Post Traumatic Growth

For quite a while now I had this idea in my head. An idea which focuses on an aspect of my life I haven’t talked about as much as other things. The handful of readers of this blog are fully aware by now that over the years I had to deal with a lot of issues. I shared some of my most intimate moments about self-harm, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and general despair about myself and the experiences I tend to end up with.

Trauma, Despair & Pain

In short, one could say that I am a severely damaged, broken and fucked up human being. And though even there might be some truth to this statement, at least to some extent, it is not whole story. Sometimes it’s not even a complete chapter.

Yes, I struggled a lot over the years. Truth be told, I cannot think of a time in my life when I wasn’t constantly fighting against myself. But that’s the thing: I fought. Every. Single. Time. And I kept fighting. Again and again and again and again.

Every single time I hit rock bottom I picked up the shattered pieces of my self and put them back together. But never in the way they were before. I rearranged them, cut some stuff out and inserted new ideas and habits. Some worked, others didn’t. Slowly, by trial and error, I reinvented myself again and again and again. Why am I writing this essay today?

I remembered a concept I encountered a couple of years ago when I first started reading the work of Nassim Taleb. A lot of people are familiar with the term of post traumatic stress (disorder, if it becomes pathological). An intense stressful response of our bodies to a traumatic event whenever we encounter a trigger we associate with said event or sometimes even at random where we have difficulties to pinpoint the exact reason of why the response was triggered in the first place.

I am pretty sure that I struggled with some form of PTSD as a comorbid condition of my borderline personality disorder since I can recount countless times my body triggered intense stress responses connected to past experienced traumas. I remember quite vividly several days when I would wake up with a highly increased heart rate and go to bed with the same increased stress level. Having high amounts of adrenalin and cortisol pumping through your veins for any extended period of time is super fucking exhausting.

In fact, I experienced exactly that just a few months ago. The exact reasons which lead to this experience are secondary, they were mainly connected to disappointed wrong expectations my mind had created based on unrealistic assumptions. Nevertheless, for quite some time, about a month or so, I was barely able to focus on anything else but this very issue, including the aforementioned days of high stress levels. Fun times. After a while, a big part of this issue was luckily resolved which provided me with the ability to take a step back, think and reflect on what had just happened.

Quite a few people (including my therapist at that time) recommended to ditch the friends who would make me feel that way I just described and disappointed my expectations. But somehow nobody realised that my friends were not the main issue – I was. Yes, sometimes I wish things would be different and people would behave in another way but, guess what, that is life. It just happens and people have their own struggles to deal with and I cannot expect them to tend to my every need. Even though, I admit, I probably wouldn’t mind if they did.

But before anyone can accuse me of using the same bullshit rhetoric as countless self-help gurus in the sense of that “only you are responsible for your own destiny and all your problems are self-created and failure is just on you and not others”, I want to clarify a few things.

Of course, nobody lives in a social vacuum. Other people’s actions affect us in a myriad of ways. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. In the same way that I didn’t rebuild myself over and over again just by my own efforts, it’s also true that certain things some people did or didn’t do lead to my fucked up experiences in the first place.
But do I blame them for it? No, I don’t. Why? Because blame doesn’t achieve anything. Let me repeat that. Blame doesn’t achieve anything.

Even though I didn’t blame others, I for sure blamed myself. A lot. Pretty much every single time for pretty much everything. I automatically assumed the worst of all possible outcomes and that somehow, I was responsible for the other person’s behaviour. I ascribed myself a power I most certainly don’t have.

So, what did my therapist and many other people not understand?
My friend’s actions may have affected me negatively but especially in this case, my extreme reaction was born out of unrealistic expectations and wrong assumptions. They couldn’t predict that I would react that way and shouldn’t even be at this fucked up point in the first place.

To put it straightforward: I will most likely keep on meeting and being friends with people who have different habits and ways of dealing with issues than I do. Should my solution always be to run away and be afraid of what might happen? Should I simply turn my back on the people I care about whenever things get difficult to manage?

Fuck no.
A big part of my core identity is my undying loyalty towards the people who are important to me. There is no turning back, no running away. But, clearly, me getting fucked up whenever an issue arises is also not an ideal situation.

So, what to do?
This is the point where we come full circle and back to the title of this essay. I said earlier that I rebuilt my self over the years multiple times after traumatic events. But pretty much every time this happened more out of necessity than deliberately. This time I wanted it to be different. I just went through weeks of intense emotional despair and anxiety and I knew something had to change. So, of course, to a degree I still knew there was a major part of necessity involved. But I also wanted to make a conscious effort to rebuild myself this time.

I wanted to create a version of my self which would be able to withstand future triggering events in a more healthy, more sustainable way. For the first time of my life I actively wanted to focus on post traumatic growth.

