Reflections from the Other Side of Reason – One day

Since 2013, recognized author and community leader for mental health, David Gibson, has battled the inner world of PTSD to find some measure of hope within. He uses his writing to explore how his journey as a survivor has enabled him to come to terms with PTSD and the new reality of his life. His 'Reflections from the Other Side of Reason' not only invite the reader into his life, but offers insights on how to grow and build resiliency. By sharing his experiences he takes away any toll for others to walk down the same road.

[One day]

In the whispered hush of the morning sky,

I walked the walk until the end.

My voice kept breaking under and over itself like waves.

Memories rippled within me.

What secret hides in this reflecting water?

Do I even recognize myself?

The water gathers light in deference to the rising sun.

There was magic of clarity and light.

This day was reserved for the eyes of the truly young.

Those who try to put their lives back together exactly as they were remain fractured and vulnerable. But those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living. — Stephen Joseph

Psychologists have long studied resilience—the ability to bounce back and move on. But post-traumatic growth, which has been documented in hundreds of studies, is different; it’s what happens when trauma changes and deepens life’s meaning.

Stacey Kramer’s poignant talk “The best gift I ever survived” in which she describes her experiences with a brain tumor provides a testimony to one of the most important topics in modern clinical psychology — post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic growth refers to how adversity can often be a springboard to a new and more meaningful life in which people re-evaluate their priorities, deepen their relationships, and find new understandings of who they are. Post-traumatic growth is not simply about coping; it refers to changes that cut to the very core of our way of being in the world. Post-traumatic growth has to do with the way we greet the day as we wake in the morning. The way we brush our teeth and put on our shoes — it reflects our attitude about life itself and our place in the world.

Some studies show that optimism is linked to increased resilience and to the likelihood of psychological growth. But it’s not clear what comes first — does optimism lead to resilience or the other way around, or are both true?

The traditional view of trauma has been to divide it as: you either got PTSD or you were fine. Researchers today have a messier perspective. It is normal to have problems following trauma. You should lose sleep, have terrible images replay in your head, be racked by guilt or fear. Some people suffer these normal post-trauma reactions to one degree or another and recover, returning to a relatively normal state within weeks or months of the event. Others appear unchanged at first, only to react months or even years later. The majority of these people also recover.

It now appears that the majority of people across this entire spectrum also grow as a result of their suffering. Paradoxically, many grow even as they suffer. The way we cope with trauma is far more complex than once thought, and the way it molds us is similarly complex. We bend, we break, we repair and rebuild, and often we grow, changing for the better in ways we never would have if we had not suffered.

But growth is not a given. Not everyone climbs out of despair changed for the better. An overreliance on drugs to treat PTSD as some clinicians argue, might even stifle growth.

More recent studies are also suggesting that some continuing distress from PTSD is necessary for growth to occur. “Pain and suffering are the mechanisms for growth.”

I believe people can have profound personal experiences that directly change their perception and philosophy. This may show up in the things they do, but it also may not.  For most people, change does not occur in a transcendent moment but over years of routine everyday run-of-the-mill searching.

From my experience over the past five years, there’s something built-in that enables most human beings, not all, to be sure, but most, to get through this…. It is built-in to enable us to get through, force us, to survive, to stay alive. After you’ve understood that life will be different, less raw, that the trauma cannot be undone, that you will continue to live.  The real question becomes … ‘What shall I do with the rest of my life?’

How we see the world is after all how we value it.  Can we find in life what we are looking for?  And if we do, do we have enough courage to hang onto it forever?

So ultimately we must decide every day the manner in which we want to live. Today I am a person looking forward.

Until next time.