Cancer, Paralysis, Bomb Blast: After Their Trauma, Came Growth

Let's say Person X has gone through an immense personal trauma.

They've been through all the suffering, they've been miserable for long, they've even battled PTSD. But then, something inside them fundamentally changed.

They emerged from the traumatic experience even higher: spiritually, mentally, and socially.

Unlike resilience, which is about bouncing 'back', Person X's transformation was not limiting. It was not about going back to what once was. Instead, it was about Person X moving into another dimension of themselves.

On that note, I guess it's time for me to introduce you to: post traumatic growth. And what better way to introduce it, than its stories.

Also Read: What It’s Really Like to Endure Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

'I Feel I Can Do It On My Own'

When 13-year-old Pratishtha Deweshwar overheard the word paralysis - from the nurses in the hospital - she began to cry, shout and howl.

But soon, she began to realise that the word had creeped in on her life, and had come to define her lived experience.

23 injections in a day, multiple drips, a month of living isolated in an ICU, and several physiotherapy sessions later, the doctors had told her she would never be able to walk again.

Pratiksha and her family were travelling from Hoshiarpur, her hometown, to Chandigarh, when the brakes of their car failed. The accident damaged her spinal cord.

For five years, Pratishtha lived inside her room. She stopped going to school, had no friends, and wouldn't go out of the house because her small hometown had no accessible spaces at all.

But, five years later, she made a decision. She decided to leave her parents and shift to Delhi to study in the prestigious LSR college.

Pratishtha DeweshwarI was totally dependent on my parents for everything, even for changing my clothes, brushing my teeth. It's been two years now, and after I shifted to Delhi, it has been such a progress. I have grown so much as a person, and even the things that seemed impossible to me before .. Today I can do all those things by myself.

After a debilitating accident, and years of living in the care and protection of her parents, today, fierce independence has become a habit for Pratishtha. "If there is a task at hand, and even if it seems undoable, my instinctive response is that I can do it myself."

Yasss queen! Look at Pratishtha in the lawns of LSR right now.

Surviving Cancer and Becoming Your Version 2.0

In 2016, an Indian study found some common themes among many of the narratives of breast cancer survivors.

The first, was that they began to look after their own needs first. Like Queer Eye preaches, they made themselves a priority.

The second, was that the survivors felt mentally stronger and more confident. They believed that if they could survive cancer, they could survive anything in life.

The third, was that they now engaged in activities they enjoyed (taking more vacations, nurturing their talents). Some of the survivors even stopped working for jobs they did not enjoy .

“After this disease, all my inner qualities, inner talent comes out... I'm writing some funny dramas and I act in this and I got lot of prizes, only after this disease,” a survivor said.

The study was on the post traumatic growth experienced by breast cancer survivors in India. Its results were in line with an earlier study that an immense transformation takes place among 60-90% of all cancer survivors.

But what is Post Traumatic Growth? I Have Scrolled Thrice

Okay, we have all seen movies and read in our religious books, about how a traumatic experience sometimes pushes the protagonist to pursue the truth, and experience phenomenal changes.

But the vocabulary for it was missing. So in the mid-1990s, when psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun coined the term post traumatic growth, psychology too began to take it seriously.

Tedeschi and Calhoun basically posited that PTG can be most seen in five general areas:

Appreciation of life

Relationship with others

New possibilities in life

Personal strength

Spiritual change

While some people can feel all five, others can experience a few among them.

I asked psychologist Kamna Chhibber if she'd ever come across such a case. Here's what she told me.

A client who I continue to work with had Trichotillomania, or hair-pulling disorder, and that started because she came from a family that was very conservative, authoritarian and had a tendency to get abusive.

She came to me because she had a relationship with someone without the knowledge of her parents and when they discovered, they beat her up black and blue. She was in a very bad state.

When we started out, it was all about, "Why me?", Why am I stuck with such a family or am I a bad person and that's why all these bad things are happening to me?

It took a number of years. This therapy has been going on for six years but today, she is at a stage where she is living independently in Australia, has a decent relationship with her parents with no animosity towards them. She is with a partner, and her relationship is going pretty well.

Dr Chhibber says as a therapist, the area where she was able to give her the best growth was for her to be able to forgive her parents. "They were not able to put through their concerns in a matter that she could understand. Her being able to see that allowed her to move past that and not hold on to all those resentments and she has a wonderful life today."

Dr ChhibberAnybody can experience PTG. You don't have to have a specific trait or personality, so long as there is an openness and a willingness to re-look at what that experience was and they are willing to resolve it.

Dr Chhibber says PTG is something therapists often end up seeing with clients who may have had any kind of a traumatic past experience whether it's in the context of a relationship/accident/experiencing any kind of violence or abuse.

"You look at post traumatic growth for people who may not have had the skills to work through a challenge that was posed by a traumatic experience. But when they have been able to look back at it and resolve it, that's when they end up reaching certain new understandings about themselves, their health and relationships, about how the world operates."

Dr. Kamna ChhiberYou will have to look at it again and it will be difficult, it will bring up difficult emotions and that's when you work through it that you will start finding aspects of yourself/ other people/this situation which will allow you to grow and develop into a more different kind of experience.

After the 2006 Mumbai local bomb blast took his left hand, Mahendra Patale, 46, was under severe duress.

But now, he says the work he could not do earlier, he does more of it now. "I haven't held on to anything that happened," he says. "I feel like I was saved because something good's written in my hands. Otherwise I would have died then."

I asked Patale what's the one thing that has changed in him now. He says,

Mahendra PataleI never say no now. I participate in everything.I try my best. Earlier, going to events and talking of motivation, I didn't do as much. But now I do more. The motivation is to take everyone with me and go forward.Tips On What To Do And What Not to Do After a Traumatic Experience

Dr Chhibber tells us the lies we need to stop telling ourselves in order to grow after a traumatic experience.

  1. Continuing to see yourself as helpless is not helpful.

  2. Try to find spaces where you can exert some control. This is not to say that if you were abused by someone or you had abusive parents, it was your fault, but today where you find yourself, you need to find out where is it that I can exert control in my environment and in my relationships now?

  3. The other thing is that self doubt, which becomes so inherent after you've been through traumatic experiences, also ends up creating a situation where you rely too much on the other. And you often don't even realise that the other may be giving you inputs which is actually detrimental for you. Some amount of self belief is important and you need to find people around you who instil that kind of belief in you, rather than people who will keep pointing to you that you are wrong or you are constantly doing this thing incorrectly. So don't be too critical.

  4. Not talking about things will not eliminate them. If there are things that are bothering you, then it's more important that you find a way to share express and work through them.

  5. Take a little less critical approach. It's very easy to blame yourself for all the wrong things that happen to you and very easy to forget that the person/situation which happened was not under your control. So don't be too critical.

Life's tough for everyone, but it's tougher for some. So if you've experienced trauma, know that even then, you can rise above from it.

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