The Other Side of ReasonThe Other Side of Reason – The Traveller

The Other Side of Reason – The Traveller

The Other Side of Reason – The Traveller

Involved in a bus accident that took the lives of six people, David Gibson has been battling through PTSD for over three years. In an effort to better understand himself and to communicate with others, he turned to writing. His first book was The Other Side of Reason: A Journal on PTSD. This column continues that text.

[The traveller]
Before the journey begins.
When anxiety and anticipation are intertwined together.
Stories remain untold.
But beyond the edges of your life’s narrative.
Is where living really starts.


"You will never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have." —Bob Marley

Do you ever find yourself wondering why some people have the ability to face adversity with grace and ease while you feel stressed, overwhelmed and uncertain how to move forward?

The answer is in the word itself! “Adversity” comes from the French and Latin meanings to ‘turn toward’. A conscious response to a challenging experience requires turning toward and working through the problem.

Resilience measures our ability to cope with or adapt to stressful situations or crises like last year’s devastating hurricane in Puerto Rica or an exam at College or University. Indeed, the two situations aren’t so different – rather, they’re on a “spectrum of adversity”.

Traumatic experiences are the exception. They take you closer to your levels of tolerance. How we cope with adversity and how we cope with trauma are on a continuum as well.

Resilience is also about improving our ability to communicate and form relationships, so we already have built into them the capacity to develop our emotional resilience in the face of adversity or traumatic experiences.

And this is the key point: emotional resilience can be taught. It’s not just those who have been exposed to natural disasters who develop it; nor is it only people who can surround themselves with its protective armour. Experts say we are as adept at learning the skills needed to be emotionally strong, proactive and decisive, no matter how late in life we start.

I have also learned that resilience and psychological symptoms from traumatic experiences are not necessarily on the same spectrum. It is common to still be able to make decisions to be present in our life and to move forward in resilience at the same time that we continue to face symptoms commonly experienced by those with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What characterizes resilience and how we can foster these adaptive characteristics in order to promote well-being after adversity?

Based on an integration of findings from both empirical studies and interviews with individuals who exhibited resilience in the aftermath of severe trauma, many researchers have identified six psychosocial factors that promote resilience in people: 1) optimism, 2) cognitive flexibility, 3) active coping skills, 4) maintaining a supportive social network, 5) attending to one's physical well-being, and 6) embracing a personal moral compass. These factors comprise cognitive, behavioral, and existential elements, a conceptualization that has helped define the nature of resilience and the interaction with one another to encourage resilient functioning after adversity.

In my circumstances, I have always been fascinated in how I have still been able to perform at a relatively high level at work while at the same time also experiencing symptoms of PTSD that impact other areas of my life, such as social functioning.

From my experience, I believe the people who thrive are the ones who try to create a post-trauma identity, a way of seeing and presenting themselves that incorporates the trauma into the larger context of who they are. People who do this can carve out a new place for themselves in the world that allows them to expand and explore who they are and can be, rather than becoming stuck in the unbalanced limitations of pain, grief, sorrow, and torment.

Thriving in the face of adversity is what maintains the human spirit and promotes the incredible resiliency of our human nature.

I believe the link’s in the meaning. It’s important to acknowledge the awful thing that happened to you. But then ask yourself: What’s the meaning you ascribe to it?

In my own trauma history, the meaning I gave to my experience was, “I didn’t deserve to survive.” This meaning installed a belief system of worthlessness that led me to treat myself poorly as I created a life of “less than,” worthy only of a person who didn’t deserve to be alive. This kept me in a much victimized place until I started to change the meaning of what happened to me.

The bottom line is bad things happen to people, but they don’t mean we’re worthless or bad people. Learning to shed victimization or survivorship relies heavily on changing the meaning of what you experience — and what it means about who you are now — so that you can integrate the enormity and importance of the past without letting it negatively define you in the present.

Until next time.

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