Friday, 3 March 2017

Resilience – and how we cope

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune, adversity or change; strength of character; the ability to bounce back

Resilience is the ability to cope and rise to the day to day challenges, problems and setbacks that we meet in the course of our lives and come back stronger. It is a challenge, isn’t it? Every day it is a challenge. After trauma of any kind, depression, mental health difficulties, substance abuse, bereavement, divorce, domestic abuse and/or violence and child sexual abuse it can feel impossible to “bounce back” – as the definition above suggests.

How do we come back stronger, where do we find the energy and inclination to “bounce” back and why do some of us have the strength, courage and wherewithal to do this and others do not. It is said that individuals of resilience think and do things differently, e.g. they believe there are only mistakes, have a well-balanced outlook and believe there are also rich interesting and beautiful things to enjoy in life. It's a challenge, isn't it? To constantly find interesting and beautiful things to appreciate on our life's journey can be challenging, but it's the trying every day that is important here. If we can, it's important to endeavour to find something to appreciate in our lives each day, e.g. our children, Spring emerging, friends, peace, contentment.

So how did I “bounce” back after three breakdowns, five major surgeries, a very messy divorce and twenty years of domestic abuse? I haven’t thought about this very much till now but recently I have been interested in what makes a survivor as opposed to a thriver or warrior. I consider myself a survivor and a thriver and on occasion a warrior. I still fall backwards sometimes and I realise now that is ok but generally, I have the resilience to thrive and more often these days I am a warrior. I have really had to delve deep to analyse how I have "bounced" back after each trial, tribulation and breakdown, but I have. 

How did I do this?

Most of the time I am positive; most of the time I have a faith and belief that things will be ok and that I will survive whatever is thrown in my path. Most of the time I trust in the universe and the bigger picture and most of the time I believe there is a lesson to be learnt out of every challenge, hardship and difficulty thrown my way. I believe that out of every challenge there is something positive to take from it and learn in order to move forward. I believe I was put on this earth for a mission and to make a difference; I believe I have a calling to give back and leave an incy wincy legacy (if I can). I believe I owe it to my daughter to role model a strong competent intelligent but compassionate and empathetic woman with strong morals and ethics. And quite naturally I am a positive person (most of the time).

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy in any shape or form, that doesn’t mean I have any superior qualities or that I have a magic solution. There have been dark moments and very dark periods of time. Just like you, I have to work on myself every day and believe me there is still much work to do. I have to learn to trust much more but this is a daily exercise; I have to believe I am worthy and continue to increase my self-respect just to name a few of the areas that need more work. No one is perfect, least of all me, but at challenging times I try to stop and reflect, think and assess; recognise the red flags whenever and wherever I can and ask myself what can I learn from this. And I have learned to appreciate the little things in life, e.g. the birth of spring flowers, birds feeding on my bird feed, purple heather covering the moors, a quiet dinner with those I love.

To assist us in, working towards or achieving resilience, we have to draw on different skills and a variety of sources of help including rational thinking, physical and mental health and relationships around us in order to grow and become resilient. Resilience is not necessarily about overcoming challenges in our lives but more about how we tackle and deal with them as they are thrown at us. We all face challenges every day, big and small, that ask us to call on our reserves of resilience and we work it out without too much thinking but it's the big challenges and trauma that take more resilience, skills and mental health to help us survive, thrive and become those warriors.

There are four basic ingredients to resilience:

·         Awareness – noticing what is going on around us and inside our heads

·         Thinking – being able to interpret events that are going on in a rational way

·         Reaching Out – how we call upon others to help us meet the challenges that we face because resilience is also about knowing when to ask for help

·         Fitness – our mental and physical ability to cope with challenge whilst staying healthy

So on reflection, I now understand that many of my challenges thrown at me over my lifetime have been training and preparation for the next chapter of my life book or journey. On learning my father had young onset Multiple Sclerosis and in turn having a breakdown I learned how to be and work with children and adults with multiple learning difficulties and disabilities. After my spinal fusion, I was lifted quite literally because I learnt I cleared the bar in the high jump at school even though I endured a life-threatening accident, funnily enough, I was ecstatic! After my very messy divorce and domestic abuse, I was able to get up, hold down a job and function because I had my beautiful daughter to take care of and be a good role model too. One thing in the last twenty-eight years that keeps me surviving and thriving is being a good mother; without my daughter, there would be little to get up for each day. I also would not be able to do the difficult work I now do, working with victims, survivors and thrivers of all forms of abuse and exploitation if I had not felt what it is like to be abused. 

There are a variety of things that enable us to “bounce” back at challenging and traumatic times. Remembering that we are all different, our beliefs and thought processes play a huge part in increasing our resilience as do the help, support and positive relationships around us. Surrounding ourselves with positivity and positive people who bring the best out in us, finding our corner of peace and seeing the beauty in what we have got and achieved rather than what we have lost are all important areas of life that help create and grow resilience. But it is not easy and we all have the right to grow and create our resilience at our own pace; it is not an easy task and working on it every day is all we can do. Everyone has much work to do and that is ok. When we experience complex and toxic trauma our brains change and they wire and pattern differently. Toxic stress is when there is prolonged stress in the absence of protective relationships and consequently the brain will shut down to protect us and it. During toxic stress obviously, the brain continues to work but its rate of growth slows right down and the younger the brain (for example childhood) the more damaging the effects of continual and/or perpetual toxic stress. The long-term effects of toxic stress will differ according to the age and stage of development.

It is imperative for everyone to understand and accept that we will all become resilient or more resilient in our own time, space and pace and according to the depth of trauma, abuse, anxiety and exposure to toxic stress. Remember this is your journey, not mine, not anyone else’s. No one should be telling us when to heal or how. No one should be expecting high levels of resilience if we are not ready. We all have to find our own way, and healing can take many forms and many pathways. We will travel hills and dales, negotiate crossroads and T-junctions and navigate oceans and streams finding our own sense of peace, belonging and sanctuary and however long it takes you and whichever road you choose, remember it is your way in your own time and that really is ok.



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