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Jacob M. is a young man who acts and writes. He was born with one hand. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and views of CS4A.

How I Didn't Have a Problem Before but Created One for Myself

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I was born with only one hand. My parents both worked hard to empower my growth and I grew up with a lot of love. It’s safe to say I've never really felt disabled nor begrudged my loss; and that word, "loss" is the reason why. I bear no sorrow in losing my hand because I never had it. I can't imagine what it's like to lose a limb in an accident, I believe the heartache is monstrous for those who have.

Two people in the same boat of missing a limb can experience very different feelings about their disability. And disability can be packaged in more than one way.

For me, having the loss of a hand since birth has not really been a problem. I find that physical obstacles are nothing to the human spirit. For those who have suffered the loss of a limb through an accident or a violent act, the experience is different. A person who suffers violence to the body also has an upheaval in peace of mind and the loss of peace of mind can bring the greater suffering.

I'm thankful I've been spared the experience of losing my hand, but I am no stranger to the strain of shock and upset. I've had experiences that caused emotional pain, just like you, the reader, have and may again. The recurrent surfacing of the thought of pain after the fact has crippled me more than my so called disability ever has.

I know that the magnitude of my personal tragedies may not appear to be as great as some of those suffered by others, but we all feel pain in regard to our own lives, not in comparison to others. Something dismissed as small by one person can be experienced as great in the workings of another.

I believe details of what is causing my grief aren't as important in fixing it as is my relationship to grief. Unchecked emotions can flare up over anything. I've decided for myself that what causes me grief is not as important as what I'm gonna’ do about it.

Over a year ago I went through what I "thought" was a truly "terrible event." I won't tell the story because it would defeat the purpose of this writing. Someone else could read my story and easily think it isn’t that bad. Recounting details wouldn't change anything.

I was in a compromising situation with another person who I trusted. At the time I was threatened enough to feel unsafe. I was in a vulnerable state, overwhelmed and afraid. The other person told me I was "just embarrassed". The situation ended, but I carried a lot of baggage and turmoil about it.

I fell flat on my emotional face and tied my own mind into a twisted hateful pretzel shape.

After this event, I was consumed with anger and fear for months and months. I found it impossible to shake the feeling of ever-present danger. I was insulted by the lack of justice and unable to accept that all I could do about it was cope and move on. It seemed I just had to admit this was a part of my life story, I put myself there and I allowed it.

My sleep became disturbed with clockwork brooding and rumination every night. I would spring bolt upright in bed, breathing. After enduring a month of this profound disturbance I broke out in hives from stress. I had big red bumps swelling up on different parts of my body in allergic reaction to non-stop toxins released by my hate and unrest. In the same way that poor physical hygiene can lead to sickness, my poor mental hygiene was weakening me physically.

I was too poor at the time to speak to a therapist so I did a lot of reading. I learned about the symptoms of anxiety disorders like PTSD and OCD. Through my reading I saw that I have had preconceived notions about these anxiety disorders. They are not reserved only for war veterans and victims of sexual violence. People experience extreme stress in many other life situations. Some of the symptoms and patterns involved have always been present in my life and the people around me on a daily basis.

According to the information I have read, which is also sited below, "fear" and "danger" are processed by a part of our brain called the amygdala (Vivyan). The amygdala performs many tasks, but one of its notable powers is the "Fight or Flight" response. For the sake of survival, it floods you with stress hormones when the time to act is now.

Second, I learned the amygdala has the power to take over the brain whenever it believes there is danger. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for reason and rational thought, but when danger is perceived, the amygdala can shut down the pre-frontal cortex and take priority in decision making (Nadler, 1). Information passes through the amygdala first and then on to the pre-frontal cortex second, just in case something needs to be responded to quickly (Nadler, 3).

This is good for ensuring survival, but it now occurs to me that we literally have the power to decide something is a threat to our safety before we think about it too much.

The most important thing I learned is that our brains can't always tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat or even the memory of a threat. The brain only needs to be reminded of a stimulus to activate its association (Carver, 16). It is possible to pull the file of a dangerous memory, one in which we were damaged, injured, abused or threatened, or at least perceived it that way. A dangerous memory can play in our heads and cause us to re-experience it, pulling all of the fear associated with that file. Then the amygdala can shut down rational thought and activate stress hormones in response to the perceived "danger" (Carver,16).

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had something for me to relate to. Events of high emotional intensity create very strong memories. The result can be a total domination and dampening to one's personality. The event replays over and over, one loses joy in the things they love, they avoid things that remind them of the danger and they feel on edge all the time (US Dept). They can become violently irritable which could make them feel worse because they don't want/mean to hurt anybody. To me it sounds like feeling robbed of yourself and not knowing how you can ever be happy again.

I have struggled with my thoughts. Being threatened by your own thoughts is a game you lose when you don't realize that you're playing; you win when you choose to know the danger is now gone. It made sense to me that my brain wouldn't know the difference in reliving a memory. I would tense up, get jumpy and my pulse would quicken. I would argue with a memory, as if it were possible to change it. Sometimes I would speak out loud in response to something someone once said. I could become angry and defensive when there was nothing physically happening to me. I realized the magnitude of my over-triggered irritability when I was once again arguing with nobody and I abruptly stopped to realize I'd punched a hole in the door.

Property damage is one thing, but above all, I regret the damage this grief has done to my relationships with people. I have been the person who friends would tell other friends about because I loved sharing positivity. I loved being loved, and even though I still receive love from my past reputation, my new, heavy stone of a heart drags on me and I can't always be the man I spent years cultivating across many friendships. There are friends who are holding out for me and I'm grateful but there are a couple whose patience has run out, and I will miss their affection dearly.

I'm going to be okay. I'm better prepared to handle unexpected surprises now, and I, of course, need to cultivate respect by giving it to others. I'm throwing myself into fun new projects that challenge me and require my full attention. I still read self help blogs and seek professional help. When I'm tired of thinking about my own injustice, I help other people, which always makes me feel better. I have patience with myself and I make a point to do things I like, even if I'm too busy feeling dopey-down on myself. It has become less about reclaiming what is lost, because what's lost truly is lost. But I am not lost and now I get to make something new.

I often think of other disabled people who traumatically lost a part of their body and have true reason to mourn and nurture a very valid pain. My missing hand has never driven a wedge into my relationships or private sense of safety, but that is not to say I am immune from the human experience of regretting change and disappointment in any other manifestation.

My hope in sharing this is that a reader may recognize his or her own distress and stir the initial actions that will help navigate back to your true self. There is a great beauty and depth there.

 

1.) Carol Vivyan. Trauma and the Brain. N.p.: Carol Vivyan, n.d. Getselfhelp.co.uk. 2015. Web.

2.) Carver, Dr. Joseph M. "Emotional Memory Management: Positive Control Over Your Memory." DrJoeCarver.com (n.d.): n. pag. Sept. 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

3.) Dr Relly Nadler. What Was I Thinking? Handling the Hijack. N.p.: Dr Relly Nadler, n.d. July 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

4.) Phelps, Elizabeth A. "Human Emotion and Memory: Interactions of the Amygdala and Hippocampal Complex." Current Opinion in Neurobiology (2004): n. pag. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

5.) US Department of Veteran Affairs. "PTSD: National Center for PTSD." Home. US Department of Veteran Affairs, 11 May 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. .

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