The Other Side of Reason – Life transitions and perspectives

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, available now via This column continues that text.

[Paddling away from the edge]

Dawn on the lake. Another season begins.  The world is still. The water is like a mirror. Land and water blur.
Bold bright colors shine in the morning light. 

Steam rises from the still surface in wisps and swirls, soon to evaporate in the warming air. The paddle bites
into the tawny depths. Shafts of light illuminate the newborn waves.

A ribbon of water streams off the blade. I am paddling silently to hold onto the stillness.

The call of the morning loon brings forth my return to this lake.

Another day, I am here.


“The best way out is always through.” –Robert Frost

Ready or not, we all go through numerous transitions in our lives – living high school to go to college or work, changing jobs, getting married, having children.

These become those weeks or months or longer of awkward emotional spaces where we have cut ties with what we know and have not quite settled into what is new. Some, are by choice, by opportunity; others come from natural ends – the graduating from college – and still others are unwillingly imposed on us – sudden layoff from a job, unwanted and uninitiated breakups in relationships. Whatever the circumstances, navigating this gray zone of transitions can be difficult, presenting us with new problems and demanding us to respond in new ways.

In the movie ‘Up in the Air’, George Clooney played a character whose job is to fire people for companies that were downsizing. He always began his termination speech with “I’m here to talk to you about new opportunities.” Is it a bit of spin, a bit forced – sure – but it is also true.

Because transition is a process by which people depart from an old world and engage into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.

Transitions can be stressful because we are shifted out of our comfort zones, must re-examine how we fit in a new situation which may require us to acquire new skills. Transitions require us to leave something behind so that we can move forward.  This sets in motion a departure from what we know and is familiar to something new and less predictable. 

Below are three areas that I have defined in my life transitions with the accident:

Transitions mean moving forward.

William Bridges, PhD author of the best-selling book ‘Transitions” says that it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. They aren’t the same thing. Change he says is situational: attending a new school, accepting a new job, the birth of a child, the loss of a friend, the break-up of a partnership, losing a job. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.  Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned. He describes three phases of transition:

  1. Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had. This first phase of transition is an ending, and the time when you need to help people to deal with their losses.
  2. Going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. He calls this time the “neutral zone”: it’s when the critical psychological realignments and re-patterning take place.
  3. Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning. This is when people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that makes the change begin to work.

Transitions also require uncertainty.

Uncertainty about what steps we need to take to the “new normal” and what that process will look like. It would be easy to list out the steps we need to take to get from point A to point B, but it’s just not the way transitions work. Even the most planned transitions cannot account for the emotional experience of whoever is walking through it.

Transitions require a sense of hope.

Hope that someday you will have a "new normal."  Hope that you're not broken forever and the pieces can be put back together, when the transition feels like a scene out of your worst nightmare. Hope that you can move into a new phase of life that will be fulfilling and filled with life.

Until next time.