How do you bounce back from downturns or chaos? Do you bounce back easily? Or do you have difficulty with it? Some minor stresses we can just bounce back from quite well but with chronic illness, we have a lot of stresses, mental, emotional, and physical. Our health ebbs and flows and there are some serious rogue waves in there. Sometimes it is very hard to keep out head out of the water. And major downturns in our health can knock us down hard… and it isn’t so easy to get up again.
Resiliency to me is one of the most fundamental of all skills for those of us with chronic pain and chronic illness. We face a lot of adversity in life. Far more than average. And developing the skills to respond better to these is a skill I know we would all benefit from. Here is a quiz to see how resilient you are currently: The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency (at the bottom, but the article itself is good)
I have in the past had a problem with resiliency. When I got taken off long-term leave a while back I was devastated. I should have fought it. Everyone wanted me to. But instead, I gave up. I was tired. I was broken. I just told myself society doesn’t care about my suffering and apparently it was my role in life to suffer as much as possible, so might as well return to the hell of working. That didn’t work out for me, obviously. But when high stress happens… I fold. I retreat. I isolate. I avoid. And I just can’t handle it. I have known for a long time I needed some Fight in me and not Flight. I knew I had to have a better sense of self so I could defend myself when needed. And I knew I needed resiliency to get through these stressful events and downturns in health.
Now, I am sicker than I ever have been. And I do have some resiliency because I have been working on it. I know I will survive. I know I will persevere no matter what. And I know I will fight for my rights if I must.
Here are some things I have done to build up the resilience I really never had for difficult situations.
Some of these are going to be similar because I have talked about them before. They do more for us than just help with resiliency.
When something happens and we are ill sometimes we can blame ourselves and just feel if we had pushed harder we could have done it. We feel guilty. We feel shame. We feel like a failure. Without the self-compassion, we deserve for the constant struggle we have. Living like this is a battle the average person does not experience. And that means ever accomplishment we have is hard earned and deserves our appreciation. And it also means we have to be compassionate to our struggles. And understand it is difficult. Acknowledge this is something we are having a hard time with.
Our brain is evolutionarily designed to remember negative things because it helps us survive current situations. But these days, it doesn’t work so well, because those negative experiences are not generally life and death. So we have to change our brain to focus on the good things we have, experience, love, are thankful for and are grateful for. To balance this out and give us some perspective.
Feel the emotion
This is very important. Something happens like your insurance company turns you down and you are devastated. A neurologist or specialist says they cannot help you and it makes you feel hopeless. Medical professionals will not listen to you or help you and you feel angry. I want you to feel the emotion, think about the reasons for it, then calm down with some deep breathing exercises and ask yourself what can you do to make forward progress. Feel the emotion, don’t immerse in it. Do not just react, think about how a situation is making you feel. This sort of thing helps us not become entrenched in emotions and not being able to get through the experience we are having effectively.
Utilize deep breathing and relaxation techniques and meditation. When we feel stress from our bodies, our emotions, or mentally it makes us physically respond in certain ways. For me, it is like this anxious feeling in my gut. So I breathe in deeply and out slowly over and over until the sensation goes away. I meditate to ground myself and calm some of the accumulated stress I have been feeling especially about problems I have no control over.
Focus on hope
And this is hard. We can be in situations physically and financially due to an illness that makes hope impossible. And what I mean is think of possibilities instead of, as I do, shutting down. And the more you brainstorm possibilities the more you can see the potential of improving some aspect of your existence. And any progress is good progress. Understand no matter what happens you have learned and know how to persevere through anything. We will get through it. But we have to not fold.
Connect with your support network
Friends loved ones, family, online support buddies. These are all important. Because for resiliency we need to understand sometimes we need the support, the comfort, and someone to bounce ideas off of. It helps with isolation. It can make us feel more positive about the possibilities of our future.
Change is inevitable
My health has tanked recently. And change like this with chronic illness is always possible. And we always have to adjust. And it always affects our lives greatly. But we know we made it through before and that we can. We know life is change. And the winds of change can be against us, but they make be for us again soon. We have to accept change as natural and accept we do not have control over every aspect of our lives.
Focus on the problem
And any plan of action you have. Be it coping with new adversity. To try to resolve a particular problem. Write it out. Slowly conquer that list. Make steps in the direction you want to go, even little steps. I want to adapt to my vertigo. And that meant reducing activity and resting a lot more. Planning what I could do in the day. Using a mobility aid for the first time in my life. And working with doctors for a medication that could help a wee bit. The problem I had was ‘How do I cope with this extremely lower functionality’ and that is how I went about it. And knowing as a result I can deal with this if it does not go away.
Acknowledge your strength
It takes a lot of mental strength to live a life with chronic illness or chronic pain. That is pure fact. But at times when confronted with pain or illness I would say to myself ‘I can’t do this. I can’t survive this.’ But I have, haven’t I? I have a long, long track record of dealing with pain and illness, hard times and better times. We have to acknowledge the strength of the coping strategies we learned.
Take care of ourselves
We know this. We know the value of self-care. But when everything goes wrong we have to destress so we can see the situation for what it is and what moves we can make.
Acknowledge our fears
This is an important one. For me recently my fear is ‘I will be stuck like this forever’ with the vestibular symptoms. But it could be things like losing our house, not being able to afford meds. Acknowledging the fears and core emotions we feel helps us begin to engage in solutions.
Here is an article with more tips: How to Be More Resilient When Things Get Tough
It took me a long time to regain some resiliency as I was lost in my fears, my suffering, my lack of hope, and this desire to just give up. But I feel better about life and its possibilities now. And I know I can get better at this.