The Pandora’s Box of the Veteran Mind

“They gave Pandora a box. Prometheus begged her not to open it. She opened it. Every evil to which human flesh is heir came out of it.The last thing to come out of the box was hope. It flew away.”
Kurt Vonnegut
Many of us have heard of the story of Pandora’s Box in Greek mythology. Said to be a punishment to man as a reaction to the stealing of fire by Prometheus, Pandora opens a box that lets all the evils in the world escape. At the last minute, she attempts to slam the lid on the box closed, trapping hope inside.
 
There are several variations to the story. The one that applies to my point today is from Hesiod in his Works and Days:
For before this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness which bring the Fates upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for before that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aigis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently
I always thought to myself, “this sucks. What a depressing story.” The idea of a jar, or a box, that contained all the evil and badness in the world? It all escapes because someone took the lid off and let them out? Everyone in the world suffers because she broke the seal on the box. Depressing.
 
Then I thought: what if I were in that box? What if the evils that were in the box were emotions that I could not control or thoughts that harmed me, held me back? At that point, I’d want the lid off pretty darn quick.

 

The trapped thoughts and emotions in a Veteran’s mind are can drown out the voice of hope
Sometimes, a veteran’s mind can be a Pandora’s Box. It can contain so much pain, anger, anguish, anxiety, that to be stuck in that mindset can be unbearable. It can shred itself, like an engine without oil. It’s grinding against itself until there is nothing but sharp metal shards.
 
The solution? Take the lid off. Reach out and talk to someone. You might want to avoid this; after all, look what happened to the world after old girl let the lid off that other box! If that’s holding you back, you can tell yourself two things. One, that was a story. Not real. Two, those thoughts and emotions have no impact on the rest of the world if they’re let out in the proper way.
 
What happens if we keep them trapped? Like it or not, believe it or not, our thoughts and emotions impact our behavior. Walking around the world with a head full of badness is going to impact what we do. We lash out. We retreat and isolate. Some veterans harm others with their words, or worse. Some veterans harm themselves with their words. And worse.
 
To mix metaphors for a minute, all these trapped thoughts and emotions are like a soda that fell on the floor. We all know how to deal with that. We can open it where we’re standing, and the mess gets all over everyone and everything. Or we can take it over to the sink and open the cap, a little at a time. Relieve the pressure, a little at a time. That’s how we can open the lid to the Pandora’s Box of our mind. Don’t spring the lid, all at once, sitting in your living room next to your wife and kids. That’s going to leave a pretty big mess!
 
Instead, find someplace safe. A mental health counselor, for one, but of course that’s what I would say. But any safe place is a good place to start. A trusted friend. A mentor. A spiritual leader. You don’t have to worry about whether they will get you, or judge you, or hate you. Two things will happen: either they will support you, and you will find relieve, or they will not support you. At that point, you may find that they were not the friend or mentor that you thought they were…which would be good to know. If that does happen, then keep looking until you find a safe place. The pressure’s not going anywhere.
 
The point of all this: there’s no need to walk around stuck inside Pandora’s Box. Like in the story, take the lid off, let it out into the world where it’s not going to do any harm at all. Quite likely, the thing that will remain in the Pandora’s Box in your mind is the one thing that will keep us safe:
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