Beyond Resilience: Post Traumatic Growth

I am addicted to concepts that take you beyond what you had always believed.

I have, like most teachers have built up a concept of resilience based on the need to blast kids out of their toxic fixed mindsets by a mixture of engagement, challenge and shock.

My method in dealing with pain and failure has always been defined in the terms of my Post Traumatic Stress Disordered father as “Rub it with a brick!’

This was my Dad’s way of surviving being shot in the groin by one of his own men in WW2 and it rubbed off on me. Problems, failure, shame disgrace and disappointment were all seen by my father as emotions to be ignored, avoided and basically you’ll get over it princess.

I absorbed this without question into my own philosophy on life and still really find it hard to move beyond. It is not that I lack empathy, quite the opposite, it’s just that I believe that when in pain you rule your brain.

It basically looks like this…

This week though I met Wendy and Rod McCracken at a mental health seminar in Melbourne and they blew my mind.

This is Wendy.

You need to look closely and to be mindful of who Mandy is.

Yes Mandy’s arms and legs are made of plastic but as she says with a smile “I can fall apart at any time.”

But she is not talking mentally but physically because her limbs have a habit of parting company with the rest of her body at often inopportune times.

Here’s selections from an ABC Profile of Mandy when she started on as short term afternoon Radio presenter in 2018.

In 2013, the mother of three girls became suddenly and seriously ill with Group A streptococcal (GAS) blood infection.

"On the Wednesday I felt like I had the flu, by Friday night I was in an intensive care ambulance on the way to hospital. I was in a coma for 10 days and my body went into shutdown."

Husband Rod was told she had an extremely low chance of surviving.

While McCracken defied the odds, her hands and feet suffered extensive tissue death and had to be amputated to save her life.

She spent almost a year in hospital recovering, learning how to function without her limbs, how to walk again, and how to deal with the psychological impact.

"Coming to terms with the fact my limbs had to be amputated was initially straightforward as it was obvious my hands were completely dead, but the hard thing was trying to learn to be positive after that," says Mandy.

"When I first got home from hospital I was having tantrums like a four-year-old but I had months of appointments with a great psychologist and made a conscious decision to thrive through this and enjoy this."

As part of coming to terms with her traumatic experience, Mandy McCracken started talking about it, giving speeches and media interviews.

"When I was in hospital just after my amputation I saw Matthew Ames on television," she said.

"He is also a quad amputee and was talking about how he survived it, what he was doing now, and seeing him enjoying life gave me strength and purpose.

"I thought it's important to tell other people that bad stuff can happen to you, and you can be ok, it's not the end of the world.

"It was a bit hard to do early in the piece and there were lots of tears whenever I stood in front of an audience but now I wear this as a badge of honour.

"My scars show my strength, strength I didn't have before I got sick, and I now think that if I can survive losing my hands and feet I can survive anything."

Here are Mandy and Rod speaking at a fundraiser and support night for another quad amputee

What Mandy and her family demonstrate in abundance is Post Traumatic Growth.

The term post traumatic growth was coined in the 1990's by two pioneering scholars: Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun.

When studies were done of people who experienced negative events despite all the distress and suffering thirty to seventy percent eventually report some kind of positive change. The reason people are focusing on post traumatic growth is because it alters the way we view trauma and how it is treated.

It leads people to believe that trauma not only has great destructive effects but may give rise to growth in other areas as well.

Here’s a simple graph of how Tedeschi and Calhoun measured Post Traumatic growth.

Tedeschi and Calhoun measured this by asking stress survivors to respond to a number of surveys. Here’s a simple version of one of the major surveys…

1. I changed my priorities about what is important in life

2. I have a greater appreciati1on for the value of my own life.

3. I am able to do better things with my life.

4. I have a better understanding of spiritual matters.

5. I have a greater sense of closeness with others.

6. I established a new path for my life.

7. I know better that I can handle difficulties.

8. I have a stronger religious faith.

9. I discovered that I'm stronger than I thought I was.

10. I learned a great deal about how wonderful people are.

For Mandy and Rod McCracken their responses were quite fascinating.

What follows here is what I thought they said in their presentation using their PowerPoint presentation as a guide and some semi diligent research on the internet.

If you take a little time and map these insights on the ten points above you will see that they are a master class in Post Traumatic Growth.

1. Beginning to think positively & have a greater appreciation of life.

They made a clear and honest decision to survive and thrive. This was brought home by the fact that others were actually worse off than they were, Mandy was still alive and quite astoundingly they saw themselves lucky.

