I experienced something scientists have labeled “Post-Traumatic Growth” twice in my life and some forty years apart. Both led to major changes in my life and a new look at life like I never had imagined it to be.
Being freshly discharged from the US Army following a stint in Vietnam, I enrolled in a Community College and studied like there was no tomorrow. You see, I had left my so-called “academic career” at Bishop Neumann High School in South Philadelphia when I got caught playing hooky, and rather not go to summer school for religion, I opted to get a technical education for the art and craft of printing. I had no college when I was commissioned an officer, and I knew nothing about higher education except for the “doofuses” I met among the officer corps that had little or no street smarts.
I studied journalism and I excelled. I spent more than 40 hours a week studying, often taking more than the required number of credits to be a full-time student and and get a whopping $525 a month from the GI Bill. Twice I took 21 credits in one semester and held a GPA placing me on the Deans’ List.
What does PTSD have to do with it?
Well. I felt I failed in the Vietnam War. I failed my men who got injured, I failed my brother who guided me through Officers Candidate’s School, and I ailed myself and the expectations I raised for being a soldier.
I would not fail this time, I said to myself, becoming editor of my college newspaper while winning a Sigma Delta Chi Scholarship for Journalism and a Fellowship to study state government in Pennsylvania capital city, Harrisburg.
I then got a Bachelor of Arts degree in one year and then a Master of Arts degree one year later, completing in four years what it normally took others six years to complete. I was determined to over come the trauma of the war. And I found I could do it while having fun.
Now, fast-forward to 2008 when I failed at being a care-giver for my wife who had suffered a traumatic brain injury two years earlier. I suffered care-giver burnout as well as PTSD from the war and the ever-growing stress from representing poor defendants in the criminal justice system of Philadelphia.
This perfect storm of emotional and mental trauma forced me to seek help, stop working and find guidance from different spiritual paths. I lucked out because of my trauma from the war. I got paid by the VA to look after my wife and get my teenage son through high school without committing myself to an inpatient clinic for help.
I found strength and guidance after dealing with the trauma and it has made me into the man I am today. Still flawed, but more confident that I am walking a path I was destined to seek despite or in spite of the sufferings. I believe I now understand “Post-Traumatic Growth!”