Most of us have heard of PTSD – or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - but last week I came across the concept of PTG – or Post Traumatic Growth. Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun coined the term in the mid-90s at the University of Carolina and define PTG as "a positive psychological change in the wake of struggling with highly challenging life circumstances" (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004). It goes beyond acknowledgement or acceptance and offers a new way of redirecting the experience of trauma to something useful for us.
While the grief may still be there, post-traumatic growth allows us to look forward in life instead of being stuck in the past. I guess this could be distilled to the Scottish adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
This is a comforting and positive philosophy for these strange times. It also made me think about the many ways in which we are changing and adapting, at both individual and societal levels.
I had my precious grandson, Fraser, and elder daughter staying for a couple of weeks, and we enjoyed a few outings. For various reasons I am still taking a cautious approach post-lockdown, so opted to remain in the car while my daughter popped into a few local shops. Watching people, I was reassured by the high level of compliance regarding face coverings and the strong evidence of hand sanitising.
Just a few miles from where I live we are lucky enough to have Finlaystone Country Estate. When my daughters were young we had family membership and spent many happy Sunday afternoons walking through the woods and playing on the wooden play equipment.
The Estate too has adapted, with the café offering takeaway packed lunches. The woods and outdoor play areas have been expanded and developed over the years, and offer extensive, custom-built play areas which have been largely constructed from local materials, including a fort, train, tram, hummer, pirate ship, zipline and swings.
The visit also gave Fraser an opportunity to wear his new Dinosaur puddle suit and matching wellies! Muddy puddles never lose their appeal.
I also had my hair cut for the first time in 6 months, and really enjoyed that! Normally my stylist comes to the house, but she has set up a home salon where she has more control over cleaning and hygiene. It was fabulous to sit and chat in a nice relaxed environment and it felt completely normal until you clocked our face masks!
My car has been neglected during lockdown, and was due a service and good clean – so I decided to try a small local trader who was happy to pick up and deliver the car. This worked well, and will probably become my “new normal” for car care.
Adaptation too has come to the NHS. I was able to arrange blood tests, receive a copy of the results by email, and have a telephone consultation with the hospital consultant. It is clear that the pandemic has accelerated the scale and scope of change in health care, and hopefully this momentum will be continued.
I’ve been watching a few sessions of the Edinburgh International Book Festival which is being run as a completely online event. Its Director, Nick Barley, commented on Radio Scotland this weekend that there was hardly a country in the world which had not engaged with the online offering.
But for him, one of the most important impacts came from a fibromyalgia sufferer who commented that she had never been able to visit a book festival, but had engaged fully with the online event. His prediction is that hybrid events will become part of the cultural landscape moving forward, and whilst many people will miss the intensity of live events, there are many who will be able to experience events which were previously inaccessible.
One of the most captivating Book Festival sessions for me was Michael Morpurgo and Polly Dunbar discussing his new book “Owl or Pussycat?” The book is autobiographical and beautifully captures the excitement (and nervousness) of Michael’s starring role in a school play aged 7.
Polly Dunbar was the illustrator for the book, and she created a live illustration of two key characters in the story, which was fascinating to watch. I’m not sure how this would have worked in a live setting, but it worked amazingly well over video, and I was transported to childhood memories of reciting the Owl and the Pussycat poem, and of reading it to my daughters when they were young. It will be Fraser’s turn soon.
I’ve previously written about the importance of resilience during these uncertain times. I still consider it a critical tool, but rather than something we simply have to endure, there is a lot of evidence confirming that we are learning to adapt and adjust.
Humans have a remarkable capacity for growth and change, and as we learn to live alongside Covid-19 there are many signs of progress and opportunity.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882)
Stay safe, take care