Like most things, resilience isn’t something you’re born with, but it’s something you can develop. Continue reading
When I was suffering in the darkest days of my depression, I was utterly hopeless. Despondent and helpless, I honestly felt that I was powerless to manifest any meaningful change in my life.
Hopelessness was my filter, the lens through which I interpreted everything that happened to me and about me. Life sucked. I sucked. And nothing was ever going to get better.
But as I move out of this darkness, I’m learning hope; it’s my new filter, the lens that is helping me become and see myself as emotionally competent.
Learning hope does not mean having blind optimism. I am not 100% confident that everything will work out the way I want. Nor do I think that I’m immune from sadness, heartache, or loss. Those emotions and experiences are simply part of living. They don’t just happen to me. They happen to everyone.
Learning hope means developing emotional flexibility, being able to bounce back from difficulty rather than allowing it to overwhelm me. It means knowing that although I’ll experience tough times, I won’t generalize about them. I won’t say things like, “This [shit] always happens to me,” when something goes awry.
Learning hope means embodying the adage that, ‘This too shall pass.’ I have to remember that the journey of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Circumstances change. Emotions change. People change. I have to be able to adjust my outlook and behavior. I have to course correct to make the long haul.
This is the essence of learning hope. It’s not an attitude. It’s a practice and a life skill.
Image courtesy of flickr user pol sifter
I published my first blog post in January 2015 and shared my blog with some 50 close friends and family members. Then, last September, I announced on Facebook (sharing with my 470 something friends there) that I had a blog. Then, last month, I added the blog to my LinkedIn profile, alerting my professional contacts that I write this stuff.
Whether sharing my personal history and my musings on life is wise or something that everyone (family, friends, work colleagues, and strangers) should be able to access has been a topic of discussion at my house. Of course there could be repercussions. But, there is one big reason why I share my story. I share, because I am living from my scars.
Living from my scars means that my life has been shaped by the choices I’ve made. Even the wrong ones, especially the wrong ones. And while those past mistakes don’t define me, they do inform how I live my life now. They are lessons for course-correcting.
Living from my scars forces me to be self-compassionate. The scars remind me that I am human and imperfect, that I have fallen down many times. I remember this not to beat up myself but to love myself more, warts and all, and to continue getting up when I fall.
Living from my scars means that I practice self-acceptance. Every time I shine a spotlight on my depression I feel like I’m taking away some of the stigma associated with mental illness. Who does it benefit if I keep this struggle to myself? I mean, seriously, that’s how I got some of these scars.
For me, sharing the troubles and the triumphs is living from my scars.
And I am living (joyfully and gratefully) with and from those scars.
Weekly Musings is my summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens. There’s always some of each.
Spring Break 2016
I went on vacation for 2 weeks, and it was fabulous.
After a week in Colorado, where I traveled for work and ended up getting sick with allergies (or a cold or the flu, or I don’t know what), I returned to Germany and, almost immediately, the whole family flew off and spent 13 days gallivanting about the UK. The length of the trip was due in large part to the enormous savings we initially made by staying with our generous friends in London and York for a total of 8 nights. (Thank you, Darcy and Emma’s family!) Of course we made up for those savings later by staying in an 11th century castle (now hotel) and a 17th century prison (now hotel). Let’s just say that the upgrade from peeing in a bucket to peeing in a flushing toilet brings the price of a room up dramatically.
The good news is that the hubs and I only got into 1 fight on this trip, which is quite possibly a new record. It happened half way through the trip when I was starving, and, instead of feeding me, we went on one of those double decker tour buses. For an hour. In the wind. And the cold. Did I mention I was starving before we left?
When we got back to the hotel, my husband worked on trying to find a great fish and chips place, which led to us wandering for blocks between our hotel and one pub then the next (NOTE: the pubs in the UK, while seemingly restaurants, do not allow children after certain hours, like 6pm!). I got hangry. Super hangry. And then before my full fledged breakdown on the streets of Dublin happened, we ended up at an “American” diner with a menu that could have been straight from a TGI Friday’s. We ate burgers and fries and didn’t speak to each other during the entire meal.
But, it’s all good. We made up the next day once my husband came to the realization that one cannot rationalize with a hangry wife. Just gotta stuff some food in her face right then and there.
What I’m Into Right Now
I’m reading 2 books – No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I’m also participating in the Deepak/Oprah 21 Day Meditation Experience on Shedding the Weight – Mind, Body, and Spirit. The overall message is the same, and it has to do with suffering, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or somebody died. It can mean you’re mad at your spouse or you’re upset about screwing up something at work or you’re just feeling restless and off.
