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  • Writer's pictureFiona Grignard

How I nearly died 2 years ago & how NOT to transform normal hardship into trauma

In November 2022, I was in snowy Switzerland with my partner and 3 of his friends.

We were heading to a cabin to spend the night and eat some well-deserve cheese fondue. 🫕


We had already hiked 4 long and hard hours through the forest and in the mountain, with our snow shoes. To be quite frank, ma physical condition wasn't bad at all, but I was having a hard time. It was tough. So much so that I had been pep-talking myself for a good hour, like you would to a child who's struggling to finish a walk in the park. "That's great, I'm so proud of you, keep going, we're almost there..."

At some point, we stopped for a second to gather the group. Once we were all together, almost ready to go again, one of the guys suddenly shouted something.

We all looked up and saw snow falling down towards us from the top of the mountain.

Without a second to think, we felt the ground give way under our feet.


There was nothing to do.

We were caught in the middle of an avalanche.


For about maybe 20 seconds that felt like an eternity, I tumbled down.

During that moment, I remember thinking 2 very distinct things.

  1. Is that "it"? The end of life?

  2. Please let me keep my face at the surface.

No movie of my life passing in front of my eyes. No fear either.

But a strange sensation that it would be so random to end that way.


In our misfortune, we ended up being pretty lucky.

Apparently the avalanche was rather small (small, my a**! If that was small I don't wanna know what a big one feels like!)

But mainly, we all got out of it.



And obviously pretty shaken.


The only loss we suffered: 2 hiking poles stuck somewhere under the snow.

A miracle.

So many things could have gone differently, making this story a tragedy instead of a massive gratitude and teachable moment. 💫


I'll spare you all the details of how we decided to turn back around to avoid a riskier area and headed home for an interminable hike back (remember how we had already hiked 4h to get up there? Yup. 🥵).

We were fueled with nothing but adrenaline to bring us back to safety.

To be honest, I think our legs were carrying us on auto-pilot, totally oblivious to time and pain.


That night, at home, was quiet, as we silently and tiredly ate our cheese fondue. (Yes, we still decided to make it. To celebrate life!) in a weird atmosphere.

We were slowly realising what had just happened, sending "I love you so much" messages to our families and friends. 🥺


But the next day, as I was talking about the risk of transforming the experience into a trauma, my partner came to me and said something along the lines of :

"you're a psychologist, and the only one of us who has any clue how to deal with such a challenge from an emotional perspective. Is there anything you can do to help us go through it now that we're safe?"


Fortunately, I had already gone the year before through a hyper-focused phase of learning about trauma and I had a general idea.


So for the next couple of days, in between a climbing session and a spa day, I talked a lot about the event and encouraged everyone to do the same.

Multiple times.

I made sure all of them, even the quiet, tough, rational engineer, shared how they felt and that they felt safe enough to be vulnerable if they wanted to.

( Note : I made everyone talk, separately and together, even when their reserve made me wonder if they wanted to. I barely knew some of these guys, and I didn't want to intrude, that would have been way counterproductive!

But I explained to them why I was doing that. I explained some of the theory of trauma and the 2 main ways to avoid turning normal hardship into trauma, as you'll see below. I told them that of course, they didn't have to talk if they didn't want to.

Somehow, I felt that their discomfort was coming from a place of prudishness and inexperience in sharing their emotions, rather than a place of real resistance.

I also encouraged them to talk to people that they really trusted once they would go back home. )


The truth is, in that moment, I had no idea whether that would really work, nor whether what I was doing was the most appropriate. But that's all I had.

And when we all left to go back to our respective homes, I was worried it wouldn't be enough.

But that wasn't in my hands anymore.


Life went on without much contacts with those friends.

And about 1 year later, I met a friend of that same tough rational engineer that I hadn't seen since the incident.

