When I was young I went through some traumas that shaped how I viewed and moved through the world. I spent a good amount of my childhood reading non-fiction, daydreaming, and immersing myself into any imaginative activities that allowed me to escape how I was feeling and what was going on in my life. This is normal for kids, and usually isn’t an issue. I don’t think it was an issue for me either, but because my brain had me focusing on surviving through my problems, I lost some of the growth a lot of young kids, teens, and young adults gain.
Outwardly, I know I’ve grown a lot when it comes to friendships and social interactions. I’m more confident, I don’t shy away from certain experiences and activities anymore. I’ve learned to listen more, and to reciprocate in friendships in a way that I was horrible at as a teen and young adult. I still have a lot of growing to do when it comes to interactions with people. I could probably write an entire article on all the ways my PTSD affects my relationships with others, how hard I’ve worked to overcome that, and how much more work I have ahead of me. I’m aware of the growth in that respect because it makes itself visible through a kind of “return” in life: more friendships, better conversations, a general sense that my interactions were more positive.
The part of my own growth that I didn’t realize until recently, was more internal. The results were less visible and the effect on my life wasn’t as apparent to me:
Those childhood daydreams I had were often about fantastical scenarios: super powers, saving the world, having an easier life, meeting hobbits, battling orcs, living the lives of my favorite characters from all kinds of different media. I immersed myself in fantasy because facing my own life was something I wasn’t ready for. Facing my own faults and traumas was difficult, and imagining a world where flying on broomsticks didn’t exist just didn’t seem as fun. My perspective was focused on unrealistic goals and stories because I didn’t think improving my own life was as possible. It felt like I had to wait for help, or a miracle, or someone to hand me an opportunity.
I was, actually, handed a lot of opportunities and I passed them by. I wasn’t ready and they often involved interacting with people in ways that I just didn’t know how to do yet. I needed to grow more. Instead of recognizing that my lost opportunities were, in fact, my fault, my young mind framed it in a way that made it feel less like my fault and more like random chance or circumstance, or someone else’s fault. My perspective was coming from a less developed place; that’s okay. Everyone learns and grows at their own pace, and you cannot do things you’re not ready to do without it causing more issues later on. I try not to beat myself up about the things I caused myself to miss out on.
As I’ve gotten older, my daydreams and interests have become more focused in realistic goals. Does this mean I never fantasize about flying on a dragon, or helping a wizard with a quest? No. Enjoying non-fiction is a great hobby, and everyone deserves time to relax and unwind once in a while. But I also do something I learned from a very wise friend a long time ago: chase discomfort. I look for things I can change, and if I have to be uncomfortable while I change them, that’s okay. In fact, it’s how we grow. If we’re always comfortable, our bodies and our minds never learn how to adjust to new things, new problems, new stimuli. We also generally learn to take the comfortable for granted; you need both comfort and discomfort to appreciate both the good and the bad things in life.
My daydreams now focus on the things I want to achieve: things that now feel within my reach. Things that would make me happy, and that don’t need to be some fantastical scenario involving magic, miracles, or princes who save me from the bad things in my life. I can tackle the bad things on my own, or with the help of people who care for me.
Instead of flying on broomsticks, I want to learn to do a backflip or a b-twist. Instead of swimming with mermaids or sliding down ice hills with magical penguins, I want to learn to hold my breath for 5 minutes or more, or spend 2 minutes or more in an ice bath as I practice the Wim Hof Method. Instead of having fairy godmothers make me new clothes that fit well and never get dirty, I want to learn to design and sew my own clothes. Instead of riding in the TARDIS with The Doctor and automatically having languages translated for me, I want to spend the time and energy learning 8+ languages so that I can meet people from all-over and make my own adventures.
I no longer focus on the destination or the results. Half the fun in life, and all of the experience, come from the journey of reaching goals. I love the days I take cold showers, or do breath-work. I adore sitting down to solve a difficult problem or try something a bit more physically challenging. This change in perspective has made me happier. It’s so much easier to look at my life feeling grateful for the good things, and accepting the bad ones. I no longer question “why did this happen to me?” and instead I ask “How can I make it better, or learn to live with it?”. It’s no longer “How can I survive?” but “How can I thrive?”
Being physically ill, and having to focus on survival, probably had a lot to do with this change in perspective. When you have to accept that your life might not be as long as you thought, and that time is out of your control, you also start thinking about all the things you’d miss; surprisingly, the bad things are there too. You learn this in therapy as well; especially when you’re learning to heal with PTSD. Learning to accept the bad things is part of the process. Learning to notice the great things is too. All of life, is what makes it life – pain and pleasure both. I will continue to chase discomfort and grow.