Instead of trying to find new ways to avoid these issues (something I did in the past quite frequently), this time my goal was different. I wanted to prepare myself for whatever life throws at me next (and I know there will be a next, there always is). I wanted to become a stronger, healthier and balanced version of myself.

In this moment I remembered an concept I created a few years ago (I most likely wasn’t the first, but this is my playground, so I don’t care) but never put too much thought into it.

The Triad

In my understanding there are three key aspects to the human experience: intellect, emotion and body.

In an ideal world you would be able to keep a perfect balance between all of them. You would receive enough intellectual stimulation to satisfy your curiosity and need for overcoming intellectual challenges. Your emotions are able to provide you with enjoyable highs but also some necessary lows without completely crushing you. And your body would be at a decent level of fitness based on a healthy sleep schedule, a decent diet and regular exercise.

Now, let’s face it, none of us lives in an ideal world. Obviously, my emotions regularly fuck me over and tend to spill negatively into the other two areas as well, whenever I experience intense distress. I am sure you will find disbalance in your own life as well because achieving a perfect balance inside the Triad is next to impossible. That’s why you should understand it more as an ideal worth striving for rather than something which is actually obtainable.

But for me, it is still a very helpful guideline to implement behavioural change. Although this is only one part of the story.
The Triad was the door, my new values were the key.

I swore to myself that I would never run, never abandon the people I care about. But to achieve that in a healthy and sustainable way, I had to adapt as well. It was clearly a problem that I struggled a lot with establishing and maintaining healthy relationship patterns. This meant I had to change my understanding and my behaviour – the only things I actually had control over.

The Stoic Ubermensch

A key aspect of Stoic philosophy is the acceptance of our inability to control most of our surroundings, especially other people. Instead we should focus on ourselves, our own actions and emotions and how we react to whatever life throws in our ways.

While this is certainly not the worst idea of approaching my issues it somehow felt incomplete. It felt too passive. Too reactive. Life just happens and we have to wait, adjust and somehow deal with it.

This is, in short, one of the main critiques Nietzsche had about the Stoics as well. As some may already know, of all the philosophers I have read over the years, Nietzsche always had a special place in my heart. His ideas and writings spoke to me in a way very few others did. Often, they were harsh, blunt, unapologetic but also beautiful and full of fascinating insights.
Naturally, I searched for ways to bridge the differences between Nietzsche and the Stoics.

By no means I am claiming to have found that bridge but I came at least to some conclusions.
Nietzsche’s concept of the Ubermensch, a person able to overcome traditional (back then mostly Christian), inherent values and create their own meaning in combination with their own set of values was always quite appealing to me. I know, this one phrase doesn’t do the whole idea justice, but I should suffice for what I am trying to do here.

For me, I not only wanted to be able to withstand life’s and my own turmoils but actively shape and create myself and the world around me – while understanding the limitations of my ability to do so at the same time.

So, what did I actually do?
I decided to strive for that ideal balance inside the Triad while reshaping my own self. I drastically increased the amount of intellectual stimuli as well as the physical ones. I also create way more (especially in writing). I have an image of the person I want to be inside my head and I am working every single day to bring this image into reality. Currently, I am fortifying my mind as well as my body in whatever way I can think of. I implemented a bunch of new (hopefully) healthy habits into my daily life and am currently in the trial phase of my own personal study of radical self-improvement. Since I cannot know for sure how successful this attempt is until I encounter the next emotional trigger, I am simply using whatever I can to make sure that the next time I won’t be completely devasted by whatever happens to me. If I can live through another trigger event without experiencing another emotional trauma, I am going to count that as a big win. If not, I have to go back to the drawing board and figure out new solutions.

From my experience, most people grow during adversity and crisis. I know for a fact that I have changed the most whenever my emotional pain was so intense that I almost couldn’t bear it anymore. This time was no different and in a way I am grateful to have the chance to reinvent myself once again.

I’m not pretending that my way of dealing with those issues should be the gold standard for everyone else. My struggles and my personality set me up in a way that I was able to get to this point but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same for you. Different people have different needs. One of my main goals is to get to a point where I have achieved enough emotional stability to not only not get fucked up by trigger events anymore but maybe even have the strength and ability to help the people I care about to deal better with their own struggles.

Running away from problems should never be a valid solution. I prefer to look for sustainable, healthier alternatives and use my own experiences to support others.
During the recent months I felt so much pain and despair. My head was constantly screaming inside, asking why it had to be me. Why I needed to go through such an experience again. But looking back I now know that this pain was necessary to bring me to where I am now, even though it certainly didn’t feel that way back then. And if my current attempts fail, it won’t feel like it the next time either.

I picked up the shattered pieces of my mind, cleaned the mud and put them back together. Piece by piece. I did it in the past, I did it this time and I will do it in the future as well.
Maybe one day these pieces won’t break anymore.

You are a decent human being. Behave accordingly.

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