We spent a fun evening just living life, and I don't know how, we ended up talking about the avalanche. At some point, the guy looked at me and said :


"Wait! I've heard about you! You're the psychologist who forced them to talk about their emotions afterwards!
He told me how useful that had been for him. That he felt it really helped him process the whole thing."


These few words went straight to my heart.

Knowing that I helped of course. But especially knowing that through all of that talking, he was doing ok.

I'm still emotional writing about it 🥹

2,5 years later, this moment seems like it happened forever ago.

In some way, I'm still in disbelief.

When I take time to think about it, I'm engulfed with gratitude and a peculiar sensation that life is so precious.

I'm sure we all learnt something a lot from that incident.

From a technical / decision-making / leadership perspective, to avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation in the future, of course. And from a human perspective too.

Here's what I'm taking away from this crazy life experience.

  • Don't let your friends go through hardships alone. Show them that your friendship is a safe space to be vulnerable. Show the example by being vulnerable first.


  • You rarely know the impact you have on others. That's life. Focus on doing the best you can.

  • If you're unsure of your (physical) ability to do something, speak up. But for real though. Don't just mumble something in your beard and get frustrated that people don't hear you. You are entitled to your opinion and emotions, but it's your responsibility to vocalise them. No one should guess what you're thinking.

  • Even though everyone should have the assertiveness to speak up if they feel a need to, there is always someone who will not dare for whatever reason. contradicting the leader or the group's opinion or decision is hard. It's the role of the leader to ensure everyone knows they have the right to speak up. Don't just think they know and will. Express it clearly and give the appropriate time and space to do so.

  • Next time I'm a group leader in difficult situation that's potentially life-threatening (ok, that's unlikely to happen! let's say I'm an advisor to that group leader. That's more probable), I'll make sure that everyone feels comfortable enough with the decision before going forward. If it's a sales strategy, it's maybe not that important (or possible). But when life is at stake, it doesn't matter if we need a little longer to take a decision.

  • The mountain always wins. Remember that when you evaluate the risks you're taking. It's always ok to go back if we feel something is off, even if we're so close to the finish line.

And finally, my psychologist's take on how to avoid turning normal hardship into trauma.


First, let me just remind you something : we all go through hard stuff.

Ok, hopefully not an avalanche. But it's the nature of life to face adversity. Hardship is not only natural, it's necessary. And humans are incredibly resilient.

Nonetheless, going through similar events, some people get back up stronger while others will be left deeply scarred and won't seem to be able to get back up fully.

So what's the difference?

I'm not going to give you a whole course on trauma, that's certainly not the place. And obviously, there are many nuances to all of this that can't be captured in a few paragraphs.

But here's an interesting perspective I summarised from Dr. Gabor Maté on how to avoid turning normal hardship into trauma :


  1. If you're going through something hard, don't pretend that you're not feeling anything. Don't play the strong one. Don't act as if you're fine. Don't dismiss the emotions. Don't put a lid on them.

  2. Don't stay alone in the mud. Share what you're going through to people who will be able to hold space, listen without judgment and support you.

In some cases, friends are enough. In other cases, you'll want to have the help of a professional. Just don't keep it to yourself.


And finally, I'd also add this :

The next day, we went to the spa and then climbing.

I had zero desire to go to the climbing gym to be honest, but everyone wanted to go so I just went along.

Knowing what I now know about traumas, I am convinced that movement also played a role in processing our emotions. Don't let them sit in your body.


Resources if you're interested to learn more

If you want more info on trauma, here are a few resources I've found very useful :

  • All the work of Dr. Gabor Maté.

I discovered him through a documentary called "The Wisdom of Trauma" that you can watch here

  • "The Body keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk. A reference in the matter.

  • "How to do the Work" by Nicole LePera

and her excellent Instagram Account @The.Holistic.Psychologist

  • "Call of the Wild" by Kimberley Ann Johnson

And here's a photo of my clueless, happy face just a couple of hours before the whole thing happened.




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