Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from adverse situations. It’s been at the top of my mind as I’ve prepared for my resiliency workshops through community education and in planning a session on “Recognize, Celebrate, Grow” for the upcoming Rural Women’s Conference. Since our actions speak louder than words, I’ve been reflecting on my own acts of resilience. I’ve chosen two personal stories when I felt on my knees in deep chaos to demonstrate how strengths and gifts from others helped me rise up and develop resilience.
I raised a child with special needs.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I started dreaming of what the life of my child and my new family would look like. It’s natural. My baby boy was born healthy (nearly 10 lbs. healthy) and we celebrated this new little life. At about 18 months, though, I started to realize something just wasn’t connecting. After a series of tests, we got the results: Asperger’s Syndrome.
To be honest, my first response was one of relief. I had a name for the struggle I was sensing. Then, anxiety kicked in as I had no idea what this meant for us and him. There wasn’t a single place to go for information and resources. I started studying all of the books and online information I could find. I joined the Autism Society of Minnesota and we started with a speech therapist. We worked hard and we had a great team of people to help over the years.
I am proud to say my son is now a thriving, normally adapting, college student. Regardless of his diagnosis, I told him he was capable and eventually he believed it for himself. With a good Individual Education Plan (IEP), great school staff and an urge to “fit in”, he found his unique way to progress through life. He learned his way of resilience.
As it turns out, Asperger’s has been a huge blessing for me. It taught me patience and to have more compassion for struggling parents and all kinds of people. I became much more grateful for the simple things in life. I learned that a more important role as a parent was to help my children develop their own passions and dreams.
Strengths – My love of learning came in handy here as did my ability to strategically think. I want my children to be as independent as possible so I found every resource to guide me through the process. As an explorer, it was easy for me to keep exploring, discovering and testing different approaches to determine what worked best.
Gifts received from others – The Autism Society of Minnesota had a great parent-led program that provided amazing resources. More importantly, I didn’t feel alone in this struggle. My son’s para-professional from kindergarten through 4th grade was a Godsend. She made such a difference in our lives that I invited her to my son’s high school graduation. We shed many tears of joy together as we watched him walk the stage for his diploma and be recognized as one of the top 10 in his class.
We had a health scare.
One of the worst years of my life was a time when my daughter was sick. Once again, I sensed some things weren’t quite right. Then the nurse from school called. She had overheard my daughter talking to two other girls making a pact to stop eating. They say that parents are not at fault for eating disorders but I sure felt like a big-time failure.
We spent about a year traveling to an outpatient facility for treatment. I remember one of the worst days when she absolutely refused to eat. She ran to her room and pounded on the walls so hard all of the lights flickered. Then, she ran outside to the dog kennel and locked herself inside. I had no choice but to take her to the doctor. And I hoped that the threat of an IV would knock her out of it.
I explained to the doctor what was happening and he did a quick examination. Then he pulled her Dad and me out of the room and told us about his own daughter whom he lost to an eating disorder. He said he wasn’t strong enough to save her and we needed to be fierce for our own daughter. He went back and threatened an IV. It worked.
As her body got closer to her goal weight, her brain started to recover as well. I still sensed the counselors at the clinic were not getting to the underlying problem; what she was saying about herself. I pulled her out of the clinic and took her to a group of Adlerian therapists who helped her discover a couple of mistaken beliefs. Once these beliefs were modified, she worked to uncover her true self and then set some goals to become who she wanted to be. Ten years later, she went to her state speech tournament with the topic and is now also a thriving college student. Allowing yourself to be who you are is a big step in resilience.
Being a Mom is the hardest, yet most rewarding, job. I learned that parenting is a constant series of experiments. What works for one child might not work another. There isn’t always fairness and equality but there is always encouragement and love. Watching my kids discover their own resiliency is one of my greatest rewards. Our survival through this struggle and our conversations since then have only strengthened our bond.
Strengths – My parental intuition is spot on. When I sense something is wrong, it means there is. I found some ability to read my daughter’s eyes as a way to her soul. On the worst day, I saw my baby temporarily disappear and I used my strong will to work to get her back.
Gifts received from others – The help we received from various physical and mental health professionals was incredible. The doctor who changed the game was no coincidence. I learned much about what good and bad therapy looks like. After struggling with talk therapists, we found two wonderful Adlerian therapists who guided her to major recovery. I’ve since gone on to study this form of psychology myself and now incorporate these principles into my work.
Ways to develop resiliency
A favorite article to describe the elements of resilience is by Thrive Global on the 3 C’s of resilience. The C’s include challenge, commitment, and personal control. Resilience requires seeing struggle as a challenge and an opportunity for growth rather than a life-ending event. Resilient people commit to goals and relationships that are most important to them, including themselves. Time and energy for resiliency are focused on areas of influence and control rather than on events that are uncontrollable.
Besides the 3 C’s, my own personal resilience is improved by:
Courage – We are all capable of working through struggles. How we do so depends on how we use our innate courage and will to survive. My courage didn’t always show up when I needed it (which is when others stepped in) but the more I’ve struggled the easier it’s become to boost my own courage. Celebrating our overcoming is celebrating courage.
GEMO – Good Enough, Move On is phrase everyone should have handy (thanks to John Reardon for that one). There is no such thing as perfection, only moments of perfection and unity. The older I get, the easier it is to tell myself that I’ve done the best I could with what I have and who I am. I encourage you to do the same.
Support – As much as our society tells us asking for help is a weakness, having others support you in this journey is required for a full life. My family, pastors, teachers, friends, and many professionals helped me through the worst times in my life. Some have been there to celebrate the best. When we share our gifts of each other, life is better. I am me because of them.
Spirituality – Having the sense for something bigger than me has given me the energy to keep going. For me, my spirituality means my Christian faith. I prayed a lot during these times and talked to pastors and other spiritual guides in my life. I accept that my struggles are a part of a bigger system to make the world a better place; to spread the love and grace I’ve been given.
Want to hear more about developing resiliency? I am a personal growth coach and wellbeing instructor. I have certificates in Coaching and Advanced Adlerian Psychology and am a member of the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I do not claim to be a therapist. To find an Adlerian counselor, go to https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/adlerian.
I also recommend the book Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – https://optionb.org/book
“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.”
― Catherine DeVrye, The Gift of Nature