How to become resilient so that you can handle almost anything
“When you wholeheartedly face the burdens that challenge you, you weaken their power over you.” Oprah
After my sixth and final surgery as a result of a car wreck, I woke up to a completely numb left leg due to a complication after the five-hour urological procedure.
A few days later, I met with a neurologist to start the diagnostic workup.
John and I were waiting in the exam room, when a beautiful 40-year-old neurologist strode in the room confidently.
Dr. Julie (not her real name) smiled and asked me to sit on the edge of the exam table.
John walked me over and helped me onto the exam table.
She asked me to lift my right leg, which I raised without a problem. Then she asked me to lift my left leg, but nothing happened.
Dr. Julie explained she was giving me a preliminary exam, but that I needed to wait for one month to have a nerve conduction study to discover the extent of the damage.
Then Dr. Julie gave us tough news. She said the nerves might be far too damaged to ever recover. They could have been cut but were probably stretched during the surgery. Regardless, she emphasized they were very severely damaged.
I started to cry and motioned for John to help me off the table so I could get my walker and go to the bathroom to be alone.
This was more than I could handle. Why did this happen now, I wondered?
Why would God want me to learn more lessons after all I had been through?
It had been six months since the accident. John and I had expected that I would recover after this final surgery and that I would be able to get back to a (new) normal life.
Now I had much more work to do to overcome this.
We went home to recover from this overwhelming news.
I let myself feel all the sadness, grief and tears. I worried that I would never walk again.
John and I were devastated. When we got home, we held each other tightly and cried.
We had come so far and now this happened.
After two days of grieving and crying, I decided that I had to move forward.
I made a choice that day that I was going to rise above this diagnosis.
I decided to disbelieve that my nerves were not going to recover.
Every day and in every moment, you get to choose how you experience life.
Your life is made up of hundreds of choices you make daily.
Faith was my choice.
I chose to believe my body would heal itself.
I chose to believe that God helped me survive so I would help others overcome their own difficult circumstances.
I was determined to walk again.
This was the second time in a little over a year that I had to learn to walk.
My Home Care nurse labeled me a “fall risk”. I had strict instructions from her to use my walker to get around.
I would once again give recovery my full focus and attention.
Working out to strengthen my leg became my job – the most important job I’ve ever had.
My Internist gave me sage advice. She told me not to compare myself to who I was before the accident and the surgery. She said, “Start from where you were the day of the accident. That is how you measure your progress.”
John had been devoted to caring for me for the last four and a half months.
He had spent five and a half weeks living with me in my hospital room.
John said that it was much easier being a care provider than a caregiver.
I believe that he loved me back to health.
One night, a week later, John went out with his bicycling buddies for a boy’s night out.
After he left, I felt vulnerable because I was afraid of being alone and falling. I was not sure I could get up if that happened.
Then my mind went into the future and created a fearful story.
In this imaginary horror movie, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk again. I was afraid that if something happened to John (he died or was ill) that I would have to be put in a nursing home.
I felt so utterly alone and scared. Then I noticed that I had imagined a future that hadn’t happened yet.
I remembered the quote from Anne Lamott, “My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.”
My body didn’t know if this mind movie was real or simply in my head. Where the mind goes, the body will follow. The body is innocent. It doesn’t know if it’s happening for the first time or the tenth time.
I came back to the present moment where I was sitting on my bed. Tears started falling. I gulped for breath. I cried hard thinking about all that I had been through.
I felt so sad for myself.
I now had a huge incision from my breastbone to my pubic bone.
I knew the risks from my abdominal surgeries – scar tissue and bowel obstructions.
I had gone through two microdiscetomies in 1989 and 1990. I had a complication from the second back surgery of my S1 nerve root being damaged in my left leg. My three little toes on my left foot were numb. The rest of the S1 nerve in my calf and thigh were numb.
I knew that if I something happened to me and I had to lie in bed for periods of time and not exercise that my left leg would be weak. I would have to learn to walk again without a limp.
