Croskey’s Corner: Resilience
Back to School Sales! Trial school bus runs- Got to get to school on time! “Gearing up letter” from my great principal! I get the feeling that Summer may be waning and that school is nearly upon us. By the time you read this (Thanks! By the way!), you will likely be full speed ahead til Thanksgiving. I hope it’s another great year.
Me? I always get a little nervous in August, even after 45 years of starting school on the staff member side. But this year, I am sort of glad to be done with summer. Plenty of sick or injured people in my family. Hip replacement for me. Couple months of rehab PT. Kitchen and bathroom water damage followed by a four-month delay in restoring the rooms. (Don’t ask. Nothing to compare with the devastation in Texas, though!) Lost or stolen paycheck. Helping get my Dad’s house ready to sell. Knowing my daughter had to move and not being there to help. Our dog with sudden partial paralysis. (He’s improving tremendously!) Whine! Whine! Whine. I am sure many of you could “See my list” and double it from your life. And there are billions of people who have it way worse than me. Still, the string of difficulties has gotten me down. So the Character Quality of Resilience, meaning recovering from adversity, is a quality I should know from experience how to embrace. But not so much!
Hans Selye (1907-1982) was an MD who built a career studying the impact which stress had on our lives, including, but not limited to, physical damage. He is reported to have said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” People have ways of thinking about their stressors. These ways of thinking lead to emotional reactions. We cannot easily stop feeling emotions which cause us trouble. In fact, we resent and reject attempts by others at this: “Stop feeling that way!” or “You SHOULDN’T feel that way!” are commands we are unlikely to be able to or want to obey. But we CAN change the ways we think about stressful events. Sometimes we need a friend, a loved one, or a counselor to help us become aware of other optional ways of thinking about our lives.
For example, my left hip needed to be replaced. My dog’s recovery in his ability to walk has been slowest in his left hind leg. My son recently injured his left leg. My Dad, who is almost 101, also has the most mobility difficulty in his left leg! It is ironic that the “Croskey boys” are having left leg issues all at the same time! One way to think about these is, “We sure got a lot of bad luck in the left leg department.” A different thought could be: “Each of us – yeah, even the dog – has had a chance to empathize with the others about how much we depend on our left leg!” I have been doing plenty of self-pity this summer. Maybe I need to re-frame my thinking about left legs and appreciate that our left leg “miseries” have PLENTY of family company.
That’s the thing about Resilience. As a culture, we admire it so much when someone bounces back from a difficult blow. We love the “comeback kid” stories. We relish the communities who have rebuilt after a hurricane. We put great store in the times when our loved ones “beat” cancer. (Matter of fact, I worry sometimes that we send the message that if a person passed away from cancer, it was because he or she did not try hard enough.) I don’t think Resilience is only about trying hard. Maybe it is just as much about looking at a problem in a new light and drawing energy from that fresh perspective to follow the serenity prayer. That means having the serenity to accept that we do not always have power over difficult situations. But with those situations which we can change, we need Courage to keep fighting. And we show Wisdom when we know which situation we are facing.
I got the most help and the best advice on Resilience from my vet, William Rueger. We were discussing how my dog Jazzy suddenly lost the use of his hind legs. He quickly learned to drag himself around the yard on his two front legs to catch bugs. Dr. Rueger reflected a moment and said that one of the great things about pets is this: when they run into a physical obstacle, they don’t sit around and whine because they don’t have the use of their legs. They don’t look for someone to blame. They might pause and glance at family members questioningly. But then, they jump in to figure out how to accomplish what they want to do in a different manner. They bounce back from Adversity in an efficient way without stopping to whine. (Oh, my dog whines, but it’s usually about a treat or because he wants to go out.) My dog was climbing some steep steps last week. He lost his footing and slipped. He could not go back down but he did not quit. He turned sideways and pushed himself up a few steps, got some momentum, and finished the climb the way he started. Our pets can be inspirational in their Resilience. They help us become what Henri Nouwen calls a “wounded healer.” That’s someone who has gone through a damaging life event, but who heals and uses the scars and experience to help others heal.
So maybe we can observe those who have healed, including our pets, as a model presented to us and say, “Well, if Jazzy can figure out another way around his problems, maybe I can bounce back, too.”
(originally posted September 2017)