Sunday, March 3, 2013

Post-Traumatic Growth: Lessons from Travis

I wanted to post this last week around his angelversary but sometimes it just takes entirely too much energy to think through things.  That is why I generally stay at surface level these days.  I hate feeling too much emotion unless is positive.  Negative emotions: tension, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, depression, self-consciousness...they are all there, just stuffed under the surface.  All it takes is a little nudge and that flood gate releases.  I was nudged today.


I was at a writing conference yesterday that spoke of the change in academic standards and how they are opening up students to push past their comfort zones and really analyze.  I was into the whole concept until she started comparing the change to Post-Traumatic stress syndrome.  I thought is was a little insulting, really, to liken something so NOT LIFE THREATENING, although important, to something that is so very real and intense.  I suppose only those in the room who have ever deal with it would even realize the inappropriateness of the notion.  Regardless, she had some interesting points.  She spoke a little about something known as Post-Traumatic Growth.  Post-Traumatic growth is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.   Of course, this hit a cord with me because I had been mulling this post over for sometime in my head.   With all the horrific memories and experiences we have gone through/continue to be challenged with, there is good.  There were HUGE lessons learned.  They're often hard to focus on because of the weight of the negatives but, I know they are there and it is a daily challenge for me to remember them.  My lessons from Travis.

Lesson 1: Dark vs. Light

I'm not really sure if I can articulate this lesson clearly.  It's basis: there has to be dark before the sun can rise.   They go together, the good/the bad.   It's something that you just have to accept.  The "goods" totally outweigh the bads you just have to get through to the next day.  Does that make sense?   Travis' 16 months with us were some of my best memories.  It was a scary time because he was medically fragile but he gave me the greatest gift ever, being a mom.  Our connection was/is so strong and I am so, so grateful that I was even able to experience that.  It makes me sad that some people never will.  You grow, you know...during the dark.  It makes you stronger, more passionate, more empathetic, more loving, more open, more vulnerable, more tolerant.  It's hard but I think sometimes, the lessons learned in "the dark" are the important ones!

Lesson 2: It is what it is

Life is so rotten sometimes.  People treat you rotten.  You have to do things you don't want to.   People say mean things.  It just is what it is.   You could gripe and whine and argue about your lot in life or the things that happen to you but, it won't help.  There are things, that just are they way they are and you have to make the decision to deal with it or get it out of your life.  You can't change people.  Actually, you can't change much about anything BUT you can change you...your reactions, your next steps, your goals.   Travis taught me not to dwell and whine about things.  Sometimes, it is what it is.

Lesson 3: I am okay

I joke with a friend of mine that my lips are so loose these days.  I just blurt things out and often, I immediately want to reel them back in.  Let me explain, I have always been super self conscious....I worry about how others view me.  I feel like people tend to judge.  It's natural, really, to react (on the inside) to what someone says.  I think I have just always been super sensitive to that.  I admit, I do it to.  I take things that people say out of context, I analyze it, I fret about it, I redefine it.  I hate that.  But, it's least for me.  Anyway, back to the lesson.  I suppose I just realized that I am going to just be me and say what I'm thinking and break down a few of the walls I've been building and see what happens.   It is what it is.  I am what I am.  I am hopeful that people will not scare away.  I realize I have a nutty sense of humor...I can't help it, I'm wired that way.

Lesson 4: Emotions are okay

This one is in progress....

It's been two years since Travis died.  Four years since our ordeal began.  I think it was four years ago that I stopped letting people least, fully in.  I started to build up walls and block people out if it got to complicated.  I just didn't have the bandwidth for it.  I stop sharing my feelings because they were heavy and I was afraid people couldn't take them.  Even when I did share, relationships changed.   Probably because I changed.  But, it is a lonely place, I'll tell you.  It's lonely to walk around with surface level relationships.  It needed to change.

I am trying to realize that it's okay to show my emotions.  I say "I love you" to people when I think it.  I send notes to friends.  I want people to realize that they are important for whatever reason.  When I feel joy, I express it.  I put as much fun into things as I can.  I try to initiate things even when it is so not in my nature (see #3).  I feel emotions SO MUCH STRONGER than I ever did before.  I care so much deeper.  Travis taught me that all you have is now so make it GOOD.  Share it with people.   Don't be alone.  You really never know when it'll be too late.

Lesson 5: Assume good

This is a biggie.   It hurts my heart when I think of the reasons behind this lesson but it is, by far, the biggest lesson Travis has taught me.   Some background...

The call to remove Travis' breathing tube the day he coded was made by a PICU floor doctor.  We had never had much contact with him and he was not a major, or really even a minor, player in Travis' care.  His surgeon generally called the shots.  We'd wait around and basically stalk him throughout hospital stays because he had the overall picture.  He had the plan.   That day "He" was in surgery...all day.  That morning before surgery he shared that the plan was to let him rest and eventually try to get him off the respirator.  Because his surgery had been 10 hours he wanted to let his body rest.  So, we figure that evening or the next day they would extubate.   It was a calm morning and everything was looking great.   I stepped out to call my mom and Roger came out about 10 minutes later and said they were extubating.  I was confused because it felt rushed.  I'm sure you know what happened next.

You see, the call to extubate was a judgement call.  A doctor, with all the knowledge he had, decided that everything looked well enough to extubate.  Was it the right call?  Obviously not.   Was he doing the best he could in that decisive moment?  I have to believe so.  

I have to assume that MOST people are generally doing the best they can.  Yes, we had cause to take Travis' case to review.  Yes, we are beyond angry because potentially Travis' death was a mistake.  But, I can not walk through this life assuming that people are out to get others.  Travis didn't.  He had all the faith in the world in his any stranger that he came across.  His smile was nondiscriminatory.   I have to use his short life as a model.  He showed me what it looked like to love whole-heartedly and trust in people.  As a result, I always assume that people have good intentions.  Even when shitty things happen, I try to remember that everyone is just doing the best that can at that moment.   Is it okay to be upset and angry?  Yes.  Can we learn from mistakes made?  Certainly.   But, I really find it hard to judge or criticize others these days.  It's just not fair.  No one is perfect.  And, when the anger flows (it ebbs and flows) I generally step back and come back to the same place...I am determined to assume good.

A side note: It is heartbreaking when people do not extend the same courtesy to me.  I figure if I can see things in this light after what I've been through, I should certainly not have to deal with this from others but, it's not the case.  

Lesson #6: Chase the happy

It's easy to just go through the motions and never make the changes you know you need to.  I had to.  I wasn't happy.  I needed some major changes in my life.  They are in process.  Roger and I are chasing the dreams we initially had and we are getting back to doing the things that make us happy.  I feel so much lighter these days and as a result relationships are blooming...Roger and I are reconnecting, friendships are growing, I've grow closer to my sister. All great things.  I am determined to find a little happy in everything I do...Travis wouldn't want anything less from me.

And finally, 

Lesson #7:  There is no greater love...
than that between a parent and a child.  It is unbelievable.  It is unbreakable.  Even in loss...we are still connected by an invisible string.  Because this love is SO strong.  I spend  my life in two and there.  It takes a lot of energy but it is necessary.  I need him.   And, I can imagine....he feels the same.  Until we are reunited....I will spend eternity in both for my girls and there (in spirit) with him.

"Grief is the price we pay for love"