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The cost of ignorance

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

In June of 2011, I was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD).  At first, I felt some relief knowing the source of more than 10 years of negative emotion had a name. With time, and an understanding I was suffering the effects of trauma, a simple diagnosis of PTSD lost its utility because the power behind a diagnosis seemed incapable of healing my dysfunction.  This lack of progress felt exceptionally frustrating; because, after all I attending therapy sessions with full purpose, I took medications as prescribed, and I put all my energy into therapy; but I found my time in treatment reached a plateau where I did not feel as good as I thought possible.  

Not feeling content, I began asking questions my therapist could not answer; I was simply told I would experience triggering effects, associated with PTSD, for the rest of my life and that continuing with medication and therapy was the best way to lessen these effects. This answer did not sit well; because somehow, deep inside, I knew there was a better way; and I must admit, I began to doubt the ability of PhD level therapists to help my recovery from emotional dysfunction. I also admit, I nearly bought what I was being told. In essence, everything suggested I was broken, I would be broken for the remainder of my life, and that my best bet, for a measure of normalcy, included increasing medications and paying $150.00 per hour, twice a week, for the foreseeable future.  I had followed that plan yet I still seemed to doubt my current outcome was as good as it could be. 

With time, my frustration led to a study empirical studies and scientific research.  In short, instead of accepting what I was being told, and feeling these conclusions were flawed, I began my own search for questions I felt should have come from the professional community.  Interestingly enough, I found, over the course of a few hours, answers to questions I had been asking for years. For example, what is trauma and more specifically how can I overcome the effects of trauma?  I will focus on trauma in a different post; but for now, the outcome of my research describes the functions, or mechanics, of emotional trauma working a lot like the functions, or mechanics, of physical trauma. Meaning, my physical body has a communication system meant to notify me of a problem. For example, I began experiencing pain in my right shoulder which increased over several months. An MRI diagnosed a bone spur. On the day of surgery, it was found the bone spur had grown large enough to tear a hole in my rotator cuff. My surgeon removed the bone spur and sowed shut the tear. With time, and physical therapy, the source of my pain was resolved.  In this example, my physical pain provided information regarding the source of my pain.  Emotional pain, or emotional trauma, works very nearly the same way.  

I will explain.  I began a law enforcement career in September of 2001.  During my time as a police officer, I was subjected to countless circumstances which increased my risk of developing emotional trauma.  In contrast, I worked construction for serval years before I became a police officer.  Because of the very nature of construction, I was at a high risk for physical injury because I was required to stand on ladders, use powerful tools, and lift heavy objects.  Prior to my construction career, I considered joining the military.  In hind-site, making a choice to join any branch of the US military would increase my risk of being involved in any American War effort.  Not that my choice was good or bad; not that construction, law enforcement, or the military is good or bad; the cold reality speaks of every choice I make having an associated outcome; this is the way the world works; the fact that I know this, actually helps me in the long run; and the fact I chose a carrier as a police officer simply placed me at an increased risk for violence.  The reason is simple, the very nature of of law enforcement requires an intervention when folks are acting inappropriately.  As it turns out, there are some who are willing to hurt others in order to continue their criminal enterprise.  This high-risk population is the reason I wore a ballistics vest and the exact reason I carried a gun and a taser.  It is also the reason I was given a badge; or is the reason I was given a symbol of legal authority to use that force which was necessary to stop crime.  My point is simple, the fact I was given a ballistics vest, a gun, a badge, and the authority to enforce law spoke of the risk I accepted when I chose to become a cop.  

I draw attention to the inherent risk of my choice in order to increase understanding of the association between physical and emotional trauma; more specifically, the nature of physical trauma, and the associated pain, acting much like emotional trauma and its associated pain.  Meaning, my years as a police officer resulted in enough emotional trauma to produce an outcome known as PTSD.  Comparing this to my shoulder, my years as a construction worker caused trauma to my shoulder.  The result was the growth of a bone spur.  With time, the bone spur grew large enough to tear soft tissues inside my shoulder joint.  With time, the condition of my shoulder required surgery in order to heal the source of my pain; emotional trauma works the same way.  My years as a police officer caused trauma.  The outcome was an increase in negative emotion.  With time, my emotional trauma grew into a problem which required intervention.  In this, I sought the assistance of a licensed therapist.  Her assistance helped significantly, in the beginning, but with time I felt my emotional growth was being hindered; this did not sit well with me.   

