Eight weeks ago I was hit by a truck while crossing a street. I was warned by the “experts” about the likelihood of suffering from post traumatic stress. Nightmares. Anxiety attacks. Heightened reactivity. But that’s not what happened to me. When we have the tools, which I am grateful I had, there is an alternative to post traumatic stress—it’s called post traumatic thriving.
As a student of Reology, which is a psychological model that helps me realize and remember I am constantly making meaning of whatever happens in my life, just after the truck hit me I recognized I had a choice. What follows is how I made meaning of being hit by a truck in a way that produced post traumatic thriving.
Post Traumatic Thriving
I remember the accident clearly. Very soon after I was hit I found a quiet moment in which I escaped from the chaotic world above me (Firemen, EMT’s, witnesses, and police). I was lying on my left side, someone had put my backpack under my head, and I started to breathe very slowly. I took deep breaths in through my nose and exhaled slowly and completely out my mouth. I reminded myself that at that very moment I had a choice as to how I was going to respond to this life-altering event.
I consciously chose to be present and loving, open and filled with gratitude for the many helpful people that were standing above me on the street. At 1pm on a summer day in Toronto the pavement was blazing hot and the sun was beating down on me. I put my left hand on my chest and my right hand near my knee where my leg was very painful and I embraced the moment. I inhaled the smell of the pavement, I felt the sun on my face and I took in everything that was going on around me.
I told myself I was OK in the moment. I acknowledged my leg and I spoke sweetly and calmly to my body and my nervous system. I reminded myself that I am an adult. I am a resourceful, wise, capable, curious, and responsible adult. I kept breathing and I stayed connected with myself. And I made a decision that I would look for the gift, the grace of the moment. I would live through my recovery by focusing on the gift of each moment and each stage of my recovery.
I never victimized myself
I never plunged into outrage or anger or punitive thinking about the driver of the truck. I didn’t slip into powerlessness and self-pity. I intentionally explored and experienced my feelings twice a day. I would connect with myself by doing the breathing I spoke of earlier—often for 20-30 minutes twice a day. I also stayed connected with the Reology community on a daily basis to help me focus and relax and mostly—this may surprise you—I enjoyed myself.
I had a pretty good time throughout most of my 25 days in hospital. From that moment on the pavement I made a point to look everyone in the eyes and I made a conscious effort to remember everyone’s names: Bryan and Morgan were my EMT’s, Joe was my favorite night nurse, Michelle was the investigating officer and my surgeon’s assistant was named Adam.
After the surgery I was transferred to a rehab hospital. A brand new 2 billion dollar facility that is state of the art—in some ways and in other ways it’s still just a hospital, but I had a pretty good time there. I was independent after my 2nd day so I was allowed to wheel myself anywhere, I showered myself and I could feed myself. And as I traveled all over the hospital, I talked to my fellow patients and nurses and other professionals, particularly those on my floor. I learned their names, I know about their families and their loved ones. I know why they are in hospital and we became almost friends.
How could I help others?
The point being that I spent most of my time thinking about other people and how I could be helpful. I didn’t neglect myself either, that too would have reflected an old pattern of mine. Instead, I established strong boundaries and I spoke up for myself. I paid attention to my fatigue and my pain and I spent a lot of time resting in bed and a lot of time in physiotherapy, but the remainder of the time I was being helpful.
I recognized immediately my huge advantage at being able to move myself around the hospital. My roommate’s mobility was highly limited, so I brought her coffees and treats from downstairs and I tidied up her part of the room because some of the nurses were really messy and inattentive. I brought her hot face cloths so she could wash her face and hands. I did our laundry.
Having the ability to decide how I want to respond in any given moment is something I have always wanted. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have made decisions and said things that I have regretted. What I have learned from studying and practicing the art of Reology, is to consciously choose how I respond to events. And I transform myself when I make conscious and healthy choices.
I came home on a Thursday. And even though the hospital experience over-all was good, there’s no place like home. My cat is with me all the time and we are both delighted I am home. I have an army of helpers, from professionals, like Occupational and Physiotherapists to hired assistants, to co-workers and friends. I am literally surrounded by help. And I soothe myself being here; I experience myself as living in a state of great gratitude and grace.
The next stage
Now the next stage of healing begins. Today I meet the new taxi company who will be transporting me to all my medical appointments, I’ll meet my new physio team and then later today my first attendant will arrive and we’ll have the experience of working together in my apartment, the plan is for her to vacuum and do my laundry. I had to learn how to ask for help many times during the day and I’ve had to learn how to accept love, presents, enemas, medications, being bathed, flowers, groceries, and all matters of assistance. This too was a process for me. I used to pride myself on my fierce independence and my ability to take care of myself without any help. But now I am the one who is asking for help and I am learning to accept presents, love, nurturing and assistance with grace and ease—something I didn’t know how to do very well.
I know that my ability to thrive during these past eight weeks is due to the tools I’ve learned in Reology. I can find that space between the stimulus and my response, and in that space I can choose how I want to respond. Right now I need help. When I am well and able to work I’m sure I will return to some type of activity where I work with people who need help. And I will remind them that they have a choice, and I will encourage them to look for the gift in whatever happens in their lives.
(This article was written by Katharine Rivers, a practitioner of Reology. If you have any questions for her, please post them as comments and she will respond.)