We’ve all heard of PTSD. After Shayna’s passing I only wondered in what form and how badly it would impact our family. I thought PTSD had to be inevitable. I can’t imagine too much that’s more traumatic than discovering your 15 year old in bed, not breathing. 10 months later I can still barely type the words let alone say them. I’d heard so much about PTSD that I thought there was no alternative.
Well, I found out there is another thing besides PTSD. We hear all the time about the negative things trauma can do to us, how it can debilitate us. It doesn’t have to be that way though. There is PTG- Post Traumatic Growth. Yes, that’s a thing. You can Google it. It’s been studied. It’s been documented. Trauma can actually have a positive impact on us. Not only do people bounce back to where they were before which is described as resilience, some people actually grow even exponentially beyond where they were before the trauma. People find new purpose in life, people strengthen certain relationships (and prune others), people lose their fear because they’ve faced the worst and they’re still standing. People become less afraid to take risks. They value relationships more. And PTG can make you more resilient for when that next trauma comes around because the saying “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is true. While there are a ton of negative effects of PTSD, there are just as many positive effects of PTG.
This is not to say that PTG eliminates suffering or that we should seek traumatic events so that we’ll grow. This is a difficult and painful process and trauma can actually break people. I do not recommend it. I don’t know the percentages of people who end up with PTSD versus PTG or just somewhere in the middle. It seems there are factors that predispose people to one or the other. If you’re in a good place where the trauma hits you, solid emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually you have a better chance of growing through the experience. If you’re unprepared, then you have a better chance of ending up with PTSD. So, it’s always a good to try to stay as healthy as possible for when that (inevitable) trauma comes along.
Here’s the question I always ask about anything I learn. “So what?” Nothing means anything unless there’s an answer to that question. Knowing PTG exists isn’t a reason to go out and seek trauma. It doesn’t mean we say to someone who just suffered a tragic loss “Boy, aren’t you lucky for this growth opportunity?”- not unless you want a punch in the face. But, simply knowing that PTG is a thing can give people a better chance to experience it. Knowing that PTG is a thing can help us find some purpose in the suffering. Knowing that PTG is a thing gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow even if today totally sucks.
No matter what the traumas we suffer, they’re, all temporary. Yes, even death. Shayna’s death separated us, temporarily, but my death will bring us back together. Knowing that, internalizing that, living that gives me a greater chance of growing from this in the time between now and when everything is made right. In the meantime I have to work with this trauma. I can let it break me or I can let it make me stronger.