How to clear your thoughts when you have PTSD.

Many people with PTSD describe everyday life like having a brain fog.

 

Veterans who experience brain fog think they are alone with it. Some are afraid that it is Alzheimer, others have lived with it for so long that they consider it normal. Brain fog comes from the fact that there are many processes going on in the head. PTSD is a diagnosis that most of all causes one to have increased alertness. To pay attention to everything and everyone, all the time, is tiring. Eventually, the fatigue will turn into burnout, anxiety, depression and brain fog. So we’re really talking about the ability to relax, get enough rest to see that the thoughts, the brain fog, are just results of the trauma one has. As soon as one realizes that it is possible to “clear the mind”, one is in a positive spiral and the brain fog, the “Alzheimer’s” tends to disappear. But then it was this process of getting “clarity in mind”.

It’s not always easy.

Table of content

Alan Watts

 

Let me first introduce Alan Watts: (1915-1973) a prolific writer and speaker, he was one of the first to interpret Eastern wisdom for a Western audience. At a young age he got interested in Buddhism, he later moved to USA, where he worked as a episcopal priest for a time, and then he wrote his central book, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety.

He went on teaching Buddhist studies, and the anti-culture movement adopted him as a spiritual spokesman.

His view of life has changed many lives – so to speak.

Perhaps the foremost interpreter of Eastern disciplines for the modern West, Alan Watts had the rare gift of “beautifully writing the unwritten.” Watts begins with science and intellect and continues with art and eloquence to the limits of the spirit. to know. “
– LA Times

 

I highly recommend just about everything Alan Watts produced. That being lectures or written stuff. Even if all of his work state back more than fifty years ago, it is universal to this day. I have mentioned several times that I am not very positive regarding the so-called glorified “positive” thinking and popular science psychology that is based on performing a list of measures and then, suddenly, everything in life is in order. Things are more complicated than that. But at the same time, they can be simpler than we actually think. In this blogpost I will give you some good examples of what can simplify a (PTSD) everyday life (or really any everyday life with or without the complications concerning PTSD.)

I borrow thoughts from good thinkers (both living and dead) and relate them to a mixture of “isms”: Buddhism, existentialism and, in fact, stoicism.

But first Alan Watts. A man strongly influenced by Buddhism, but never really a Buddhist. He was influenced by many different “ismes”. He gave a lot of lectures to his students in the 60’s and 70’s, some very controversial. Both then and now, but with an underlying message that resonates perfectly in todays life.

 

The most famous quote Alan wrote

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

However, this is just an excerpt. Here is the full quote:

“In addition, since muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, it can be argued that those who sit still and do nothing, make one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.”

It comes from Watt’s book “The Way of Zen”

Apathy and emotions

Some choose to look at this as an invitation to sit and watch the world solve its problems itself. In other words, be apathetic to what is happening.

The word “Apathy” was borrowed into English in the late 16th century from Greek “apatheia,” which itself comes from the adjective “apathēs,” meaning “without feeling.”

Although the word has taken on a negative meaning in our time, they were not actually like that in the first place. In the stoicisms meaning of the word it’s a bout letting the world manage on its own without intervention. I will not write too far away from what I was actually going to write about in this blog post, just mention that the word apathy and letting the world sail in its own sea, could well mean that one should not try to do anything without the knowledge and means to actually get things done. The old, slightly outdated expression,

“Solve the problems you can solve and leave the ones you do not have the opportunity to solve, alone”.

Which brings me back to the word apathy.  The word “Apathēs,”, was formed by combining the negating prefix “a-” with “pathos,” meaning “emotion.” And emotions is what this is all about.

Watts makes this observation to support its original quote:

“Yet it should be obvious that action without wisdom, without a clear awareness of the world as it really is, can never improve anything.”

The point here is “clear awareness of the world as it really is.”

Thousands of thoughts – every day

 

The average person is exposed to tens of thousands of thoughts every day, and we find ourselves at the mercy of an inner narrative that comments, notices and judges everything (including ourselves!). Reality is buried under all this mental noise.

Simply put: we do not see things as they are, we see things as our mind presents them.

Or, as I like to say,

” What’s really going on, and whats the story your brain tells you about what’s going on – rarely match.”

We get lost in thoughts and feelings, and we follow all our minds wherever they lead. It becomes an endless cycle, and reinforces the belief that the answers to life’s problems are “do more”, “try harder”, “go faster”. But you cannot solve the problems created by thinking with more thinking.

It is important, and can be repeated:

You cannot solve the problems created by thinking with more thinking.

How to deal with this having PTSD

Having pure PTSD, it is even more important not to let the mind be what is perceived as reality. Everyone has experienced the thought that comes when we are tired or thoughts that appear late in the evening or at night, thoughts that problematize around tasks that in the light of day would not have been insurmountable.

But at three o’clock in the middle of the night they are.

Depression and anxiety have cycles. At the bottom of these cycles, the zest for life is small and the “escape” thoughts is present and intrusive.

What can we do to prevent our thoughts, depending on the time of day, or the experiences from the time we were injured in a trauma, to be overwhelming?

I have mentioned before that there are techniques that facilitate this.