Both authors (and the meditation series) are clear about 1 thing. All peace comes from within; it isn’t dependent upon external factors. Therefore, every person can transform his or her own suffering. Obviously, it takes work, but here’s how you can start. First, acknowledge the suffering, as opposed to ignoring or resisting it. Second, recognize that suffering does happen. No one is immune or leads a charmed life where it doesn’t happen; it’s something that we all experience. It’s part of being human. Finally, when you are suffering, practice self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself kindly.
In addition to those 3 steps, here are two mantras I really like that you can repeat to yourself to help you. The first is for inspiration/intention at the beginning of the day and the other is for whenever you need some self-love.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
I have twenty-four hours to live.
May I live them deeply.
May I learn to look at the beings around me with the eyes of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.
Those are my weekly musings, and what about you?
What did you tell yourself this week to inspire you, motivate you, or help you on your path?What words of wisdom has someone else (through reading, a podcast, a talk) shared with you?What are you grateful for in your life?
I can’t tell you how long I’ve “suffered” from depression. I mean I took an intentional overdose at the age of 11 for crying out loud. So, yeah, a long fucking time. But, you’ll be happy to know that I’m no longer battling depression. Oh, don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not that I’ve conquered it, that I beat it or won the battle (the way some people talk about their relationship with cancer). I’m no longer battling it, because I’ve decided to accept it instead. I’ve decided to live successfully with depression.
I have depression like some people have herpes (I don’t by the way, just want to make that clear now). Okay, maybe it’s not the best comparison, but this is what I mean. If you have herpes, the virus is always in the body even when you are symptom free. But when that herpes sore shows up (often triggered by stress or hormones), there is no denying it. It’s a wound that physically hurts.
Well, that’s how depression has been for me for most of my life. I’m not always a crying, withdrawn mess. In fact, in general, I’m a pretty happy, positive person. But, when I have a depressive episode, it’s undeniable. It’s a dark and painful place, and I believe it’s always going to be a part of my life. So I have to learn how to live successfully with depression, instead of trying to eradicate it, because it’s not just going to disappear.
In the 30+ years since I first thought something was a bit off with me and in the 20+ years that I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve fought the label. I mean, let’s face it, as enlightened as we claim to be, there is (still) a stigma attached to mental health issues. I didn’t want anyone to know that there were days when it literally took an act of god to get my crying, lethargic ass out of bed or that there were times when I had to force myself to eat or leave the house when really all I wanted to do was curl up and die. Or that I’ve tried to kill myself. Twice. No one wants to hear that shit.
But, February is Acceptance Month! I interpret acceptance as incorporating three qualities: becoming aware, being compassionate, and not being attached to specific outcome. You have to wake up to what’s going on. You have to treat the difficult reality with compassion. And, you have to let go of your expectations.
I may not have mastered acceptance in any other area of my life this past month, but I mastered it for depression. (Note: I didn’t say I mastered depression. I mastered accepting my depression. Big difference!)
Awareness. I worked really hard to become more aware of my mood, especially when it started to wane. I would literally tell myself, “You’re feeling sad right now” or “This is loneliness.” I labeled the mood and tried not to get swallowed up by it
Compassion. I treated myself with compassion, and by that I mean, I forced myself to do things that I knew intellectually were good for me, even if in the moment I had zero desire to do anything. I texted my bestest friend in Austin. I called my only friend in Munich. I made myself go run.
Non-attachment. In the end, I decided to stop thinking that depression is a battle where there’s going to be a winner (Happy Silke), of course. I can’t continue that charade, where there is only 1 outcome and it’s me never feeling down again. Sorry, it turns out that depression is part of who I am.
Acceptance. I let go of the fantasy and admitted to myself (and to my husband) that there will be hard times and I will have depressive episodes – probably for the rest of my life. And, if that’s the case, then I better get it together enough to do what I can in order to live as successfully as possible when I experience those episodes. I have 3 children and a husband who count on me to be here. I have friends and family who love me and want me around.
So, I better have a big old Rosie the Riveter tool belt full of tools I can use at my disposal – therapy, books, writing, meditation, social engagement, exercise, practices and habits that help me deal with depression – because I am going to need every single one of them and probably a combination of several to live successfully with depression.
I accept my depression and I am learning how to live successfully with it.
May I have the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen to that!
In its most simplest definition, evolution is change over time. In biology, this change results from a mutation – actual changes in the DNA – or migration, the genes leave one place and go elsewhere, or by genetic drift, in which life circumstances shift the allele (gene form) frequencies in a population.
