Many people are familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A person who has gone through a trauma, experiences effects after the event is over with. Many people are less familiar with Post Traumatic Growth, which was introduced in the 1990s by Psychologist Richard Tedeschi and Richard Calhoun. Having this type of growth enables survivors to recognize and embrace new connections. This concept of growth after a trauma involves five categories: growing appreciation for life, improved relationships with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength, and a spiritual change. These sections are designed for the person to work through over a long period. Having a Learning Disability has caused me to develop post-traumatic growth, with the stigma and trauma that have accompanied it.
Having personal strength has been an important part of healing in my life. I can remember difficult moments in my life that having one created. I remember the pain of the process of trying, failing, and getting back up only to repeat the same process. I’ve known people who have given up after they failed once. I had to learn to find new ways to do things, and that some things may simply not be possible. For the impossible things, I have learned to make peace with that. Most importantly when things get difficult, I know that things will work out. They may not work out how I expect them, but often turn out so much better.
Having improved relationships with others has also been a benefit of Post Traumatic Growth. I struggled socially in school and was frequently bullied because of my disability. I also had a negative view of myself and life. Finding people who shared my interests and outside of my school helped greatly. I could shed my reputation of being the screw-up, that had haunted me during my school years. A great deal of my negativity also came from the frustrations of my disability. I thought it was a shameful secret that if someone found out they would reject me as my peers did. As I grew, I discovered that most people still liked me if I had one. Through sharing my story, I have found a connection with other people with disabilities. I have found out that I’m not alone in having one, and that other people can relate to my story.
Another important part of Post-traumatic Growth is discovering new life possibilities. People have often tried to limit me in life. People have told me that going to college wouldn’t be a good idea and pushed trade school. When I got to community college, I was told that I wouldn’t go beyond that. I had other people who told me that my job choices would be limited. I often felt like someone else was trying to run my life. The alternatives that they offered made me feel more frustrated. What helped me discover new possibilities was to take an honest look at the difficulty and to think of ways to help myself. Some of this required a great deal of research and going against people who opposed my ideas. I had to keep moving forward and perusing new ideas.
Having spiritual change has also been important in growth. God has always been important in my life and my family. I struggled with why God made me disabled. For so many years I wanted to be healed of having one. My disability hasn’t healed, but I have changed how I view it. I now view it as something that not only helps me but others as well. A piece of the why is when I’m at work. I get to help students who have disabilities succeed by working with them. I know what it’s like to be a scared student and I get to give them hope.
The last category of post-traumatic growth is an appreciation for life. When I first received the diagnosis as a small child, I didn’t have much appreciation for it. I thought that life and learning would always be difficult. Once I learned how to deal with my disability, life became much easier. For so long I envied others, who didn’t have a disability. I thought their lives were perfect. I’ve learned that no one has the ideal life. Everyone struggles and some people can conceal them easier. I spent so much time coveting someone else life and strengths, that I didn’t appreciate the good things in my life. I also almost missed the gifts that I had. Learning to love and accept it has been an evolving process. At times having one makes life more difficult, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Post Traumatic Growth isn’t a quick and easy fix. Learning how to grow from your trauma takes time and often time creates more difficulties at first. It’s also not a cure that makes things magically better. I will always have scars and memories from my past. I can’t change my past or what has happened to me. I can go forward and change my future by making positive choices. I have the personal strength, that comes from enduring difficult times, knowing that things will get better. I also have a community of support from friends, family members, and those with disabilities. I realize now that are many opportunities that are out there for me when the original plan doesn’t work. I also realize that God has wonderful plans for my life, even with a disability. I can now appreciate the life I have been given and can’t imagine another one! I may not love everything that has happened to me but I love the person that it has turned me into. My pain has been turned into a purpose, through Post Traumatic Growth.
Michelle Steiner is a disability, writer, advocate, and para educator. She published articles on The Mighty, Non-Verbal Learning Project, Dyscalculia Blog, The Reluctant Spoonie, Imagine the World as one Magazine and Word Gathering. Recently she began a blog called Michelle’s mission. Her photographs were featured in Word Gathering and Independent and Work Ready. She works as a paraeducator in a school with students with disabilities. She lives in The United States with her husband and two cats.