When Adam first died, I would get quite upset when people told me I was so strong. I wasn’t sure I liked that word. What did that mean? That I wasn’t grieving properly? Maybe that I didn’t love my son as much as the people who had a breakdown? I just know it sat uncomfortably with me.
You see, when bad things happened to me, I often felt like one of those clowns we played with as a kid. The blow up kind that stood about 3-4 feet tall, and had a weight on the bottom. As kids we would punch the clown in the nose and he would go all the way back but the weight at the bottom would cause him to pop right back up. That is how I have often felt in life.
I have been a single teenaged mother on welfare, the mother of a child with special needs, a divorced single Mom, the Mom of a child with mental health and addictions and finally as a mother whose child took his life. In spite of this - or because of it? - I have also been an entrepreneur, a director of communications, an editor, an author and an elected official.
It has taken me a while to understand what people mean when they tell me I am strong, but I think I have figured it out. You, see, I have finally put a name to what I have always known about myself. I am resilient.
Resilient is different than strong. I can be strong when something happens; I can hold it together and get through whatever is going on. But to be resilient means that after the event, I am able to “bounce back” like that childhood clown.
Once I realized I was resilient, I decided to do some reading about it and try to discover if it is possible to learn resiliency or is it something you are either born with or not. What I discovered was encouraging.
The most helpful information I discovered while researching was that resilience is a mind-set and a way of thinking about yourself and your role in life. You must practice viewing yourself as in control of your life and not taking on the role of the victim. The situation is what it is and you can’t change that, but how you view yourself makes all the difference.
Learn how to create an outlook on life that is both positive but realistic. That means being hopeful about the future but also realistic; dream but dream in a way that is attainable. You may never single handedly irradiate suicide from this world, but maybe you can establish a non-profit that raises funds for youth to obtain counselling?
Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people who have shown resiliency in their lives and are willing to speak into yours. Create a network of caring people who brainstorm, offer support and even a swift kick in the butt if needed. This network should work both ways, with you reciprocating this support. You see, resilient people are not afraid to ask for help, either directly from another person or more indirectly by participating in support groups, both online and off.
Find something to focus on in your life. We all need to feel a sense of purpose and it can be something different for each of us. For some it may be grandchildren, or a charity, for others it may be creating a new non-profit or creating awareness around mental health.
Take care of yourself. You can’t bounce back if you have nothing left in you. When you are in the midst of tragedy, this may very well be the last thing on your mind but it is important. Take walks, sleep as best you can; or at least lay down and try to rest. Schedule in a massage if you can afford it, go to the movies with a friend if you can’t. Look up some encouraging and uplifting podcasts or programs online, they are often available for free or a nominal amount. Let yourself cry, rant, rage and get everything out. Part of taking care of yourself is accepting where you are right this moment.
Set goals for yourself. It is easy to be overwhelmed, but if you can look into the distance to see where you want to go, it is easier to break that journey down into smaller, more achievable pieces.
Practice problem-solving in your day to day life, don’t just wait for a crisis. Look at every day problems and think through solutions and strategies to handle them more appropriately. Think of problem-solving as a muscle you need to keep using to keep it strong.
While I don’t think I have this resiliency thing down pat, and some days I still feel like that goofy clown bobbing up and down, it is encouraging to know that there are ways of looking at things that can help me deal with some of the crap that comes our way in life.