Trying To Flip It: Using Pain For Growth

So, last week, I did a stupid. I went swimming with the kids and jumped into the pool. The second a did, I felt water just shoot RIGHT UP into both of my ears. Ow. Ow, ow, ow. I hopped around, I stick my finger in there, nothing. A few home remedies later, and I got the water out. And I also got tinnitus pretty bad in my left ear.

A visit to the ENT and a nice dose of steroids later, and I hope I am on the mend. Tinnitus sucks. And, not gonna lie, it’s been upsetting. Like…is this ever going to go away? How can I get past it? How can you ignore something THAT IS CONSTANT?

There is a way. Actually, the more I relax, the less I concentrate on it and the more I can just…you know, do life…I’m okay. I’ve also been trying to take some of the lessons I’ve learned in the course of my long history with mental illness and apply it to this, including, hopefully, looking at this from a growth perspective.

Okay, first. As a stereotypical male, I do not do well with physical discomfort. My wife makes fun of me cause all of my clothing is usually pretty baggy. But seriously, even the slightest physical discomfort and I have big problems. Kind of funny, considering I’ve done okay in the mental resiliency front, but I digress.

Anyway, this has been a struggle. I can’t lie. I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about the ringing, a lot of guilt that I basically accidented and then stupided myself into this, and just a lot of stress.

I’ve tried to deal with that in a couple of ways. First and foremost: In a sense, this bit about tinnitus is very similar to fighting anxiety. Yes, that’s an accurate statement. Tinnitus is aggravated by stress and anxiety. If you can ignore it – which is HARD – it gets less or goes away. I’m lucky, the form I have is relatively mild, so ignoring it is not the hardest challenge in the world. But I am trying to ask myself some questions that I think are pretty important. How can I take the lessons I have learned from this stupid battle and apply them to the rest of my life? How can I learn to be more comfortable and more relaxed with physical discomfort? How can I teach myself to be okay with a silly mistake that anyone could have made?

My point, from a mental health perspective, is obvious. When you do something dumb, you are allowed to wallow in self-pity for a bit. Go ahead. Flush that stuff right out of your system. And, when you ready, start to ask yourself some questions – not just about how to deal with the immediate situation, but how to grow from it. How to take whatever mistakes you have made and transform them into lessons you can learn. I’ve tried to apply this model of post-traumatic growth to my own life, and I know I have written about it in the past as well.

Anyway, I’m trying to take this model and applying it to my own life. I’m not being as successful as I want, but I’m trying. I hope you can too.

Post Traumatic Growth

In the course of discussing mental illness, I’ve written quite a bit about PTSD and its devastating impacts. If you have had the misfortune of experiencing some sort of traumatic event, you don’t need me to tell you just how much this can negatively impact your life, because you live it every day. PTSD isn’t a small problem: According to available statistics, 1 in 13 people will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.

However, I don’t want to talk about PTSD today. I want to talk about a different concept: Post Traumatic Growth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this one of late – mainly because I want to know what circumstances make it possible. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is the concept of showing positive growth or change after a devastating event. It is basically the idea that you can turn a negative into an incredible positive and come out stronger in the aftermath of suffering.

According to this article from the American Psychological Association, PTG is different than resilience, which is the factor that determines if you can recovery from a traumatic event. One inventory holds that these five factors determine if you experience PTG:

  • Appreciation of life.
  • Relationships with others.
  • New possibilities in life.
  • Personal strength.
  • Spiritual change.

How we measure PTG isn’t as important to me as determining how to encourage someone to experience it, and I think this is an important question for people who suffer a traumatic event – how can they not only get through it, but grow from it?

According to the article, some people are predisposed to experience PTG. There are also a variety of other factors, including the type of trauma, the circumstances and the age of the individual in question (being 8 or younger decreases the chances of PTG). Furthermore, people who are more open to new experiences and extroverted are more likely to experience PTG. One study also found that there may be genetic connections to PTG, with individuals who had certain variations of the gene RGS2 being found as more likely to experience PTG.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m no doctor or therapist – I just play one on this blog. However, being able to show post traumatic growth strikes me as an incredibly difficult thing, one which requires a ton of support and therapy to prove. I would think that there is a real connection to optimism and resilience – to the notion that you can find light in the darkness. For many, a traumatic event – such as an assault or accident – proves to be too much to ever recover from.

However, I’d also hope that knowing that PTG is possible – indeed, achievable – can give people a new appreciation on life, on trauma, and even on depression. I mean, look at the article above, or just search for the subject. The internet is replete with examples of people finding light in the darkness, of using a traumatic experience to grow and change and become better people. Knowing that this is out there – that there are people who’s lives have been madeĀ betterĀ by trauma – that should inspire hope in all of us who are suffering.

Folks, I’m grateful for my depression and anxiety. It gave my career purpose and meaning and allowed me to use my experiences to make the world a better place. And, I suppose, that’s the best way I can look at what otherwise could have been a crippling illness.

Any thoughts on the concept of PTG that you want to share with us? As always, leave them below!