Friday, October 17, 2014

Post Traumatic Growth

Ask me how I am and I'll tell you I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. After going to my first session of bereavement counseling with Haven Hospice 4 weeks after the death of my father, it was finally setting in. I was not okay. My dad is gone and he's not coming back. I found myself crying at some point every day for two solid weeks...sometimes thinking of him...sometimes without any warning. People who have lost loved ones have been telling me that the grief comes in waves, that we will be hit with an unbearable sadness out of nowhere. It's hard to prepare for and you rarely see it coming. The waves will either wash over your feet and just bring tears to your eyes or they will pummel you to the ground, knocking the wind out of you and you won't be sure if you will ever get back up. I've felt all degrees of these waves...and these past two weeks I've been learning how to surf. It's not easy and you will fall. Sometimes really hard. 

We all experience a period of Post Traumatic Stress after losing someone or even something, be it a job, a relationship, a place to call home, a physical ability. And the pangs of loss can hit hard - sadness, anger, bitterness, shift in appetite, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, social anxiety, or the fear that you will never feel better again. I've decided to allow myself to feel all of this rather than running from it or pushing it away. It's not pretty, nor is it fun to be around. But I've come to realize feeling it is a part of the grieving process that we will all face at some point in our our lives, in some form, whether we deal with it right away or years later. The question is, what do we do with the feelings as they come? How do we not let it suffocate us? How do we get back up and keep going? We may not have control over some situations in life, but we do have a choice in how we react to it. 

My lesson with the kids last week was "Resiliency". In my after school classes, by a show of hands, I asked how many of them had fallen down through out the day. Each day, at least 50% of the kids had tripped or fallen before, during or after school. Kids fall a lot! I asked them to think abut how they reacted without any judgment on themselves - did they cry, did they laugh, did they lay there either in defeat or embarrassment. Did they get back up. (Of course, they all got up...they did make it to yoga class after all.) Some fell just walking or running. Some fell while playing a sport or a game. Some got pushed down. But none of them stayed down. This is resiliency. How we deal with our falls says a lot. When we see a child fall, we help them up. We check in, see if they're okay, address what may not be okay and then teach them to keep on going - maybe with more awareness, caution and care. As we get older, we continue to fall and we continue to get back up, even when at times we may want to curl up and lie there. We think about what happened, we learn and we keep on going. We teach ourselves how to be resilient.

When we come to our yoga mats, it's good to come with an open heart ready to experience whatever it is the teacher and the practice itself will bring to us. Sometimes the flow of the class will feel good, sometimes it will feel too easy, sometimes it will feel too challenging. At times we lose our balance causing us to step or even fall out of a pose. But with gentle care of ourselves, we come back into the flow and keep on going. There comes a point in the class where we might get stuck, or frustrated, or fearful of falling and may even say - no way I'll ever be able to do that! Maybe it's one of those challenging poses like Crow, or Wheel, or Headstand that just set us off. The kids feel it and we even feel it as adults. So I always like to create space for the kids to play, experiment and try their best with these challenging poses with an understanding that we may not get the pose today, but over time with practice and a bit of resiliency, maybe one day we'll get it! 

I like to play a game called "Blocked". We create a random pile of foam blocks each with a sticky note on it displaying a pose that usually can "block" us in our practice. Starting from youngest to oldest, a child picks a block to challenge the class with. We spend about 5 minutes on each pose, picking it safely apart seeing if we can take it to its full expression. When we all agreed we've had enough, that child starts the tower, stacking the blocks on it's highest end in the middle of the room and the game continues. A foam block tower can only go about 6 or 7 high before it wobbles and falls. When it does fall, we all go down, too! Into Plank Pose holding for as many seconds as there were blocks in the tower. We hold, we breathe, and then we start all over again! 

The fall is what makes us stronger. Resiliency. 

A fall, like a loss, can be traumatic, but it can also spark growth. A term I'm learning to love through bereavement counseling is "Post Traumatic Growth". It is learning how to take the traumas of life - the losses, the deaths, the injuries, the illnesses, the tears, the pains, the falls - and grow from them. This does not mean to move past or to put behind you. This does not mean to lessen the severity of or take away from the experience of. It means that if it will always be a part of you...if it will most likely change you and your outlook on life...then let it be the thing that drives you, the thing that shapes you, the thing inspires you. Let it be the thing that makes you stronger...the thing that makes you resilient. 

My father had always been a strong person, but in the 5 years that the Leukemia slowly took over his body, I had never seen anyone be so resilient. Chemo treatments, blood infections, blood transfusions, pneumonia, weight loss would all knock him over, but he would always get back up. Sometimes on his own, sometimes with help from us. I've never seen someone live so hard as they were dying. Someone who would fall over and over and keep getting back up. It has truly been an inspiration. Now that I sit with this sadness in my heart and heaviness on my chest, I know I want to live like that. I know it will take some time. I know I will still feel pain. But I'll keep on going. And in the end, my father taught me what it takes to keep on going. My father taught me resiliency. 

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