Managing Abnormal Stress Levels (Don’t Pull the Trigger)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 King James Version (KJV)

The above scripture has always been one of my favorite pieces of literature, and sets well the tone for today’s post. Recently, I was asked by a dear friend, “Damn, man. How do you deal with so much stress?”

As usual, I think the only way to answer the question properly is to “cut the bullshit”. I’m not going to describe everything I’ve been through in my life in this post – I’m writing a full-length book which describes my life and the lessons I’ve learned from it. Instead, let’s use the following as a baseline: You’ve been through something beyond the ordinary, which has invoked the darkest of emotions. You’re so desperate for a break from all the world’s noise that, inwardly, you begin to contemplate whether it’s worth it to carry on. You want to leave the world, but obviously there’s a lot of conflict associated with that decision. You’ve made it past the fear of death and the moral conflict because you’re just too tired to care about that, but there’s still something holding you back from ending your life. Guilt? Honor? A thread of hope that there might be something more to life? Your spouse? Your children? Regardless of what it is – there’s something giving you pause.

How do you manage that level of stress?

Well, first of all, I will state plainly that I lived a very large portion of my life in that state, and ultimately people who are “on the edge” are the truest version of my intended audience as a writer. You can read more about my purpose concerning mental health, here. I spent well over a decade in the conflicted place described above, and if nothing else I did learn to manage it very well. Nobody knew that I was struggling. They all thought I was one of the nicest people they’d ever met, and lighthearted. My burdens were my own (mistake number one, by the way). Anyway, I thought it was high time to compile a list of strategies that might help people who are on the edge in the short-term until I can complete my larger work, which I hope will provide more long-term solutions. So – I hope the below tips will help.

  1. Compartmentalize in a healthy way. We can’t just tuck everything away and not think about it until we explode. That is not healthy compartmentalization. But what you CAN do is to process trauma or pain in doses. You simply hold whatever is hurting you on the edge of your consciousness. You acknowledge that it is there and you acknowledge how you’re feeling, but you don’t let it overwhelm you. This is about focus, mental discipline, and self-control. When you’re in a place that dark you can actually practice this through meditation. Close your eyes, and let whatever feeling makes you panic ALMOST overwhelm you. And then push it back. Continue this process until you know how much you can allow yourself to process before it becomes white noise that you’re desperate to escape. Focus on processing the pain slowly without getting to that point. Don’t suppress, just digest slowly. (In my own mind, I have called this process “funneling.” You can’t just continue to absorb emotion indefinitely. You have to breath it in and breath it out. Let it go and accept it in a balanced way.)
  2. Focus on solutions. Most people who get to the point of contemplating death are doing so because they are dissatisfied with life. Meaning there’s an actual reason – it’s not just some chemical imbalance. So…Why are you dissatisfied with life? That might not always be an easy question to answer, and SOLVING the problem might be even tougher. But most consequences we perceive that come from solving our dissatisfaction are far less grave than death. If you need to get out of an unhealthy relationship, forgive yourself, or escape a life controlled by debt, there are ways to do all of those things. Come up with a strategy. Ask a friend. Focus on the solution.
  3. READ. I’m dead-ass serious. For nearly a decade I struggled with overwhelming emotions without ever doing this, and one of the greatest breakthroughs I made was that studying can absolutely help process trauma. The fact that people from different cultures even within American use synonyms to describe similar ailments or ideas is a theme in my writing, and whether you refer to them as “demons,” or “mental illnesses,” or “struggles,” or any variation, I think most of us can agree that wanting to die is some sort of illness associated with the mind or spirit. Studying meditation, spirituality, or even reading fiction works (FANTASY!!!) can DEFINITELY help us to elevate and heal our minds and souls.
  4. Live authentically and use your inner voice. For the longest time I was addicted to thinking I was alone in the world. “Nobody understood me.” Well, no shit, Sherlock! When you don’t tell anyone how you’re feeling, you can’t really expect them to know telepathically. Have at least one person in your life that you can tell ANYTHING to. Whether in person or in writing. Be honest with yourself and others and you’ll find the people who you were meant to live life with.
  5. Sleep!!!! Seriously, if you feel like you should die but haven’t slept 8 hours straight for as long as you can remember, start here. Go to bed.
  6. Be careful of projecting and of BAD habits. Real peace comes from within. It’s tempting to hope someone or something will solve all of your problems, and it’s good to find help, but this “on the edge” moment is not a good time for drinking, fighting, smoking, etc. Be careful of how much you “need” other people, but don’t be scared to lean on support networks. Contrarily to detrimental habits, it could be the PERFECT time to start a GOOD habit: working out, mechanics (get a project, like my 96′ Jeep XJ!), or (my personal favorite) writing.

I hope that a couple of those are helpful for anyone who needs them in the short-term. I’ll write more as time allows and I’m trying my best to finish my book for everyone.

Much love,

TQV

The Provocation Generation

Despite the fact that I’ve been writing for over a decade and a half, I’m still relatively new to leveraging social media in the endeavor. Doing so involves understanding how to communicate with the human collective, rather than with a single person or small group like most of us are accustomed to. The good news is that, once I get people to the point of reading my articles, they have generally found them impactful or at least moderately entertaining. The bad news?

The bad news is what it takes to get them there.

My most successful article thus far (mind you that I’m still working on a relatively small scale) was entitled, “Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD.” Doesn’t that seem a bit…provocative? Well, that’s the crux of my position.

In our world of extremes, people expect to be offended (or to defend an idea that others would find offensive) before they are willing to engage in discourse.

It can be seen all around us, in every facet of life. An author can’t write about religion without either attacking it or accepting it wholeheartedly. You’re either defending atheism or attempting to prove that God absolutely exists. You can’t write about politics without incorporating images of dead fetuses (on the conservative side), or of young immigrants in tears (on the liberal side). In addressing generational gaps, it’s always either a “lazy millennial” or a “close-minded baby-boomer.”

What happened to the 80 percent of people in the middle – the ones capable of having a reasonable conversation without resorting to violent rhetoric and posturing? How have we let the outliers become our socially acceptable norm, and how to we return to a world of reason?

The challenge is this: authors make money when people read their work. They make more when people engage, comment, and share. Culturally, we now HAVE to use provocative language in order to coax complacent people to simply click the hyperlink.

So, how do we fix it?

As journalists, writers, and others who sort of “steer” human culture, we have to learn to use extreme language to coax people back toward reasonable thought. We have to provoke them toward acceptance, and anger them toward open-mindedness. It’s the ultimate challenge in persuasive writing.

“Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD” was really just an article about learning to accept the situation, culture, and beliefs of people who are different than we are, but the title stung enough to make a few people who didn’t give a shit about me feel the urge to click. And once they clicked, they were in my world. I could use powerful imagery and wordsmithing to coax them toward a thought they, perhaps, hadn’t considered before. I could weave a story that would lead them into considering the root of one of our world’s major problems.


Any thoughts from other “Guides of the Human Terrain” would be most appreciated.

People are still reasonable. We just have to remind them how to communicate reasonably, and that’s a multi-generational endeavor.

-TQV