Resilience is defined by psychologists as the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It is not the absence of hardship or challenge and should not be confused with toxic positivity. It is not the absence of feeling weak, feeling hopeless or struggling. It is simply feeling those things, letting them go and then looking forward. It is something we have all harnessed before, even though we often forget we have. Now is the perfect time to dig up that evidence and rediscover resilience.
We are living in times of uncertainty and ultimately feeling threat to our survival both physically and financially due to covid-19 and the conditions of the pandemic. While this is a global and communal experience, it is important to acknowledge that we are individuals coming from different experiences of trauma, conditioning and varying circumstances that affect our nervous system’s reaction to perceived threat. It is of utmost importance to keep this in mind if you find yourself in a comparison trap. Now is the most important time to be practicing self compassion and kindness toward yourself, and then spreading that outward as well. There are no right or wrong ways of being right now, so let us take some of that stress away. Let us talk a little bit about how people are reacting, maybe you will be able to relate.
Some people may look like they are reacting well, and even thriving but that doesn’t mean that on some level they aren’t processing the stress and dissociating meaning checking out of the reality of the situation to keep themselves feeling safe. This is something they have learnt early on in life, that has served them in past. Or they may simply be processing in a healthy matter, have more stable circumstances and are able to cope a little easier than others. They may just be feeling more fatigue at the end of the day from processing the ever-changing environment, trying to remain socially distant in public or keeping up with the news. And that is ok.
Some people may be experiencing a state of hypervigilance- meaning they are in constant surveillance of threats to their safety. They may be the ones who ask you to step back from them in the grocery store or yell out that people are walking too close. They may have a chronic illness that constantly puts stress on their body, or they might just want to feel as safe as possible. And that is ok.
Some people may be exhausted, wanting to lay on their floor or stare at the TV or wall. They may feel frozen, overwhelmed and questioning whether they are depressed or sick. But chances are this is just their bodies way of conserving energy and wanting to feel safe or life sustaining. They have a small window of tolerance for stimulus right now and that is ok.
Some people are feeling free. They might have hated going to work, they may have needed this break. They may be finishing projects they always wanted to and feel joy in doing so. Some people are feeling the need to be productive; they may have some self worth tied to certain roles or productivity levels and that is ok.
Some may be experiencing all these states within an hour, a day, a week or a month. And that is ok. Some people may be angry or fearful that they still must go to work or work from home. Some people may feel at risk and unsafe at their jobs or at their homes. Some people may be finding it hard to balance themselves and their families with so much time at home. Some may be reconnecting with themselves or the people they live with. Some may be losing their savings, their business, their livelihood, their loved ones. There are people tired, stressed, devastated, numb and in grief. I guess what I am saying is there are so many ways to be right now and each way of being has its own way of being valid, and I hope it is met with compassion and kindness.
So, what about resilience? How can we foster resilience right now? I believe that personal narrative is a great way of connecting and teaching. I am going to share some examples of resilience I have seen or experienced in my lifetime as a person who has lived through severe stages of Crohn’s disease, a Rehabilitation Assistant who has watched people relearn how to walk, an Acupuncturist who has watched people let go of their pain and simply just a human living in this insane world with loss, hurt and grief.
Over the past 11 years of working as Rehabilitation Assistant in hospitals I have seen so many people come out of the ICU unable to speak, unable to sit up by themselves, unable to walk, unable to dress themselves. These people were recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, heart attacks, traumatic accidents, gun shots, burns, cancer, alcoholism, overdose, suicide attempts and various other diseases. I have seen their pain, their loss of occupation and independence, of “normal” life. It is heartbreaking to watch how much adversity some people get dealt. But I have seen many of them push through 10/10 pain, depression, systemic barriers, and turn it all around. Sometimes it took days, months or years but they did it, some got knocked down time and time again, but they would somehow find a way to keep trying. They start talking, walking and dressing themselves eventually. It may have looked or sounded completely different than before, but they did it. I have seen some people walk out of the hospital who were told they were never to walk again. I also saw some give up, some let the adversity become so overwhelming it broke their spirits and it was their right and choice to do so.
6 years ago, I learnt that I was not making it all up in my head -the pain, the feeling like something was wrong. I was living across the world, broken hearted after a breakup, trying to keep my head up and keep travelling as I had quit my job and gave up my place in Canada. But I had dropped weight and the pain in my abdomen was becoming so intense I could not tolerate lying on the beach anymore. I flew home, went to the hospital and was finally was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease. I was hospitalized for a month, fitted for an ostomy bag and then had life saving surgery that removed almost a meter of my small intestine and a few other rotten bits inside of me. I cried a lot, part of me saw the value in dying and letting the disease win. I had no job to return to, I had no place of my own, I had no where I felt like I belonged anymore. But when I woke up from surgery and took that first gasp of air it was like a new life was given to me and I didn’t want to waste it. I started over, it took me a month before I was strong enough to walk a whole block without wanting to pass out or having to turn around for the bathroom. Oh, and pooping out of newly sewn bowels was one of the scariest and weirdest moments of my life. I started thinking differently and caring more about what life looked like and meant to me. And here I am now with a whole different life.
In my current, or well paused role as an Acupuncturist I have watched clients improve their own quality of life and let go of emotional, mental and physical pain. I have seen people relax and invite joy, love and movement back into their life. I have seen clients choose their wellbeing, and advocate for their needs better. I have watched people move their frozen shoulders, bend down more freely, breathe better, become more rested and beat their infertility struggles.
Throughout my life, I have said “goodbye” at many funerals of classmates, friends and family members. The process of grief has in some way always been present in my story or of those close to me. Through out these devasting losses I have seen people pull themselves together and move forward without their lifelong partners, kids, friends or parents. I have seen people honor those who have left with being more present in life. It’s been a tough, tiring and beautiful lesson of life and death.
For you to take away with you:
Life is everything. It is both/and. What I mean by that is that it is excruciatingly painful, challenging and liberating at the same time. When we feel like it is over, maybe it is but perhaps we can begin again. All our experiences can be challenged to be perceived in opposing ways. Things are not always black and white, but perhaps grey or black with some white in it. Or white with some black in it. Or every color at once. You are more able than you know. You are stronger than you think. Asking for help does not make you weak, it instead makes you stronger. I hope this brings a new perspective on challenges you are experiencing right now or have in the past. I hope this brings a sense of curiosity and wonder. May you find the evidence of resilience that has be stored deep in your bones and your tissues like memories from your past. May that evidence let you rest easy so you can keep pushing forward. I am so happy you are here pushing forward with me.
I wish you the best,
Lacy Brandt – Registered Acupuncturist, Rehab Assistant and humbled human being.