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Lorien’s incredible journey from "poor me" to "lucky me".

As anyone who has suffered a severe trauma in their life will know, the worst part isn’t always the immediate aftermath.

For at the time of a trauma – be it a death, an accident, retrenchment, a break up – your adrenalin is running high.

There are nurses and doctors distracting you, friends dropping around to see you, things to pack and move and organise. The mundane suddenly becomes your only markers of time – remembering to eat, remembering to sleep, remembering to shower. The days fly past in a haze of deep shock, your mind foggy in a constant state of grief.

No, they aren’t the worst days. You are too busy worrying about simply surviving to think of much else.

The worst days come weeks after, when the dust of your new life begins to settle, and the support buttresses begin to be pulled away. And all of the sudden, you are alone.

Most of the psychological studies that exist around this recovery stage are distinctly negative. The comet’s tail that follows trauma is often forewarned to include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety. We’re warned of lingering stresses, the importance of good psychological care, and to be vigilant in noticing the signs of metal health struggles.

But for the first time ever, there is a positive side effect of hitting rock bottom: it’s called Post Traumatic Growth.

The premise is simple: after experiencing deep levels of trauma, a change comes about in a person’s makeup.

Usually, we’re told that these changes will be negative – stress, anxiety, sadness, isolation – but according to Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), there are some overwhelmingly positive changes that occur, too.

The term ‘Post traumatic growth’ was coined by psychology professors Lawrence Calhoun and Richard Tedeschi around a decade ago, however the concept of PTG has only just started to enter popular trauma dialogue in recent years.

Far from being a psycho-babble buzzword, PTG an actually be measured in real-life actions.

Calhoun & Tedeschi note five major signs of PTG:

  1. Relating to Others – greater intimacy and compassion for others.
  2. New Possibilities – new roles and new people.
  3. Personal Strength – feeling personally stronger.
  4. Spiritual Change – being more connected spiritually.
  5. Appreciation of Life – an optimistic outlook on everyday events.

All massively challenging lessons to learn at the best of times. And you, lucky you, will possess them all.

Put simply, this is a fancy term for the experience of ‘needing to hitting rock bottom to be able to move on.’ (So there you go – your Mum’s advice is founded in scientific fact…!)

You will be a better person for your pain: you will empathise with others, welcome change with open arms, and look fearlessly into your future. How is this not a WONDERFUL thing?

The difference between sadness and depression. (Post continues after video)

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Melbourne mum Lorien Shannon has experienced more trauma than most. A decade ago, she divorced her husband and started a new life with her young son.

In the years since, there have been spectacular highs and unfathomable lows.

She fell in love with a woman, Terri, and they got married. She built a house. She regained the independence, confidence, and love she lost during her previous marriage. Life was great.

But the lows were prolific. The couple suffered intense loss as their baby girl, Nina, who Terri was carrying, was stillborn 22 weeks into the pregnancy. And just a few months later, Lorien was almost killed when she was hit by a tram whilst bike riding. Her tyres became stuck in tram tracks and she was thrown into the path of a tram, coming in the opposite direction. The tram hit her, pushing her up the tracks, where it her again and dragged her until she came free further up the track.

She was placed in an induced coma, then ICU, then rehab as she faced up to a long journey of physical and mental recovery, one that continues today. She has lost hearing in one ear, suffered significant brain damage,  has permanent aches and pains in her many broken bones, and struggles with severe PTSD.

Lorien almost lost her life when she was hit by a tram when riding her bike down Melbourne's Chapel Street.

It is hard to imagine someone who has experience such incredible pain possibly finding happiness ever again. But for Lorien, that's exactly what happened - although she found out about Post Traumatic Growth well before she arrived there herself.

"I found out about Post Traumatic Growth through a friend who is a psychotherapist," says Lorien.

"I couldn't have felt further from PTG and more consumed with PTSD at that time. Instead of giving me hope, it made me feel even more overwhelmed and more like my accident had ruined my life."

