“The trick is to turn the difficulty into a plan and not turn that difficulty into a problem.” (Hart, 2000, p. 119)
Reminder: For the past few months, this blog has been dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.
I had a problem at work, yesterday. Yes, I haven’t officially worked more than two weeks, and I found a problem. Fortunately, I love working problems. Seriously. I do story problems for fun. Interestingly, I have one daughter with a similar disposition.
Teaching problem solving was one of my greatest passions—and still is, I suppose. For years I told a story about facing a bear in the woods as exemplary of the definition of a problem: someplace else to go with no known way to get there. Another way of saying it is that a problem is a goal plus obstacles.
My problem at work, yesterday, was to develop a program of study, a four year plan, for a bachelor’s degree in education for Biology teaching. To me, this is fun. I gathered all kinds of information about University requirements, similar degrees, course descriptions and prerequisites, etc. About 3 p.m. I discovered an obstacle. I couldn’t get all the science and all the education courses I wanted into the first two years.
There are two types of problems: real and imaginary. I love imaginary problems. Real problems hurt. They hurt because they challenge hope and raise the fear of failure.
My problems are real. Yours are imaginary. I can process your problems effectively because I can do it without affect. I remain objective. Sometimes.
Another reality of my Combat PTSD is that I am often stuck at the level of responsibility I experienced in combat. I was a Lieutenant and a CAPO or Civil Action/Psychological Operations Officer. Part of my job was to help families, including children, to survive the rigors of living on a Special Forces border camp isolated from civilization. I take care of people, especially people who depend upon me. (See why I couldn’t help becoming a teacher?)
Friday afternoon I came home from work after my first advising session with a practice teacher to find my wife crying. Now, that is a problem, a very real and personal problem. Someone in power had made a decision to withhold payment of a retirement benefit of several thousand dollars. The person also told her it was “her fault” for her decision about the timing of her retirement. Of course, she felt violated.
You know how I felt. I went from tired but happy to rage in less time than it takes a tear to roll down a cheek. That is understandable. My problem, the PTSD problem Dr. Hart is addressing above, is the shot of adrenaline that can turn me from the caring teacher and mentor into a fierce warrior in twenty minutes—if I do not stop it.
The problem Dr. Hart is talking about is what results from a fit of rage, a full-blown dinosaur dump—you know, broken things, injury, jail. That did not happen. Nancy and I didn’t even have a fight. Thanks to Dr. Hart and friends, I managed a difficult situation.
Dr. Hart goes on to say, “When looking at a difficulty, the important thing is to first remain external rather than internal in viewing the situation.” So, I comforted my wife and went to work. I researched options of grievance, clarified the situation with Nancy, and fought with my pen. We made it through a holiday weekend with only appropriate disappointment, without rage. I wrote, and we signed, letters to possible advocates, accepted the loss of money, and enjoyed our time together.
Tuesday, Nancy received another call announcing that she would, in spite of her so-called error, receive the benefit. She was on her way into the post office to mail those letters. She turned around and called me.
The other problem at work appears to be solved, also. I asked a question of one of our student advisors. It seems we have just enough flexibility to solve my problem.
Several problems seemed to have been solved, but the most important is my problem with rage. Recovery from Combat PTSD is possible. For all of those still struggling with personal problems, I say keep on keeping on. Work on your recovery, and do not quit before the miracle happens.