They gave themselves permission to stop and really enjoy the moment particularly Mandy who was astounded how beautiful the world is even if it was just gaping at Melbourne’s architecture through the window of an ambulance.

And they quite irreverently found the humour in everything they could.

Hears a quote fro Mandy,

”This attitude was the only way we knew; just poke fun at it.

On our first family holiday after getting sick, my sister asked us to send her photos. It was 9.30 pm so the only photos we could take at the time was of our hotel room. So, Rod pulled off my plastic arm and put it in the fridge, holding a beer.

Thus, began the adventures of Alana, Alan, Stan and Neil (The names of her prosthetic limbs).

This frame of mind has been an incredible strength to my entire family. We did show and tell at Kinder where the kids asked us all sorts of questions. Had hilarious nights on Facebook having conversations with total strangers…”

2. Building stronger and more intimate relationships

They told the kids exactly what was happening right from the start and pledged to be open and honest about our emotions.

They have built worldwide networks with others in a similar situation and even have a quad amputee community which and puts the entry requirements as “If you’ve got a hand, you’re out!”

Mandy and Rod debriefed constantly.

Here’s Mandy again…

“A positive attitude is vital but little things that were once so easy are now a source of frustration. It’s when I do things like putting the washing in the machine but can’t because my robot hand is playing up. It’s then I do scream with tears rolling down my face and I kick and throw my arms across the room.

Sometimes there is no laughter to fix the day’s problems.”

3. A sense of personal strength

Mandy made every tiny step forward is a milestone and allowed herself the grace to say “It’s ok to fail.” But the aim was to get through each day and to face the pain head on. This took the time to get used to the new normal but they saw this as not bouncing back instead they bounced forward.

Here’s Mandy once more...

“It turns out I make a good news article as well. I don’t mind. I love telling people my story. It is fascinating. The word “Inspirational” is a catch cry of this new world I find myself in, but it’s a word that has been banned in our house. We are just trying to move forward and enjoy life.

4. New possibilities created a new path for their life.

If an offer of support was made Rod and Mandy accepted but they focused on giving back. And they said yes to everything; why the hell not!

Mandy again…

“I never thought I seriously it would be possible to drive again, but we had the steering lightened and a joy stick control from a tabletop computer game installed. I was surprised it was so simple.

I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time I drove to the supermarket by myself.

There was a lady there getting annoyed at me for walking so slowly and getting in her way, but she had no idea how happy that trip to buy milk and bread made me.”

5. A deepened their sense of spirituality.

Mandy and Rod realised how much of a big community they were connected to and realised that how they responded had an impact on everyone they lived with and even though they felt so lucky that Mandy had survived they then had to believe that they had to take control.

The two big understandings that they came to was that their concept of how big their community was needed to be stretched from just their family and friends to seeing the community as a huge networked which extended all over the world.

They felt that this concept gave them a much better understanding of their place in the universe.

The pictures above are of Mandy riding her new bike which was created as part of a part of a “Makethon” design challenge at Swinburne University.

What Mandy and her family show us all is that attitude is everything and growth is always present.

What they prove is that post traumatic growth is possible.

Let us hope that we do not have to learn it.

So in summary here are ten simple hints that you can use to prepare yourself for something bad.

I found these somewhere on the internet but I can’t remember where!

Whoever said it they make sense to me…

When things go wrong…

1. Connect with Yourself and Others

Accept the support offered by family and friends. Stay active by joining groups, participating in faith-based services or volunteering.

2. Manage stress by keeping a journal and practicing yoga or meditation.

See clearly that you cannot change your circumstance, but you can control your reaction and attitude by envisioning better times, and taking pride in your progress.

3. Acknowledge Change

Accept that your way of life and goals may no longer be the same, and shift your focus to what is achievable now.

4. Work toward Your Goals

Set realistic goals, develop new routines and celebrate small accomplishments.

5. Make Decisions

Don’t detach from your problems. Taking decisive action about your situation will help you build strength.

6. Rediscover Yourself

Look for and nurture signs of greater self-awareness, appreciation and growth that are commonly reported with PTG.

7. Trust Your Abilities

Be kind to yourself and build confidence by staying positive and believing in your ability to persevere.

8. Step Back

View your situation from a long-term perspective to help you to avoid overreacting or becoming overwhelmed.

9. Choose Hope

Expect positive changes in your life. Optimism is the enemy of fear.

10. Help Your Self

Make the time to take special care of yourself right now. Attend to your own needs and feelings, and make sure to eat well, sleep well and exercise.

Stay awesome!

Be Happy, Teach Well


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