Alternatively, change can result from environmental influences on the organism. For example, certain species of birds have red/orange/yellow plumage because of carotenoids, which aren’t endogenously made by the birds but are only available in the diet. Changes in feather color, when carotenoids aren’t available, undoubtedly affect the bird’s ability to camouflage itself from predators and attract reproductive partners, paving the way to evolution.
Whether it’s genotypic or phenotypic in nature, change happens to an organism but not necessarily because of what the organism does. An elephant seal can’t stop hunters from killing it (leading to genetic drift); a flamingo can’t make more crustaceans (which provide the carotenoids needed to give the flamingo pink feathers) appear magically in the water. In biology, by and large, evolution happens to the organism.
This is where personal evolution differs from biological. Personal evolution is all about our role in the process. Personal evolution is about the choices we make to grow ourselves in ways that always help us navigate our world more effectively.
Life doesn’t just happen to us. Happiness doesn’t happen to us. Suffering doesn’t happen to us. No. We have a hand in creating those states of being. And, I believe that it is largely by our own doing that we experience personal success or failure, that is happiness or suffering. The choice is ours, whether we want to act in ways that move us forward, toward being our best selves, or to act in ways that cause our regression, moving us toward our more unskilled selves.
It has take my almost my whole life to learn this truth. (Good Goddess, I can be a slow learner!) And even though I’ve learned the lesson, I’m not totally, or even highly, evolved. Not in the least.
You see, personal evolution is both a life long process and an indirect path. It’s not an arc from point A to B; it’s a sine wave. It oscillates up and down but hopefully moving in an overall direction toward greater wellbeing.
Life is like the ocean – still and serene at times, crashing with violent waves at other times. The only constant is that it changes, and when it changes and it’s turbulent, we have to learn how to navigate those waves. This is how we evolve, how we survive and thrive. We learn to adjust and harness that wave energy to support us rather than letting the waves pull us under.
This is personal evolution, choosing to act in ways that support your own wellbeing regardless of what life throws at you. As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults exercise for 150 minutes a week in bursts of at least 10 minutes. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that we brush our teeth for 2 minutes at least twice a day. The exercise guidelines help control weight, strengthen your heart, and reduce the risk of disease and death. The dental guidelines help prevent cavities and gum disease.
Okay, so I’m occasionally lazy, but, as a rule, I follow the advice of the WHO and the ADA. Exercise and brushing my teeth are simply part of my everyday routine. It’s what I do to take care of myself. My physical self.
I recently heard writer Pico Iyer and psychologist Guy Winch use the terms mental gym and emotional hygiene, respectively. Iyer and Winch believe we should have similar recommendations and routines for maintaining our mental health as we do for our physical health. We should all engage in preventative psychological habits, habits that build our emotional resilience, boost our self-worth, allow us to connect with our best selves. It makes total sense. We need mental toothbrushes and we need to use them every day like we do our regular toothbrushes.
We go see the doctor or dentist for regular check ups or at least anytime there is cause for concern. We exercise and watch what we eat (or at least we all know that we should be doing those things). We brush our teeth after meals, wash our hands after using the bathroom, and don’t fall asleep with make up on. But does our psychological well-being get the same investment? And, if not, what can we do to create the mental toothbrush habit?
This is what I’ve decided to do. For the month of December, I’ve committed myself to some basic guidelines for maintaining my emotional health. Taking the WHO’s exercise recommendation, I’ve set a goal of spending 150 minutes a week (in at least 10 minute chunks) on mental health activities. For me this means meditation, being in nature, creating gratitude lists, and journaling. For you it might be some of those or other activities – a walk outdoors, sitting in the sun or staring at the night sky, working in your garden, petting your dog. There isn’t one way to maintain mental health just like there isn’t one way to exercise. Yet, all these solitary and silent acts work toward the same end goal, settling our minds, connecting us to something greater than ourselves, and helping us find inner peace. These activities are our mental toothbrush, and time spent doing them is time well spent.
Don’t take your psychological well-being for granted. Like exercising and brushing your teeth, it’s a habit you have to develop and maintain in order to reap its benefits. So consider this. What is your mental toothbrush, how often do you use it. Make it a habit to brush your brain every day.