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Lorien says that hearing about PTG made her depressed as she convinced herself  that happiness might never be available to her again.

"Before the accident I had been filled with positivity and happiness. So reading that some people had this wonderful experience after trauma made me feel more broken," she says. "I felt like all my possibilities had been taken from me. It's only been in recent times that I realised I've turned everything around."

The day after Lorien and Terri married in L.A. 

In the last few months, Lorien begun to make some rather epic changes, many without her properly registering their significance. She shaved her head. She sold her house. She begun to let go, and start again. Truth be told, she was finally feeling strong enough to move on, and in doing so, found happiness again.

"I didn't realise I was seeing the 'light at the end of the tunnel' until I was already in the light!" laughs Lorien.

"I don't know what made me realise. I think I got so caught up in trying to fix things that all I could see was what was broken and the more I looked at what I'd lost the more I felt I was drowning and unable to find my way."

The mental shift from 'victim' to 'survivor' came quite suddenly.

"Suddenly, very recently, I realised I was no longer seeing what was broken and I was no longer focused on the tragedy and what had been 'taken from me' but all I could see was the beauty of what I'd been gifted. A strong, loving, and respectful marriage in the wake of the loss of a child. Most marriages don't survive this."

"I have a child who is alive, healthy, and compassionate. A body which, whilst altered and not as strong, still can do most of the things I ask of it, even after taking the full force of a tram on my head. The ability to communicate, and communicate well, even with a brain injury. A roof over my head, food in my belly, the love of great friends and family...and the list goes on and on."

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To speak with Lorien today is to talk to someone that is grounded, wise, and disarmingly kind. She dishes out profoundly helpful advice, and listens with an attentiveness few possess. She is appreciative of everything. Everything. In her words, she has stopped thinking in terms of 'poor me' and has started thinking about how lucky she is, and what she can do for others.

Lorien, Terri, and son Jordan on holidays last year in Denmark.

Of course, Lorien's story is an extreme case.

But for many of you reading this, there will still be trauma in your life that feels equally as life changing.

Losing a family member, breaking up with a partner, or being retrenched from a job that shaped your life can be as terrifying and shocking as anything.

But as psychological studies have shown, it is not the end of the world.

You will be happy again. And not only that, you will be a better version of yourself. You will be broken down into tiny fragments of what you once were, shattered from shock and anger and hurt and pain. But bit by bit, you will be reconstructed as something stronger, with an unshakeable base and a kinder heart for knowing that kind of trauma. You will be better.

Post Traumatic Growth tells us that not only will you be happy once more, you will be stronger, too.
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Maybe you are someone who is supporting someone through a trauma. If you are, you're more than likely losing sleep over how to help the person you love out of their dark hole - and here is your answer. Send them this article. Read it to them. Print it out, and stick it on their wall.

The message 'it gets better' is true, but trite. Scientific proof of it getting better? Well, that's bound to stick.

And if you are supporting someone through a trauma, don't discount your presence in their recovery - notably, lifting them out of Post Traumatic Stress into Post Traumatic Growth.

"To be honest I think the thing that turned me around was getting back on my bike, and doing it with my wife and son beside me," says Lorien.

"Especially considering how scary it must have been for my wife who has a phobia of traffic, and my son who nearly lost his mother due to a cycling accident. It was the realisation that these two people would do anything to help me overcome my fears and grief, that had such a huge impact on me."

For Lorien, none of their kindness went unnoticed.

"It was the little things - the calls of "Are you alright Mum?" from my son, as we are passed by a tram. And the honesty and enormity of the love shown by these two people as they held me, with no shame, as I have broken down, very publicly, on the side of the road, again and again, as my PTSD tried to sink its claws further into me telling me I am unsafe."

"There's not a force on this planet that is stronger than that kind of love."

Post Traumatic Growth. Let's find the silver lining in life's bleakness. Because if you can emerge a stronger, kinder, happier person than you were before? Then maybe that trauma will begin to make sense.

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