorned with jewels if it’s never been forged in fire and quenched into its most durable form?

Better a plain and humble sword that was made properly than a jeweled one made of softest metal.

I can help you climb out of the pit. I know the path. I’ve been there before. And I’m working so hard for you, behind the scenes. Processing my story into something digestible. Not something to cling to, but something to learn from. And not because I’m better than you or because I’ve been through more, but because it is simply my purpose to do so. To change the broken stigma of mental health “awareness,” and give folks who are in pain actual solutions to their problems.

But every advocate needs an advocate. Help me build my platform so I can help those who are in the dark to understand the darkness, and thus overcome it.

You will hear more from me. If you need help, reach out to me anytime. It doesn’t matter who you are or how we’re related. I see the world’s hidden pains. The only real solution is unconditional love. Whatever happened to unconditional love?

-TQV