I value resilience. Let’s be honest; shit happens. That’s actually one of my meditation mantras, because it reminds me that adversity is part of life. Life is messy and complicated, and sometimes it just plain sucks. But it never stays that way. So far I’ve been pretty bad at realizing this and getting through the tough times knowing that eventually they’ll end. Truthfully, I’ve given up, albeit unsuccessfully, a few times already. (Note to readers: do not treat a temporary problem with a permanent solution. Truly, all problems are temporary.) But, I’m working really hard to learn to experience feelings without letting them overwhelm me. I’m learning to accept that shit happens, but it doesn’t last forever.
I wrote the paragraph above in my post about trying to live with integrity. Resilience is one of my values, and I wanted to work on developing this value, because so far in life I pretty much sucked at dealing with difficulty.
Getting divorced. Losing an important friendship. Losing a job. Suffering the death of a loved one. Being diagnosed with a serious illness. This stuff happens. To all of us. But what do you do when it happens to you? You can be overwhelmed and give up (my pattern for over 40 years). Or you can stay strong and carry on as best you can (work in progress). This is resilience.
Being resilient doesn’t make you immune to adversity. And it doesn’t mean you no longer experience the sadness, anger, or the other emotions that occur when you are going through something catastrophic. It just means that you can deal with the stress. You can weather the storm and come out of it intact.
According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, resilient people employ emotional coping strategies such as monitoring emotions and calling up positive ones to use advantageously. Psychiatrist Frederic Flach maintained that resilient people are able to develop novel perspectives when facing negative life events. Resilience means adapting and giving the negative event some meaning. In effect, resilient people use positive emotions as a buffer against the negative ones, and they are able to persevere as a result.
This is all great, but if, like me, you didn’t grow up with these emotional coping strategies, then you must develop them. Looking at the research (see the references below), I’ve boiled down the expert’s advice to three main things you can do to develop resilience: cultivate relationships, adjust your outlook, and nurture yourself.
Cultivate relationships. When you are part of a loving, supportive community, you are connected. Having a tribe – as I call it – gives you someone to talk to, someone to give advice from a more objective (not in the middle of the crisis like you) place. It’s important to maintain your relationships rather than withdraw from them during crises. Even if you feel like getting in the fetal position under the covers all by yourself, send someone an email or a text saying that’s how you feel. Allow yourself to be cared for when you need it.
Adjust your outlook. Sometimes, life is up and sometimes it’s down. And while you can’t change the fact that bad shit happens, you can change how you approach it when you’re in the midst of it. Know that during the down times problems are not insurmountable. Know that the down times are merely part of a cycle. Good then bad then good. Sun then clouds then sun. This (bad shit), too, will pass. And this too. And that also (because sometimes it seems to go on and on and on).
Take care of yourself. Sleep well. Eat well. Exercise. Practice stress-relieving activities (yoga, meditation, walks in nature, petting your dog, whatever works for you). Prioritize self-care because unless you pay someone else to do it (personal chef, personal trainer, masseuse, life coach – all on my list when I when the lottery), it’s not going to happen. Writer Pico Iyer calls this going to the mental health gym. Psychologist Guy Winch refers to it as practicing emotional hygiene. It’s work that you have to do in order to replenish your stores and develop your whole self – body, mind, and spirit.
Remember what Maya Angelou said and take it to heart. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. Your difficulties do not define you. They simply strengthen your ability to overcome.”
Work on resilience, because, this too will pass.
I am channeling my inner Rubber Band Girl.
I will bend and not break.
I will be flexible.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been priming myself for an emotional meltdown. I began to think that my marriage was in serious trouble. See, there’s this issue, this specific, emotionally laden issue, that’s been going on in my marriage for over 2 years now. Something we fight about. Something I cry about and despair over. And, recently, I decided that this issue wasn’t going to get resolved, at least not according to the plan I had in mind.
I brought this up with my therapist. (Cue the histrionics.)
“I’m not sure this is going to work out,” I said. “I feel desperate. I mean, what will it take to get him to start doing something about this?!”
My therapist looked at me and said, “Stop it. No one is dying. No one is going to jail. Stop getting yourself so worked up about this.” Then she added, “Remember, there isn’t just one way that things can progress. There may be multiple ways, but you are stuck on the one way that you want.”
Her words were like smelling salts. They woke me up. I stopped my sniveling and thought, ‘Holy shit. I am making my own melodrama. I am sabotaging myself. Again!!!’
Folks, I am inflexible, and my rigid outlook is contributing to my marital conflict. (Note: I’m not saying my husband hasn’t contributed the problem, but I can’t control his behavior, only my own and my responses to his behavior.)
