Donna Strickland Blog

May is Mental Health Month: Why Resiliency Matters

Why Resiliency Matters:  Getting through the long dark nights of the soul.

Mental health is a key component to a person’s overall health.  Mental Health is Health.  They can’t be separated out from one another.   Although we have spent a great deal of time and energy in this country trying to split ourselves into “parts and pieces”, overall health absolutely includes one’s mental health, and one’s relationship to alcohol and/or drugs.  May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.  It’s a time when we reflect on just how much our mental health matters, and what we are doing that actually works to help people stay mentally healthy.

One thing you can do is strengthen your resiliency.  It emerges as one of the key factors that strengthens our mental health.  It’s like strengthening a muscle.  It takes time, dedication, and focus.

Hands & History of Resilience, One Generation to Another

I know this, because I learned a few years ago, that my resiliency was in fact much lower than I ever could have imagined  (I know why now, but that’s another blog) Both of my parents died within 3 years of each other, my 52 yo brother-in-law died, and a divorce after 20 years of marriage, and 2 young children, sent me spinning.   Scared.  Lost in the deep dark wood with no map. Nothing in my life was recognizable.  Everything I knew to be true was no longer true.  I could not find my way.  I’ll spare you the gory details.

It is possible to survive these things, and even end up on the other side stronger than before.  It is possible to find a new self, a wiser, and better self.   It took me a number of years before I found my new self.  I suffered, really suffered, through some difficult times, and I wasn’t always sure I would make it.  I was surprised at my lack of resiliency and was ashamed about it, which kept me down that much longer.  I felt like a big fat failure and loser.

Seems like there are three categories we fall into after experiencing a trauma or deep loss of some kind.  Some people are able to find their way back to stable ground within a few months following their trauma, some people become very depressed and suicidal, or in fact, suicide.  Some come out stronger than they were before this trauma began.  Dr. Martin Seligman refers to this as “post-traumatic growth”.  Glad to know there’s a name for it.  If you fall into this category, you won’t find yourself feeling better in a month, more like a year (& in my case, though I don’t portend to fit the bell curve, it took me several years).  Turns out, how people respond to extreme adversity is normally distributed.  Seligman writes that thirty years of research suggests that resiliency can be measured and taught.  In other words, success from failure is a real possibility.

I learned a few things that might be of help to you:

It helps greatly if you can do the “8-8-8” approach.  Walk 8 miles/week, drink 8 glasses of water/day, and get 8 hours of sleep a night.  This alone can change everything.

You need someone to hold the Hope  Remind you of Hope.

It helps to know that how bad you feel about yourself may be out of proportion to the event, that there are ways to work with your mind so that you don’t spiral down with negative thoughts and emotions.

Your self-talk matters.  Some part of your brain is listening to your self-talk and can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s perceived.  My personal belief is that the Universe is a harmonious place-space and that it resonates with whatever frequency you are coming from and will meet you with the same energy you send out.  It resonates with you such that you are mirrored, therefore creating resonance with your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.  The Universe doesn’t judge whatever you are thinking or feeing, it doesn’t think you are right or wrong, it just “meets you” where you are,  That’s what I’ve come up with after going through my “dark night of the soul”.  I’ve come up with several new beliefs as a result of my crisis.  This is only one of them.  They bring me comfort and help me organize internally that which I couldn’t otherwise have made sense of.

It’s important to know that adversity can be a catalyst for pulling your life together in a whole new way.  In The Faithful Gardener by Clarissa Pinkola Estes,(1995) writes a story about her uncle who has experienced many grievous losses.  She quotes the uncle as saying:

‘ I am certain that in every fallow place a new life is waiting         to be born anew. And more astonishing yet, that new life will come whether one wills it or not. ….New seed will fly in on the wind and it will keep arriving, giving many chances for change of heart, return of heart, mending of heart and for choosing life again at long last….’

It helps to have at least one friend you can turn to that you trust, and get a reality check. It helps a lot if this person loves you or respects you, personally or professionally, and is nonjudgmental.

It helps if you can reach out to that person.  Your life may depend on it.  I realize that may sound absolutely ridiculous to some of you…”What?  You couldn’t connect with anyone?  Really?  Don’t you have lots of friends?”  Well, sure.  But when you are in a “state”, you don’t remember that you have friends, or that there’s anybody who gives a rats behind about you.  You have forgotten….because you feel so damned bad about yourself.  You’ve failed.

So, you will have to talk to yourself in a big way in order to reach out.

You will have to do what I call “contrary action”…behave in a way that acts against every cell in your body that is wanting you to withdraw and give up and die–and call that one trusted soul.  Reminds me of a Dr. Seuss quote “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”.

Fortunately, major losses and failures rarely come along in life or all at once,  But sometimes they do.  And when they do…. (I feel a Dr. Seuss–like quote coming on…)

Well!  You’ll Know a Few Things To Do!

What do you think? Do you think resiliency can be learned and/or strengthened? How did you get through your “dark night of the soul”?   I welcome your comments and ideas.

This entry was posted by Donna Strickland in Behavioral Health, Free Resources, Resiliency. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *