One thing that's been hard for me to think about, much less talk about has been the growth I've experienced since Dave died. It seems wrong, somehow that such an awful event would spur me to experience positive emotional growth unlike I've ever before experienced. I suppose I feel some shame about that. Shouldn't someone who's lost her spouse feel that nothing positive came from or after it? (Says the shaming part of my brain.)
I was watching a TED talk today, by Jane McGonigal. In it she explained how she was nearly suicidal after a brain injury had her bedridden for months. Because of her low point, she came up with an idea (an app that helps people develop resilience) that is now helping people everywhere and she explained that some scientists might call this experience of hers post traumatic growth.
She said that some people who have suffered a serious trauma say that it changed them for the better.
The five most common ways they mentioned changing are...
1. My priorities have changed - I'm not afraid to do what makes me happy.
2. I feel closer to my friends and family.
3. I understand myself better, I know who I really am now.
4. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose.
5. I'm better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
When I saw this list, I burst into tears. It was a list I've mentally compiled in the past 20 months for my own growth. It was like seeing a mirror held up to my development. I cried because I was grateful for all five ways I've changed and yet how can I be grateful for it if it came about because the person I loved most in the world died? Holding both of those ideas in my brain hurts.
Then, she said that what's really amazing is that this list is almost exactly the opposites of the top five regrets of the dying, which are...
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I'd let myself be happier.
It's as though for some people, the traumatic event unlocked their ability to live in a way that would reduce regrets.
So, something that I wish hadn't happened and that broke my heart also somehow managed to reset me so that I finally, for the first time in my life, began to live more in line with what REALLY truly matters.
I still worry about what others think of me, work too hard, forget about my purpose and waste my time, hide some of my feelings, and feel like a grumpy jerk off and on, but I can honestly say that since Dave died, I've made growth in all five areas. BIG growth.
And while I'm sure I have a touch of post traumatic stress disorder, too, I think I also have a huge dose of post traumatic growth.
I suppose the reason I struggle to admit this is that a part of me thought that if I loved Dave I wouldn't be able to equate anything positive with his death. But, here's the thing. His death and how it's affected me are two completely separate things. There isn't anything positive about his death (obviously).
It might be similar to the strengthening of your other senses if you lose your sight. Going blind is not good. No one could argue that there's anything positive about the FACT that your eyesight is gone. But, your super human hearing and sense of touch are positive things. They don't make the loss of your eyesight okay. They don't make you glad you lost your sight. They're separate entities.
Dave's death was a terrible traumatic thing that happened to him AND to me, and to so many other people in his life. But what has happened to my emotional landscape since he died has been both bad and good. I'm traumatized. I'm still exhausted all the time. I miss him. My heart is broken. There are chunks of my brain just missing now, AND I'm noticing how much closer I hold the ones I love. How much more I allow myself to be vulnerable, ask for help, offer my help and just generally open myself up. I don't take things as seriously, complain as much or allow myself to worry endlessly about that which cannot be changed. I don't work quite as hard as I did unless it feels good to work hard. I feel a greater sense of purpose and I have been able to see my worth in ways never before possible. I have begun to care for myself and treat myself lovingly in ways I never before could.
What's really sad is that because I have this shame around admitting any positive changes in me, I don't get to talk about it much (except with my therapist, and now with you). I don't get to revel in it much or be truly proud of it. It makes me cry to talk about it, and not necessarily a happy cry, either. It's linked to his death and that makes it hard to acknowledge. It makes it hard to hear others tell me how well they think I'm doing, or how much I've changed for the better.
But it's undeniably there, and hearing that others have experienced it too makes it easier for me to admit that it's there. And anyway, it's not as though I need to add shame to my list of hardships. The best way to ease shame is to get it out in the open so it can't fester in the dark, so that's what I'm doing. I'm telling you.
Have you noticed any post traumatic growth of your own?