How to develop resilience

Have you wondered how to develop resilience?  
The road to resilience is paved with emotional suffering but it’s how you choose to view it that counts.

One year after I was in the near-fatal car wreck, we drove our Airstream on a road trip from Portland, Oregon down to San Diego to visit my care providers at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

My husband John felt strongly that we needed to see my care team and thank them for all they did to help me survive. At first, I didn’t want to go.  Then I realized it would be healing to see them in person and thank them.

We drove our Airstream down to San Diego. John called the hospital to find out when, my trauma surgeon, Dr. Matt Kill, would be in the hospital.

We took flowers and bought trays of cookies for the day and night shift care team on the medical/surgical floor.

When we arrived, a nurse paged Dr. Kill, and we were thrilled he was in the hospital. She told us to wait in the family lounge at the end of the hallway on the 4th floor where I spent a month recovering. He would be there in 15 minutes.

I was tired of sitting and waiting for him to arrive so I got up and did a set of lunges. As I was balancing and concentrating, I looked up and saw him.

Dr. Kill strode towards me in his royal blue scrubs with a big smile on his face. We jumped up and greeted him.

A visit with Dr. Kill

I said, “I was trying to chase you down.”

“I noticed,” he said with a smile.

The sun streamed in the huge windows in the family lounge as he sat down in a chair across from us.

I leaned forward in my chair facing him. “I went through a lot after I left here last February.”

I told him that I had seven outpatient urological procedures and surgery on my hand. “They thought a kidney stone was blocking my ureter. But it turned out my ureters were scarred from an infection behind my bladder as a result of the trauma,” I said.

I explained what I’d gone through in the last year. “I had a one and a half hour surgery where the urologists pulled my bladder up and hitched it to my psoas muscle and cut and re-implanted my ureters.

That surgery caused femoral nerve damage in my left quad. I couldn’t walk and the neurologist said it was very severe and the nerves may never come back in that leg.

John and I went home and cried.  This was to be my last surgery and then I could finally recover.  It took me two days to pull it together and then I pulled myself up “by my bootstraps” and charged onward.

Yet in two and a half months, I could walk around the house without a walker. And today I can swim a half-mile, run in the pool 25 minutes and walk two miles! It’s like a miracle to me.”

“Lets talk about resilience,” I said.

Dr. Kill said, “In all my years of working in medicine, I can count on my two hands the type of patients who were like you that were positive, motivated, and resilient.” Dr. Kill said.

“You look great, he said. I would never know anything happened to you.”

John said, “Early on in her hospitalization, she taught me how to look for the good in this situation. For one thing, this accident brought us closer.

I said to Dr. Kill, “You were tough and you asked a lot of me as a patient. I’d fractured my sacrum and it was excruciating to walk and sit, but I did what you asked me to do.”

Dr. Kill said, “Most people just want to get through this, get out of here and move on with their life. You seemed to be reflective and accepting of what was happening. When John was spinning out of control worrying about the worst-case scenario, you reeled him back in.”

We chatted about his work and his life. Then we got up and took pictures. We hugged each other and said goodbye.

What is resilience?

The definition of re·sil·ience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Each of us will face trauma, adversity and stress in your life such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness or a life-altering accident like I experienced.

“Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”[1]

The more you learn to become resilient to overcome adverse events in your life, the more empowered you are use these stressful events to grow as I have in my own life.

It’s your ability to manage your mindset – your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that count because anyone can learn how to develop resilience.

Building resilience is like building a muscle – the more you practice it – the more it comes naturally.

How to practice resilience

Remember your comebacks     

It’s important to remember the times in your life when you did what felt impossible. Then you build on that.

The way I view it, resilience is the ability to look back at your life and find your comebacks and the strength to come back again.

I’ve learned to rely on my ability to make a comeback from any experience that is traumatic. I’ve comeback from a divorce, being a single mom for eight years, losing my youngest brother to a homicide, and almost losing my son to a rare genetic disease.

Most recently, the car wreck three years ago presented me with the greatest challenge of all – survival.

I knew when I was in the hospital recovering there was a lesson in this situation for me to learn.

I found strength in relying on my body to make it through all six major surgeries within fours months. I believed in my body’s ability.

It took time yet it became clear to me that the meaning in this event was that I would recover and teach others what I learned about making a recovery.

Don’t compare your traumatic experiences

You can’t compare your experience to mine. I believe you’re here on earth to learn lessons from these adverse situations. These present opportunities for your personal growth.

You get to choose how you go through each adverse experience.

That’s the beauty of free will. What will you choose?

I don’t compare my challenges to anyone else’s. People have a tendency to say to me, “I went through ________ but it was not as bad as your accident.

Each of us will go through the dark night of the soul at some time in your life. You can’t measure your trauma to my trauma.

Traumatic experiences don’t have to define you

While it’s not easy to recover from an adverse event in life, it doesn’t have to define you unless you let it.

I want to focus on mindset. You have to become intentional about how you go through the traumatic experience.

My Internist said to me at our first appointment after the accident,

don’t compare yourself to who you were before the accident. Start from the day of the accident and then you can see your progress.

That was sage advice.

Don’t story fondle

Don’t talk about the story of what happened. Focus on how you’re making a comeback.

People are naturally curious and want to know the details of the accident.

This often happened often when I was at a gathering of friends and acquaintances. I would suggest that they hear it from John.

That way I kept my focus on moving forward so that I could get back to living my life.

Becoming resilient helps you get through life’s challenges and it empowers you to grow and even come back with a more meaning life.

Practice radical self-care

Your body is the temple that houses your spirit or soul. Take care of your body.

When you go through an adverse event, the stress on your body is huge. You need to rest and eat healthy food, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. This will help you reduce anxiety or depression.

Practice mindfulness

I found that listening to Kundalini music on Pandora was powerful in bringing anxiety down. Meditation is helpful to give you a time to rest and restore your body.

Find meaning and purpose

Resilient people can find meaning and purpose as a result of a trauma or difficult circumstance,

In my case, it provided me with a major personal growth experience, I grew personally as a result of the car wreck that I was in.

You have to feel and accept your emotions during tough times. But it’s equally important to question, what can I learn from this? What can I do about this situation in your life.

I knew that I wanted to hike again when I was told the femoral nerve in my quad was potentially not going to come back.

Even though I was labeled a “fall risk” – I was determined to walk again. Luckily for me the nerve started to come back slowly at 3 months post surgery.

I hope this information has helped you.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your empowering experience Sharon, it’s appreciated. Building resilience is essential in our time. I wish you the very best.

    1. Adriana – thank you so much for reading and yes this is the time we need to be resilient!

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