Monday, June 15, 2015

Trauma and Bad Choices

Monday, June 15, 2015

Yesterday I read a commentary about the impact of bad choices on people's lives. And even through the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder does not appear a single time throughout the content of the article I could see the impact of trauma and untreated PTSD writ large throughout. It was a sad and sobering read. But I think it is also a necessary one if you want to begin to try to better understand why life is often such sheer drudgery for so many Americans as well as people throughout the poorest nations of the world.

As I have made my way through my own journey of healing I have come to a much deeper appreciation of the significant distinction between the unconsidered act of putting band-aids on huge problems and actually taking the time to understand the complexity of deep-seated issues and, upon developing deeper knowledge, looking at the world and its manifold troubles in a new way. I don't really see American society as a very patient society. Many people appear to lack a fundamental intellectual curiosity that would inspire them to seek to better understand the world around them. Simple answers are easier to run with because they are often borne of asking simple questions.

Consider the young man's life described in the New York Times article I referenced above. Reading about his childhood reminded me of the state of my life about two years ago at this time. How do you begin to attend to the issues that bedevil a person's life when there are so many of them? Mr. Jackson's life has been affected by drug addiction, lead poisoning and the violent death of his brother. His vocational prospects were undoubtedly impacted by his decision to drop out of school before reaching the ninth grade. Failing to complete high school automatically closes many, many possible doors of opportunity.

So how do you untangle this mess of unfortunate factors? It seems that once you reach a critical mass of sorrows the devastation of their collective weight may take on a momentum such that personal hardship seems inevitable. As noted in the article "self-destructive behaviors - dropping out of school, joining a gag, taking drugs, bearing children when one isn't ready - compound [my emphasis] poverty." Eventually we may find ourselves waking one day to wonder how in the world our lives came to be so incredibly messed up. If our attitude about our circumstances becomes as dark as those very circumstances we have indeed likely reached a most unfortunate place.

I have always resisted believing in the validity of the mindset (often espoused by those of conservative political views) that more frequently attributes personal hardship to individual failings as compared to  lack of opportunity. Why? Because it is so simplistic! I find it extraordinarily reductionistic. And then I have the added experience of the last several years of my own life to further justify my point of view. I have been very diligent in my pursuit of suitable employment opportunities since completing graduate school in 2011. And yet despite all my efforts I did not find anything suitable until very recently. Again from the article: "Yet scholars are also learning to understand the roots of these behaviors and they're far more complicated [in other words not simple!] than the conservative narrative of human weakness."

I found this article especially compelling because it invites the reader to see the possibility of important correlations between personal health and effective (read here healthy) decision making. And now a longer quote from the article (with my own emphasis in italicized font):

"For starters, there is growing evidence that poverty and mental health problems are linked in complex, reinforcing ways. In the United States, a Gallup poll...found that people living in poverty were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression as other Americans. One study in 2010 found that 55 percent of American babies living in poverty in 2001 were raised by mothers showing signs of depression."

Dr. Peter Hotez, author of a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, draws out the link between health and poverty in the following way: "I estimate 12 million Americans living in poverty suffer from at least one neglected parasitic or tropical disease. The media places so much emphasis on imaginary infectious disease threats, when millions of people in poverty, mostly people of color, have neglected infections that are almost completely ignored."

Poverty and health seem to be something like the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? Does poverty lead to bad health outcomes or does bad health contribute to poverty? I would say the arrow goes both ways. If you are poor you are less likely to have the means to take good care of your health. And if you are persistently ill your capacity to earn a living and be self-sufficient may become seriously compromised.

It seems to follow that improving your health or transcending a "low" socioeconomic status requires a comprehensive strategy that doesn't just focus on the particular issue you wish to change. Like an ecosystem our individual lives are composed of numerous elements that interact with one another in a variety of ways. As an example consider all the potential consequences of changing the amount of hours you work in a week. Working more may impact the quality of your sleep, reduce time you can spend with your family, eliminate feasible options for exercise and other fulfilling activities and so on.

I especially liked the ending of the article:

"So long as we're talking about personal irresponsibility, let's also examine our own. Don't we have a collective responsibility to provide more of a fair start in life to all, so that children aren't propelled toward bad choices?"

As someone who didn't experience a very fair start to my own life I could not agree more with Kristof's sentiments.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!