Toughing It Out: Practicing Resilience

Have you ever seen someone suffering and asked yourself how they are still finding reasons to smile? At some point in our lives, all of us have or will be affected by the death of a loved one, loss of a job, diagnosis of a serious illness, or other traumatic event.

Initially, most people react to adversity with a flood of strong emotions: fear, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, or uncertainty. Yet, people generally adapt well to these life-changing circumstance and, ultimately, learn from their experience. The most important predictor of someone recovering and then thriving post-trauma is resilience.

Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship in an intentional way in order to better themselves. No one can escape pain, fear, and suffering. However, pain can be a catalyst for wisdom, fear can spur courage, and suffering can lead to strength. We must simply make the choice to practice resilience.

This has been an incredibly rough year for me. My dog died unexpectedly at four-years-old, I was diagnosed with a rare and potentially life-threatening disease, my high-dose medications are making me extremely sick without actually clearing the infection, and I’ve been too ill to go out and enjoy life. Yet, resilience would have me shift my perspective.

Resilience is different from mere survival, and more than just endurance. Resilience involves finding healthy ways to integrate hard experiences into their lives in a meaningful way. It’s easy to think that resilient people are the same before and after hardship, but if we limit our understanding to this idea of simply bouncing back, we miss much of what pain and suffering offer us.

We are all endowed with the basic human capacity to change and improve. We can never go back to the person we were before a particular hardship. There is no bouncing back, but rather moving through. The challenges shape and form us. Over the course of time, people find that meeting challenges with spirit can foster great strength.

Though I miss Misha, I’ve been reminiscing about the lessons my sweet puppy taught me: smile at everyone you meet, always make time to play, love unconditionally, and exercise daily. In the face of death, resilience presents itself as an deep appreciation for the life lived as well as an inspiration on how one might live their own life more fully.

As I’ve sought resources to learn about disseminated coccidioidomycosis, I’ve realized how sparse the literature is. Though less than 2,000 others share my diagnoses, it’s my hope to spread the word about valley fever and become an advocate for its proper diagnosis, treatment, and vaccine development once I’ve recovered. My illness has offered a unique perspective and an opportunity to help others who are trying to navigate their diagnosis and recovery.

“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. … The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. … Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one. ” ― Goldie Hawn

Everything is relative. The challenges we are faced with in our lives vary drastically from person to person, but each of is presented with opportunities to overcome and persevere. Some are faced with overwhelming obstacles that threaten their very lives, whereas other must find the courage to face changes to their current circumstances. All challenges feel daunting because they threaten to disrupt our comfort zone and force us to face new obstacles.

We can’t change the fact that stressful events will occur, but we can change how we interpret respond to these events. Or, as my slightly cognitively-impaired and drugged up brain keeps reminding me, “Stop making mountings out of mole holes.” Ha! Try looking beyond the present moment and consider how your future circumstances may be a little better.

Change is a part of life, and it’s important that we realize and accept that adverse situations may render some goals unattainable. When we accept the new circumstance, we can focus on the factors within our control and begin to set new goals that align with our future possibilities.

There is always the possibility to overcome, persevere, and thrive in the face of adversity. However, we must make the intentional decision and then take action to move through obstacles in order to evolve into the better and wiser version of ourselves.

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