If you search “resilience” on Google, these are some of the things you’ll find:
- A dictionary definition of the word, stating that resilience is ” the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness,” or ” the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.”
- A Psychology Today resource that links to various articles and blog posts about resilience, starting with the following blurb: ” Adversity is a fact of life. Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back at least as strong as before. “
- A Resilience Guide from the American Psychological Association that explains what resilience is and how to cultivate it.
There were many answers to the question, “What is resilience?” But there weren’t many articles about what it feels like to be resilient from a personal perspective. Perhaps it’s because that sort of perspective is filed away under other names – courage, bravery, fear, hardship, success stories.
But I wanted to write a little something about what it’s meant to me personally to be resilient. I think sometimes people see that word and think of Wonder Woman, or maybe Rosa Parks or other people who have undergone hardship and come out the other side shining and proud, hands on their hips in triumph. Except this is not always (or even usually) the face of resilience.
In fact, Rosa Parks did emerge from her arrest and the subsequent the bus boycotts, but she still endured years of harassment and threats for it, lost her job, and had to start anew in a completely different city. Didn’t that wear her down? Wasn’t she ever just tired, ready to quit? Or did she always walk proudly around town with the knowledge that she was resilient, damnit, and nobody could bring her down? Did she just bounce back right back to person she had always been?
If I could give the word “resilient” my own definition, it would be something like the following:
“Resilience is the ability to keep trudging forward, doing what your soul tells you you need or want to do, despite every physical and mental nerve inside of you screaming that you want to stop.”
There can be both physical and emotional resilience. For me, resilience looks like a little girl, 11 years old and bound to a hospital bed, wanting with all her heart to give up but knowing deep inside she can’t. It looks like that same girl at 19, now a woman, in a similar hospital bed just dying to throw in the towel after months of fighting cancer. She doesn’t know why she keeps moving forward because it’s just so goddamn painful. But she does anyway. No matter how slow or agonizingly she does it, she gets up day after day knowing that this too shall pass. It is also current me, working 60 hours a week, completely burnt out and exhausted, thinking every day how much I want to quit and just rest. But somehow each morning I find the strength to get up and do it again.
I took a class in resilience over the summer as part of my Master’s program. One thing that was really meaningful to me is that in terms of trauma and the psychological impact it has, resilience does not have to mean you spring right back into shape. Indeed, my professor stressed that many people who undergo hardship or extreme experiences never ARE the same. But what resilience is is the ability to find a healthy new way of being that fits with your new life, your new reality. It’s a way of moving forward with the cards you’ve been dealt, rather than allowing your experiences to render you permanently stuck, paralyzed in your own pain or fear.
These days I have to remind myself how resilient I’ve been in the past. I need that reminder to help me get through the last stretch of graduate school, because dear god, it’s been extremely challenging. And I’ll give you a tip that’s been helping me – it’s mostly in your mind. If you can convince yourself that it will get better, the chances are much greater that they will. If you can convince yourself that you’re gonna make it if you take just one more fucking step, then maybe you actually will make it.
Resilience for me was never glamorous. It wasn’t the “bouncing back” people think of. Everything I’ve been through has changed me and it hasn’t always been for the best.
There are times when I do get stuck in my pain and my fear.
I am resilient, but I am not untouchable.
Especially during and after my cancer, or my second heart transplant, there were days when all I can do is lie in bed and cry. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep because it was just all too much to process. It’s happened over less traumatic but still extremely stressful events as well, including school. And you know what? I think it’s all part of the process of resilience for some people. I experience these overwhelming events, I cry and scream and lie in bed silent; and then, somehow, despite myself, I am always eventually able to get back up and have another go at life. Even if that means I have to cry while I’m doing it.
What I think it ultimately comes down to is hope. Damn it all, I have hope. I don’t want it, but I have it. I have hope that everything will work out at least a little ok in the end. I guess until I lose that, I’ll just keep trudging along, being resilient despite my own grumpy nature.