#HAWMC: It Didn’t Kill You but Does It Really Make You Stronger?
This post continues the month-long series called the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge (#HAWMC) created by WEGO Health. Today’s writing prompt: Quotation Inspiration. Find a quote that inspires you (either positively or negatively) and free write about it for 15 minutes.
Yesterday, I read Psychological ‘Growth’ Through War and Disease: Sometimes It’s Just a Cruel Delusion over at Scientific American.com. It discussed the scientific basis or groundlessness of this omnipresent platitude. Psychologists call this phenomenon post-traumatic growth. That is to say, a survivor of a severe life trauma undergoes a psychological transformation that affords a more evolved (think Maslow’s hierarchy) perspective of life.
Victory over seemingly insurmountable obstacles
American media glorifies stories of victory over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This in and of itself is not at all a bad thing. This love of the underdog and greater love of victory are steeped in our culture almost to mythic proportion. Yet, since the murder of my brother, I find myself asking the question, “Well what about all of those who fought the good fight and didn’t prevail?” I’ve heard so many people say, “It could be worse.” But my ability to accept my circumstances should not hinge on the thought of someone else’s misfortune that is theoretically greater than mine. After all, what do you say to the one person who is absolutely the worst off? Even in the organ donor advocacy community, there can be a preference towards focusing on the individual who has received the organ or even in the case of living donation, the donor and recipient pair. Deceased donors, unless they are celebrities are assigned to a footnote status. No one wants to verbally acknowledge the fact that a family underwent terrible tragedy to bring that recipient to their triumphant moment. The determination that a patient is brain-dead results from a complex series of medial evaluations. Declaration of brain death does not happen often. (Most of the recipients themselves don’t feel this way but the proverbial “media machine” does demonstrate this bias.) This denial was really brought home when during one of my recent volunteer outreach events at a local Department of Motor Vehicles branch, a woman actually got up and left during my presentation exclaiming, “I can’t take anymore talk about death. This is too depressing!” I though to myself, how nice that she has the luxury to walk away from tragedy and death. I also knew, however, she wouldn’t be able to walk away forever. Would anyone be there to be compassionate and understanding to her in her time of loss or would everyone just walk away like she walked out on my presentation.
Facing harsh realities
Victims of tragedy and survivors of trauma know something that the rest of society exerts a great effort to deny–unimaginably awful things can happen in this world , over which we may have no control. It is not fair but life does not have to be fair. There may not necessarily be a greater meaning and there may not be a bright side. The blog post I referenced earlier really resonated with my own experiences and the nagging uneasiness I often felt from that common phrase, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” It reads:
Another way the “What doesn’t kill you…” meme can turn toxic stems from the unreasonable expectations it puts on the patient. “When people have undergone trauma, just getting to the next day may be enough,” Hobfoll said. “If clinicians and even the media start setting up that you have to grow from that experience, that really can be a burden and that can be an overwhelming burden, when you start feeling guilty…
I take comfort in these observations made by Hobfoll and his associates. It really helps me in my own grief journey. In the earlier years, I had to tell myself that there is no sin in survival (as opposed to thriving). Today, I take specific actions through my work in organ donation and advance planning that I believe are both healthy for myself and helpful for others. Hobfoll characterized this as initiating actions to affect change. Contending with the knowledge of the harsh realities that exist beyond the platitude, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” even a decade and a half later, can still be a daily struggle but bringing realistic expectations is a great help.Note: Stevan E. Hobfoll and several of his associates conducted research presented in a scholarly work that appeared in Applied Psychology: An International Review during 2007. The article, Psychological ‘Growth’ Through War and Disease: Sometimes It’s Just a Cruel Delusion and interview of Stevan Hobfoll were written by Gary Stix.) Read what quotes inspire other health activists at the WEGO Health Facebook Page.