I'd like to talk to you today about world shrink.

"World shrink" is what I have named the phenomenon that probably has a fancy name in a psychology textbook somewhere. There is probably also a very apt and jargon-filled definition for it. I don't have that to offer, but I can tell you more about it than the average bear can.

World shrink is what happens when you're stuck somewhere for prolonged periods and you're under constant, significant stress. Your perception of the world shrinks down and things that would otherwise have never been noticed, or forgotten immediately, take on massive personal significance. You boil over at the slightest provocation, because in your tiny, stressful world, minor issues seem massive in comparison.

This is something I learned to recognize and deal with early and often in deployed environments. You learn that no matter how genial at first, everyone needs more and more extra slack as time goes on. Otherwise, the atmosphere turns poison and people start to bicker, even come to blows, over things as stupid as who gets which controller for a round of Madden, or the weight difference between wet and dry sandbags.

Ask me how I know. Ask me where these examples came from. I will tell you a story of two grown men, best friends since grade school, stopping a bloody brawl when the air raid sirens start, walking calmly to a bunker like a fire drill, and resuming their brawl as soon as they are sheltered from the incoming fire.

So what were these best friends brawling over, cursing mothers and loosening teeth for? The last red gummy worm.

Otherwise mature grownups revert to childish behavior, because they revert to a childlike perception of the world. Whose turn it is to do a chore, or who killed the coffee pot but didn't make more, or the veracity of some random statement become massive monoliths when scaled to fit in a reduced reality.

Somehow, I didn't see it coming when my world started to shrink. I spent a year focused so tightly inwards that I didn't see my horizons screaming towards me. I was staring at my feet while crossing the street, and never even saw the bus.

I spent a year in shithole apartments, was burgled regularly, unemployed and unhirable, few to no prospects to bootstrap myself, frustrated and angry. Chasing after ghosts and memories, I was blindly taking my first tentative steps down a road of total self destruction.

Inevitably, drama occurred in my tiny world. Drama happens when you get multiple humans interacting over a long enough time scale. With my world shrunken down to nothing, everything scaled up appropriately.

Normally something to be laughed about and just as quickly forgotten, I went into complete panic mode in some sort of desperate attempt to hold onto whatever turf I imagined myself to be defending. It was in the aftermath of that absurd, animal reaction that I realized how bad things had become. I had no other outlets and absolutely no other human contact that didn't involve drinking too much, chasing punk kids, or fighting with the VA.

In a sober moment, I realized that I needed to get moving again and see what else was out there. E2 had become the borders of my world, rather than a place to visit.

I made a concerted effort to expand.

Oddly enough, it took me back to the last place I ever thought I'd go. Working again, in Afghanistan, but this time with the prerogative to build and educate, not eradicate. I mean, someone has to figure out where these folks can poop that isn't the roof or the back stoop, so it might as well be me.

Someone has to teach the next generation of Afghans that their horizons are too wide to keep killing each other over tribal squabbles or what color the flag should be or who gets to pocket the most aid money. I am in a world of shit now, many days literally, but it's good work, and I am invincible.

So, this is part explanation, part apology, and part warning: Always expand your horizons and never allow them to collapse. Keep your perspective, and cut everyone some extra slack. Otherwise, you'll find yourself not just finding your inner child, but taking orders from him as well.