Positive ways of coping with PTSD

1. Learn about your trauma (and what caused it)

2. Learn about PTSD

3. Join a PTSD support group.

4. Practice relaxation techniques. (Meditating or driving. Whatever gives you the “flow”)

5. Pursue outdoor activities.(see p:11. Exercise can be a lot of things)

6. Confide in a person you trust.

7. Spend time with positive people.

8. Avoid alcohol and drugs.

9. Avoid alcohol and drugs (yes, I mentioned it twice)

10. Enjoy the peace of nature.

12. Sleep well. (If you can -minimum 6-8 hours sleep)

13. Eat well (This is not the time for loosing weight. But: eat healthy food.)

14. Clear your mind

15. Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. (See Navy seal solution at the bottom)

Of course, number 14 is what I’m trying to write about in this blog post.

What Alan Watts tries to express, is that a shift of attention away from the mental noise is the same as leaving muddy water in peace: you are left with a clear view of reality (You get rid of those thoughts that do not give you positive experiences ), just as you are left with clear water (unshaded by the sediment that settles to the bottom).

If you are like the rest of us, you spend a lot of time trying to “fix” everything that is wrong in your life.

Guilt, shame, remorse and so on

With PTSD again comes shame, guilt and remorse. Notice that all of these feelings are just that. Emotions. Emotions are not really truths. They are again created by thoughts which in turn are created by things we experience in our lives. And of things we have lived through in our lives. The trauma you suffered 1 year ago, 3 years ago, 15 years ago, (in my case – 35 years ago) is just as strongly present in your head as it was then. Since it is a trauma, it will come back strongly when you are tired. When it is evening or night or it has been  a day with many triggers. The thoughts that are born in the aftermath of those days(and nights) bring back the negative feelings, the memory images you don’t want to remember, the flashbacks, the guilt, shame, fear, anger, and despair. A recipe for fatigue and the anxiety and depression is given.

To break this pattern, you can follow the examples from above, or find an activity that gives you a kind of flow. An activity that brings your mind into a positive direction. Some drive a car, and the automatic in handling a car gives you the “flow” I am talking about, others fish, run, read (although I think many will have some problems with concentration.) Still others meditate. But meditation can be a lot of things. In many people’s opinion, driving a car is a form of meditation. Exercising is the same.

If the body is ok, (Being an old man with an old mans problem, that is not always the case) I find myself in the “flow” after 10 to fifteen kilometers run or so.)

No matter what activity you do, make sure it is a activity that brings (forces) your thoughts into a clear direction and does not allow your thoughts going anywhere else

We experience every single moment of life with our thoughts. And it is our thoughts that create most of our struggles and sufferings. The reality is that no matter where you go or what you do, you cannot escape your thoughts.

The good news is you do not need it!

You just have to understand how your mind works and learn to stop getting lost in the relentless thoughts that run through your head.

The Navy Seal solution

Sometimes you should not do anything and it may turn out to be the solution. Here is an excerpt from Mark Manson’s article (which talks about something completely different) but which in this case shows that fighting against is not always the smartest thing to do.

Excerpts from Mark Manson article why the best things in life is all backwards:  

There’s a part of Navy SEAL training called “drown-proofing” where they bind your hands behind your back, tie your feet together, and dump you into a 9-foot-deep pool.

 

Your job is to survive for five minutes.

Like most of SEAL training, the vast majority of cadets who attempt drown-proofing fail. Upon being tossed into the water, many of them panic and scream to be lifted back out. Some struggle until they slip underwater where they proceed to lose consciousness and have to be fished out and resuscitated. Over the years, a number of trainees have even died during the exercise.

But some people make it. And they do so because they understand two counterintuitive lessons.

The first lesson of drown-proofing is paradoxical: the more you struggle to keep your head above water, the more likely you are to sink.

With your arms and legs bound, it’s impossible to maintain yourself at the surface for the full five minutes. Even worse, your limited attempts to keep your body afloat will only cause you to sink faster. The trick to drown-proofing is to actually let yourself sink to the bottom of the pool. From there, you lightly push yourself off the pool floor and let your momentum carry you back to the surface. Once there, you can grab a quick breath of air and start the whole process over again.

Strangely, surviving drown-proofing requires no superhuman strength or endurance. It doesn’t even require that you know how to swim. On the contrary, it requires the ability to not swim. Instead of resisting the physics that would normally kill you, you must surrender to them and use them to save your own life.

The second lesson of drown-proofing is a bit more obvious, but also paradoxical: the more you panic, the more oxygen you will burn and the more likely you are to fall unconscious and drown. In a sick and twisted way, the exercise turns your survival instinct against you: the more intense your desire to breathe, the less you will be able to breathe. The more intense your will to live, the greater the chance you will die.

More than a test of physical will, drown-proofing is a test of each cadet’s emotional self-control in situations of extreme danger. Can he control his own impulses? Can he relax in the face of potential death? Can he willingly risk his life in the service of some higher value or goal?

These skills are far more important than any cadet’s ability to swim. They’re more important than his resilience, his physical toughness, or his ambition. They’re more important than how smart he is, what school he went to, or how damn good he looks in a crisp Italian suit.

This skill—the ability to let go of control when one wants it most—is one of the most important skills anyone can develop. And not just for SEAL training. For life.

Sources and further readings

Further reading is Mark Manson (of course), J.D Andre,  and Stephanie Vozza

As always: I do not and will not make any money on affiliated links or ads on this site. All links are to places I have found things I can use or to books, videos and so forth I have read, seen or used. I do not take requests to promote anything.

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