A few weeks ago, I underwent surgery for a problem in my ear that I have suffered with for many years. Unlike other interventions I´ve had, this one was completely planned. So, I entered the operating room in my best possible state of health and fully aware that my recovering would only take a couple of weeks. However, nine days after surgery, the complications began; they didn´t endanger my life but there was a risk of losing my hearing completely.
I knew something was wrong because I stopped hearing for long periods and instead, I heard lots of strange sounds. Some sounded like they were form a horror movie, others were reassuring, like the sound of flowing water. When I went to my checkup, the doctor told me very calmly that I would have to have complete bed rest, indefinitely or until the cerebrospinal fluid stopped leaking out of my ear.
Needless to say, I didn’t take this well. I immediately started thinking about all the reason why this was my fault. I began cursing myself in every language for deciding to operate when I could have chosen a semi-happy, but happy life. Then I thought of all the occasions when, perhaps, I did something that I should not have done. Like, walking too fast…or being in very noisy places, like my parent´s kitchen. So, during the first two weeks of “absolute rest”, I plunged into the depths of my bed, feeling miserable and terrified that something as harmless as breathing would affect my recovery.
During this process, there were many people accompanying me in my recovery. Some told me that this way of thinking would not lead me anywhere and that instead, I should be resilient. But what is resilience and how can we achieve it? This concept (brought from the field of physics) refers to an elastic material´s ability to absorb energy and subsequently release it when it returns to its original state. In psychology it has been defined by the American Psychological Association, as the process of positive adaption in adverse contacts where changes, trauma or stress are experienced. It is the ability make an invigorated come back after difficult experiences (bouncing back).
“Things are going to happen to all of us, some bad and some dreadful because that is life. When that happens, we should bounce back but not in a random direction. We should bounce upwards to get ahead and create a different narrative, where we come back, invigorated.”
Taking into an account Gina´s definition we can observe that being resilient is not a divine gift that just a select few own. It’s a process that can be perfected, it is not free from pain, suffering or uncertainty which tend to be present in times of difficulty.
To better understand this concept, it is important to analyze which attitudes we tend to acquire when facing a crisis, those that contribute to our anxiety and worsen the difficulties.
Seeing life in black and white
For those who view their life as a binary code in which things that happen around them are either good or bad, have little room to understand, comprehend and construct a life in which they can feel comfortable connecting with others. In this scenario, if things aren’t perfect, one lives in guilt, punishment and fault.
Comparing oneself to others
Continuously looking at others, what they are, what they own or do in relation to ourselves is a sure ticket to envy and depression because it distracts us from our purpose, and it enhances our fantasy that the grass is always greener on the other side. With the rapid increase of social media, we have seen this phenomenon grow excessively.
Visualizing the worse possible scenario and all things that could go wrong is inevitable for many people. According to positive psychology, when this happens it is important to stop this train of thought and instead, think of all the opportunities that this experience can offer.
On the other hand, The American Psychology Association proposes some ways of practicing resilience.
Social. Having strong relationships with others (family, friends, work colleagues, etc) and getting involved in social and community activities help create a purpose and give our life more meaning.
Plan realistic goals. There is no better way to change behaviors that beginning with small goals where we can commit and celebrate each victory. Slowly we will conquer more and bigger challenges, that will require us to be comprehensive and compassionate with ourselves if we don´t achieve them on our first attempt. This will enable us to continue trying until we achieve what we set for ourselves.
Seek opportunities for self-discover after a crisis. Jahn Maxwell said: “change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” Having the ability to live changes (personal, organizational or social)” and go through them with the joys and sorrows involved, even when faced with failures, is a great opportunity to learn resilience. But you must be willing.
Set a broader context and maintain a long-term perspective while confronting a crisis. For example, instead of focusing on my pain and my fear of losing my hearing I should have concentrated on the benefits of hearing again and for the rest of my life! Maybe, I would have suffered less the first weeks of my recovery.
One month has passed since my surgery. In my first days of partial bed rest I began to think about this situation in a different perspective. I don't know if I'm the perfect example of lacking resilience, or if, like every process, I just went through a stage where things looked less negative, less friendly. People are so complex that it's hard to know if one is a certain way now and forever. Beyond the neurosciences and samples of hundreds of people, the subjective dimension plays an important role in which there are certain situations that we deal better with than others. Certainly, there are days when we are better equipped to face adversity. There are also other days where even the most positive person has difficulty getting out of bed. I know that in this experience of noises and silences, I learned a lot. Maybe I still can't metabolize all the experiences and translate them into bullets of knowledge, but I do know that gratitude and patience have been the important lessons. Because when one alone cannot cope, it is through others that one finds the strength and humor to overcome and succeed.