Resilience – Effectively Coping With Adversity
Like most MS patients, I’ve been consumed by a disease that has changed my life. Acceptance of my restrictions, inadequacies and overall physical distress seemed impossible. I tried putting it into perspective but didn’t succeed. Your body fails and you get a formal diagnosis of multiple sclerosis; and you are confounded. And then, when you learn there is no fix you are demoralized.
Hopefully, many of you (like me) are cared for medically by an outstanding neurologist and have gotten the best available medical care. You try to get all the current information being presented from your neurologist, the medical and scientific community; learning more about prevailing medications; using different meds in the hope of retarding relapses or to possibly minimize the effects of some of your symptoms. Your doctor encourages you to go to physical therapy, as it might be helpful. And, you might be introduced to a variety of wellness programs like yoga, aquatics, meditation to perhaps help you adjust or to improve function. There is also a plethora of information about what new research is being conducted; and you go to many lectures by pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession supplying your with additional useful info. But, the bottom line is that your chronic distress; your unremitting issues; your disabilities; are with you every day. They likely include pain, spasticity, impairment to your vision, extreme lassitude, numbness, tingling, loss of bodily function, weird sensations, memory problems, other cognitive changes, and more. And, what happens is, you have to find a way to personally deal with any or all of these symptoms on a daily basis – and that is so hard.
So, when it was established that I definitively had MS, I was, for quite a while – morose. I felt I was drowning; that I was sinking in a quagmire of gloom; unhappy, emotionally depressed, and unable to cope with the physical pain, disability and fatigue. I felt reduced, undermined, and totally disheartened, physically, emotionally and spiritually – as I tried to survive my bodies suffering while accommodating to its limitations.
One day I came across two saved articles; one written by ***Rick Hanson: PhD (Psychologist); and the other by ****Dr. Richard Davidson (Prof. of Psychology & Psychiatry: Univ. Wisc.). Re-reading these articles gave me a push; a push that permitted me to think out of the box. And I was presented with a new awareness and a different approach. With new eyes I read: “You have the ability to develop resilience and you have the ability to get out of your comfort zone”; suggesting there is a certain comfort zone in continually ruminating about the distress caused by chronic illness, or the unpredictability of life’s journey. I was reminded “that even for those without prolonged pain or handicaps, you don’t always finish first. I was also reminded that not every runner in an ordinary race comes in first”. What becomes the important factor is – did you you participate, doing the very best you could. That satisfaction becomes acceptance; and that acceptance becomes part of life, even when difficulties or disappointments arise. Your choice is to cope as well as you can.
Life’s lesson shouts out that you can’t always avoid loss or eliminate pain. Even when it is difficult, it is in your best interest to decide to take action; because taking action helps you to develop the resilience you need. If you manage to do that, you’re ahead of the game. “Resilience will facilitate your ability to cope with adversity and the challenges that present themselves. But, resilience is not a personality trait; it is a way of thinking and behaving that anyone can learn”; and will help you acquire resolution and fortitude. The emotional anxiety that follows stressful events, the negative interactions, or the many distressing experiences life can inflict, accelerates negativity. And in your mind you will replay misfortunes, ruminating about these adversities over and over again. “Clearly resilience is not just about surviving the worst day of your life; resilience is not static. It is about how you handle each day and every day of your life. If you don’t have it, you can indeed develop it. It’s a wonderful upward spiral; because resilience can foster well-being and well-being can foster resilience”. The key to developing resilience comes with learning how to handle adverse and negative experiences.
Get out of my comfort zone! Develop resilience! This now made sense to me. Clearly it was time to tread in new waters; and – it became my intention to move in different directions. You might think – well, that’s easier said than done; but for me it was a beginning; and I started to examine alternative ways to adapt. After a while, I noticed I was becoming undeniably more flexible. With patience and determination I had started thinking ‘out of the box’. And then, though it took time, I became better able to manage and survive all the curve balls life kept throwing at me.
Thinking out of the box resulted in new insights and awareness. New perceptions had pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and to become more resilient; making it easier to adjust my outlook and allowing me to move my mindset from one of negativity to one of positivity. I learned that there are times when you may need to be decisive; there are times you have to take action; there are times when you have to accept; there are times when you have to pause, pace yourself and re-set. More importantly, I started to focus on ‘who I am now’; not yesterday; not tomorrow; but today’. So after many deep breaths, I had made it my intention to move forward. How? …by focusing on what is instead of what is not. In spite of the turmoil caused by my chronic disease, I made it my choice to be the best I can be right now; in the present moment.
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