I simply was not satisfied with the outcome I had received after years of therapy; so I began researching.  What I found is interesting; as it turns out, ignorance—either intentional or unintentional—creates a significant barrier to any type of growth.  My ignorance seemed valid as I did not know as much as those trained to help.  In this, I mean to say that I sought help from four different therapists because the nature of their work suggested they knew what they were doing.  Again, let me add some contrast.  In regard to my shoulder, I first went to my regular doctor complaining of shoulder pain.  He ordered an x-ray and said he could not see anything out of order.  He recommended 4-weeks of physical therapy.  If I did not see a decrease in pain, after this 4-weeks, he would order an MRI.  I left his office feeling skeptical because I knew the pain had become progressively worse over a period of months.  He suggested my shoulder was weak and that strengthening the muscles would solve the issue.  Ok, fair enough… he’s a doctor and should know better than I do.  I began physical therapy as ordered but I also paid for an MRI out of my own pocket.  After 3-weeks the pain in my shoulder was getting worse.  My physical therapist knew about my MRI and suggested I seek a second opinion from a surgeon.  I made the appointment and was told the MRI showed a sizable bone spur in my right shoulder.  Not only did my surgeon tell me this bone spur was the source of my pain but that the very nature of this injury meant that physical movement of my shoulder was making the issue worse.  In short, physical therapy was not helping it was actually increasing my injury.

Coming back to my world of emotional trauma.  Seeking help from a licensed therapist initially helped.  With time, I found our conversations reached a plateau and actually seemed to make things worse.  In fact, despite putting my full effort into therapy, I found I could not speak of traumatic experiences without triggering intense negative emotions.  When reading the research, I found studies which showed the act of processing traumatic experiences provided an initial benefit but later created a situation where discussion seemed to cause secondary trauma.  I found this outcome exceptionally frustrating.  At this time I generally had little understanding of what caused triggers but I did have an understanding of the outcome of any trigger.  I knew I had the ability to shut down my emotion such that I did not succumb to the trigger.  Meaning, I could bury the trigger; I could successfully ignore the trigger such that I was not immediately overwhelmed by intense emotion.  I also knew the outcome of this choice was months of heightened negative emotion which affected my ability to interact with others and to sleep.  I also knew if I allowed the full intensity of the trigger, that I would be an emotional mess for a couple of days but that the intensity of the trigger would pass much faster.  One day, I met with my therapist to engage in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.  During our last session, we were talking as usual and I began to trigger.  My therapist used an EMDR technique which decreased my trigger until it dissipated.  This outcome was amazing because it was the first time in nearly 15 years I was not completely overcome by intense negative emotion.  

The interesting outcome of my EMDR experience created an understanding that I could control trauma and emotional triggers.  About a week later, I was driving and recognized a trigger was increasing in intensity.  What came next was nothing short of miraculous; instead of focusing on the trigger I suddenly realized a strength that had been present during my entire life.  A strength I had ignored to this point because I did not believe it existed.  In that moment, while driving down the street, I recalled my last EMDR experience and recognized the outcome of this therapy session was measure of control over something I thought was uncontrollable.  Therefore, logically speaking, because my trigger was controlled, a week before with my therapist, my trigger could be controlled on this day.  With this realization, my trigger dissipated as I drove; just like my trigger dissipated a few days earlier with my therapist.  The significance of this single event, this single moment in time, can be found within my own ability, outside direct help from my therapist, to control an outcome.  Form this day forward I was different in that I progressed from a life of regular emotional dysfunction—such that work, relationships, and quality of life were negatively effected—to a life where I have remained in control of negative emotion.  

In writing this I do not wish to demonize therapists, psychological occupations, or even the use of medication to mediate emotion.  To this end, I wish to express sincere gratitude for all those who helped my journey; but I also wish to express a misunderstood barrier blocking emotional growth; a barrier which lies within the ignorance of a person and those licensed to help.  In this, I met with doctors, physical therapist, and surgeons before the source of my shoulder pain was discovered.  Had I not paid for an MRI, and pushed for a second opinion, I risked creating further damage to my shoulder because I followed the advice of my doctor.  The ignorance of my doctor, at the time, was centered one the difficulty of diagnosing physical ailments; a process I suggest is similar to what my son-in-law does as successful mechanic.  Based on his training, and experience, he has the ability to tear down an engine to find the source of mechanical malfunction. In this, I suggest the human body is structured to allow a similar process of diagnosis; with one strong exception.  The human body does not take to exploratory surgery as well as an engine does. Therefore the inherent difficulty of fixing a human can be found within the difficulty of looking inward to see the source of dysfunction.  It is for this reason I do not criticizing professionals who are tasked to diagnose complex problems; they do so based on their education and experience which means the quality of their craft depends largely on how well they understand the specifics of human functioning.  In this, I give credit to my physician who has worked long enough to know that most shoulder pain can be resolved with increased strength.  In fact, this outcome is so common that insurance companies will not pay for an MRI until a period of strengthening occurs.  This concept of increasing physical strength makes perfect sense to me; except my case proved different.  In fact, the tear in my rotator cuff was not discovered until the day of surgery when a scope was placed inside my shoulder.  When I spoke with my surgeon, after my surgery, he said all my symptoms made sense when he saw the extent of damage caused by the bone spur.  In this, once he knew what was wrong he was able to fix the damaged which lead to my recovery.  

