PTSD and Living with Uncertainty


survivor posttraumatic stress

Photo: Federico Stevanin

Last week I spoke at the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society about ‘Living with Uncertainty: Staying Grounded in A Chaotic World’. The fear of the future is a common element for all of us after trauma, whether the trauma is diagnosis and treatment for a disease, the aftermath of abuse or the stress of combat. My main message on this topic comes down to this: The key to living with uncertainty lies in being certain about who you are.

All too often I see in all of us a disconnection from who we truly, deeply are. You know what I mean: that part of ourselves that we really liked about who we were before our traumas, for example.

Disconnection is a great coping mechanism at first; the pain and fear are so intense it’s just better to shut down and disconnect from the flooding of it all. When we disconnect from all the bad in our minds, however, we often disconnect from all the good, too. And then what happens? We lose access to all or some of the parts of ourself that are dedicated to wanting to live, recover and overcome.

In my presentation I spoke of three things that I feel are very relevant to learning to live with uncertainty. They all had to do with recovering that connection to our deepest selves. The people we most want, know and feel ourselves to purely be can be found in three areas:

  • Meaning — what (small thing) can you do to make the world a better place?
  • Purpose — what do you want to accomplish?
  • Joy — what healthy activity/experience makes you feel enormous pleasure?

The challenge lies in answering these questions and then acting on them, even in the smallest way, every day. We can battle our fear of uncertainty by being certain of who we are, what we have to contribute, what we want to do, and what makes us feel most alive. Figuring out the answer to these questions takes time.

The key to all progress in PTSD recovery, however, lies in chunking things DOWN… Down into their smallest, most simple components so that you can make a choice and take an action that leads to a small success. Building small successes upon each other leads you to more strength, focus, courage and connection – all of which helps you rebuild your life after trauma into something meaningful and full of purpose.

 Of course, this all requires patience, but a whole lot of patience in exchange for reclaiming your life and living with courage in the face of uncertainty is not so out of the question, is it?


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