Here’s how my inflexibility works. I’m attached to a very specific outcome. Things have to go a certain way, which is, coincidentally, my way, and, all humility aside, the right way. So when my husband doesn’t say or do what aligns with my version of how things ought to go, specifically regarding this one all-important-all-consuming issue (truth be told, there are probably many other issues in our marriage that don’t go the way they should…Oh my goddess, am I a control freak?! Let’s shelve that for another post), I sacrifice my own peace and happiness. I make my well being entirely dependent on something outside of myself – how the situation turns out or how he acts.
Well, add this to the lessons I’ve learned over the past year, lessons that are becoming encyclopedic in volume.
So I’m turning over a new leaf. (Please, hold me accountable, friends.) I resolve to become Rubber Band Girl. I will bend and not break. I will be flexible and allow for the existence of other paths and plans – not just the one I want (even if I still maintain that it’s the right path/plan).
As Kate Bush sang,
See those trees
Bend in the wind
I feel they’ve got a lot more sense than me
You see I try to resist
This Rubber Band Girl isn’t resisting, futilely pushing against reality (seriously, does that ever work?!). Nope, I will flow like a willow tree. This doesn’t mean I’ll be meek or allow myself to get shit on. You all know me. I have way to much spunk and independence for that. What it means is that I’m not going to close off myself. I will remain open – open minded, open hearted, open whatever-ed – open for all options and for every possibility. In doing so, I will be responsible for my own peace and happiness and no longer willingly allow them to be dependent on anyone or anything else.
Go, Rubber Band Girl!
I’ve written about forgiveness before, so when I was doing my values check in, I thought, well I’ll just skip an update on this value, because I’ve pretty much nailed it. I mean I’ve forgiven a lot of people who’ve hurt me. I’ve started saying, “I’m sorry” (yes, now that I’m in my 40s – it took a while, I know), and I say it when I screw up. Yep, I’m good.
Then humility came to smack me on the ass, which happens when I get a bit smug.
A few weeks ago I was meditating, using the mantra May peace begin with me. I’m getting my zen on, feeling the happy glow. Go me, meditating on peace. Then I decided to do a metta meditation. In metta, you begin by wishing yourself well and then you extend sincere thoughts of loving kindness outward in widening circles until you are wishing all beings everywhere good will.
It goes something like this. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace. And then I repeat these phrases using the names of my family members, my friends, my work colleagues, etc.
It’s all going fine until I get to a wider circle that stopped me in my tracks. People I dislike. Yes, this is actually part of the metta meditation, a part I usually avoid altogether – it’s just easier that way. But this time, I went there, and I realized, I have negative feelings toward some people from my past. Not that many people and not feelings of burning rage, but admittedly some resentment. And that resentment has been around for a long, long time (18 years, in fact, but who’s counting?).
Cue the Frozen soundtrack, Let it go. Let it go.
As I sat there in my zen den, I realized that while I wanted to wish these people peace, I really, really did, after almost 2 decades, there was still something stopping me from doing so.
I felt physically ill. It was one of those moments of insight that’s not all zen-bliss but raw-yuckiness instead. (Turns out, that’s often how insight is, not a beam of golden sunshine from on high but a stab to the heart.)
So, let me remind myself (from my own posts!), why forgiveness is so important and why it’s one of the values I want to practice.
You cannot inflict emotional damage on others, especially loved ones, without carrying a lot of damage on the inside, without being wounded yourself.
I wrote this when I was thinking about my father and how he treated me and my brother when we were growing up. My dad obviously had his issues, and I believe a lot of the unhappiness he directed at my brother and me was because of the pain he carried around inside himself.
It’s not a huge leap, then, to be able to recognize that the other people in my life who hurt me may have been suffering, too. And, perhaps they treated me the way they did as a reflection of their own pain. Their actions may have been coming from deep wounds.
When you allow past events, perpetrated by others, to continue to take up space in your mind and heart, you prevent your own emotional growth and freedom…Forgiveness is not about condoning what happened. It’s about liberating yourself.
Peace is not possible if I’m holding on to past grievances (suffering I caused or suffering I was the victim of). I have to stop giving my mental energy to rehashing those experiences, because it’s counterproductive to my personal development. I don’t have to forget what happened, but I also don’t have to allow that pain and the guilt associated with it (if it was my own doing) to take up residence in my psyche. I need that energy in my heart and mind for the things I want to grow in myself. I need that space for better things. Moving on.
Peace begins with me. It begins when I stop letting other people and their actions determine my happiness, and it begins when I make amends for the unhappiness I’ve caused. I can’t change the past and the hurt that happened there, but I refuse to let that pain define or destroy me in the present. I’m moving forward with my life through forgiveness.