Now my left femoral nerves were damaged. These nerves innervate the quadricep muscles assisting in walking. If my nerves did not recover, I would have a weak leg and a permanent limp.
This was the lowest point in the six months of surgeries and my recovery.
I thought again about why God needed me to learn more. Yes, I had survived but recovering from this accident was hardest work of my life.
I believed in my body’s amazing capacity to heal.
I believed in my own ability to recover and walk and hike again.
Yet, I was determined to walk again without assistance.
Each week on Sunday, I would sit on a bench and try to lift my left leg.
Then there were moments that I would forget to use the walker.
One day in a rush to say hello to the mail carrier, I walked right out the front door and promptly fell down.
The mail carrier rushed out of her truck and ran down the driveway to help me stand up. I was shocked and embarrassed that I fell and started to cry.
Each day I practiced walking. I walked outside with my trekking poles.
At first I could only walk out to the driveway. Day by day I would walk a little further.
I believed I would be able to walk. I was going to do everything possible to walk again.
My physical therapist suggested that I stop using the walker and start using my trekking poles to help me walk.
This was a new level for me and it gave me confidence that I could walk again.
For two months, I practiced walking around the house without a walker or a trekking pole.
I gradually learned to walk again by wearing a big brace over my left knee and thigh to support walking.
Then I was invited to a party that had a swimming pool. I got in the pool with a swim noodle and realized that I could run in the pool and it would help strengthen my leg.
Three to four days a week now, I run in a deep-water therapy pool for 25 minutes.
Each night I perform the exercises that my PT prescribed.
I used a muscle stimulator daily to keep the quadricep muscles in my left leg active.
Within two months, I could lift my left leg a few inches off the floor.
This was the sign I was looking for in recovery. I knew that if some of my nerves came back, perhaps they would all come back.
Little by little change was happening.
My physical therapist checked my progress six months after I completed my physical therapy appointments. My left leg was almost as strong as my right leg, and I can lift it equally as high!
I still have numbness. Yet I hope that the numbness will eventually go away.
I will continue to strengthen my leg and my body.
If you are anything like me, you want to be strong and know that you can rely on yourself regardless of what you experience in your life.
It’s been a year and a half since the car accident in Baja, Mexico.
The healing will continue through my life. I make a daily choice not to think about what might happen in the future but to be present to my life now.
I choose to act as if I am completely recovered.
One thing I know for sure is that I am able to handle what life brings me.
I know that these trials are for my soul’s evolution.
I am not afraid of death due to the deep peace I experienced when I was going through the surgeries.
How to build resilience
How do you build resilience?
Is it something that you’re born with?
Each of us will face challenges in our lives. Whether it’s a divorce, a recent death in the family or a health crisis, how can you become strong and resilient?
Psychologists say that resilience is how well a person can adapt to the events in their life and bounce back.
It’s the way you cope with stress and adversity.
You learn to believe in yourself and your capacity to make a come back.
Resilience is not something you are born with. It is a combination of your beliefs, thoughts and actions.
I believe resilience is like a muscle.
You have to manage how you think about your circumstance.
You get to choose whether you are a victim of the circumstance or you will grow from the experience.
Everyone has the ability to be resilient.
You have to be willing to be persistent in the face of a life circumstance that is difficult.
Avoid seeing a crisis as an impossible problem.
You can’t change the fact that stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events.
Look for all the ways that help you feel better as you go through difficult situations.
Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardships have reported better relationships, a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased self-worth, a deepened spirituality practice and a heightened appreciation for life.
I experienced all of that and more.
Resilience is the capacity to cope with stress and adversity. It comes from believing in yourself and in something bigger than yourself.
Resilience is not a trait that people are born with; it involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
You must become the captain of your own destiny.
Developing resilience is a personal journey.
If you’ve experienced a major life trauma such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a serious illness or accident or any traumatic event, know that you can bounce back with time.
Seek out friends and family to surround yourself with people who care about you.
Learn to accept help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you – this strengthens your resilience.
You get to choose how you go through any difficult circumstance. What will you choose?
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