In contrast, I want make a clear reference to the complexities of the human mind, and associated emotion, as the reason psychological dysfunction seems so difficult to resolve.  In this, I suggest any inherent difficulty can be mediated by increasing individual understanding of the simple mechanics of any system.  Said another way, my son-in-law can tear down an engine and replace worn parts. This process results in an engine which functions like new.  In contrast, my surgeon made necessary repairs in my shoulder. Where he did not replace worn parts, he did use competent methods which addressed the source of my pain.  Therefore, I suggest those involved in psychological professions have an ability to follow the same pattern of diagnosis, and repair, as doctors and mechanics.  In practice, this outcome of competent diagnosis seems to be the strength of the psychological community.  With that said, it seems professionals suffer from an inherent weakness regarding the use of a diagnosis to enforce necessary repair.  In this, I have found the psychological community seems to suffer from a significant barrier which concludes the inner functions of the mind are too complex to repair.  Based on this, it seems far too many psychologist, counselors, and therapist conclude that a broken mind must remain broken.  I emphatically disagree with these conclusion and I use my own experience of increased positive outcomes, associated to increased understanding of emotional mechanics, as evidence.  

In sharing these experiences I wish to outline the similarity of pain being used to diagnose core dysfunction.  I also wish to outline the inherent structure of mental, and emotional, mechanics are such that finding the core of pain can led to a recovery from pain.  This is where I draw clear attention to a process wherein I found emotional recovery; or that specific moment when I realized I carried the potential to control very complex, very difficult, emotions despite years of evidence to the contrary.  In this, my recovery becomes significant; especially since many licensed professionals seems to conclude an impossibility of recovery; but I did recover; not completely on my own but largely due to my efforts; and though a process best described as of self-discovery or a life lived by design.  

In all of this, the reality of strong emotional growth becomes my primary message; because the very moment I exercised control over my emotion I became a completely different person; and because of this, I have progressed from a life where I made the choice to die, because I could not see a way to escape the emotional pain, to a life where I can honestly say I have never felt happier or more emotionally stable.  Because of my choice, I sit in a position of emotional health I never thought was possible.  The reason stems from my ignorance as well as the ignorance of others.  In this, I speak of 10 years ago, in the early summer of 2011, when the highest level of joy I could recall could only rise to a 3 or 4 on my current 10-scale of happiness.  Meaning, 10 years ago I could not fathom an outcome which was any better than what I had already experienced at that time.  In this, I simply could not believe I could get any better than I was before I experienced trauma.  Therefore, if you told me the outcome of my efforts would result in the strongest happiest I have ever experienced, and that this happiness was unfathomable because I had never experienced this outcome, I would have called you a fool because you could not understand the difficulties I was facing.  I would have criticized you in error because my ignorance, to my individual threshold of growth, was a primary barrier to my recovery.  

In short, my strong hope is to communicate the existence of a significant barrier to any growth.  A barrier which states; if I do not believe I can be any better, than I am right now, then why would I ever try to become better?  In hind sight, my internal unrest seemed to increase anytime I came close to accepting my inability to make positive changes in my life.  In this, I feel I was caught in a trap of emotional dysfunction where a lack of understanding, of what I could accomplish, blocked my ability to reach the full measure of my growth potential.  

If I can do nothing else, I can speak of a process which lead to an outcome where I have become nearly free from the devastating effects of PTSD.  Yes, I still have episodes where emotion seems to be in charge; but in contrast, these episodes, in comparison to past episodes, barley rise to a 2 or 3 on my current emotional dysfunction 10-scale.  I find this outcome miraculous especially since I lived many years of my life experiencing a devastating 10 out of 10 in emotional dysfunction.  In this, what I hope to accomplish is an increased understanding that my outcome is not isolated or an impossible phenomenon.  

All of this brings attention to my purpose, or my reason, for creating this website and publishing these articles; I hope to help others gain the same strength I have found; I desire to help others make their own progress.  Therefore, it is my intention to describe a process of growth where any human can conclude they have never felt better; and they have never felt happier.  In this, it does not matter if your experience is better or worse than mine.  What matters is a belief that our human species is built for growth and that a primary barrier too that growth can be found within a single world; ignorance.  The question now stands; are you up for a challenge; are you up for a challenge which will bring the full measure of your growth potential?     

- Darrell

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