Resilience

Resilience: (n) the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I attended a resilience training workshop this past Friday. As I have mentioned before, I work in healthcare and have done for most of the past 13 years. In our workshop, we were told burnout is high in healthcare, ranking just behind police/fire and military service. This isn’t surprising to me as I have quite working for my last employer due to burnout (and a rotten work environment). The idea behind this training was to retain good employees but also combat burn out and become more resilient.

We were given several techniques to improve our resilience. The first idea mentioned came from Duke University Patient Safety Center and it is called “Three Good Things”. The idea behind Three Good Things is to get people focusing on the positive in their day versus the negative. We were shown a video of Dr. J. Bryan Sexton talking about his research into positive focus. He stated we are hard wired to think of the negative. In caveman times, quickly identifying a positive or negative kept us alive. Sound of a rattlesnake?? Negative. Your brain tells your body to “Run!” thus allowing you to evade injury. In our modern world, the body reacts to stress the same way it was hard wired to do in the cave man days. The problem is, most of what we encounter will not actually kill us but our body doesn’t know that. Our body can remain on “high alert” if we are under stress for a prolonged period of time. This high alert mode raises our cortisol (the fight or flight hormone). The heart rate rises and our body reacts as if there was a threat. For short bursts, that’s how the body is supposed to react. Over the course of a day, we exhaust the body’s resources. An engine can’t run at super high RPM’s all the time without burning out. Neither can the human body. We’ll deplete what fuels us and crash, just like a hot-rod on the racetrack when it loses power. I read that stock brokers only can do the job for about a year due to the high stress. Have you seen the madness of the trading floor?! I wouldn’t last a week much less a year!

My boss first introduced our department to the concept of “three good things” last year. We started sharing the good that had happened during the past weeks at our meetings. My boss had already implemented a positive sharing time into each monthly meeting. This gave us the opportunity to recognize our coworker’s positive points. When I first started working for Banner Health, this was the strangest but most wonderful difference I’d ever seen in a company. I do not think it’s across Banner but as a company, they do promote a positive work environment.

There were a few other techniques shared in that workshop which were geared toward calming oneself after a stressful event. Evidence was presented on how the mind effects our physical body and how a generally negative mindset can effect health. This, I felt, was incredibly important and interesting given all the negativity I see daily. I know for myself, when I am mentally off in some way, my body shuts down. My energy drains and very little gets done. In the light of all the stressful news stories about world events, I felt this resilience course came along at the right time. I’ve included links (highlighted in blue in the text above) to Dr Sexton’s video and to Duke University website where you can sign up and participate in their research on how the “three good things” model improves our mental health. My department took a month and signed up for the daily reminders. I can say for myself that it did help me shift my thinking.

I have never wanted to be the “smiling rain cloud”. What does that mean? A smiling rain cloud is a person who has a pessimistic core and wears a fake smile. I don’t want my happiness to be fake because that doesn’t feel good. I want to be genuinely happy, not so folks can tolerate me but so I can tolerate myself. Happiness doesn’t drop in our laps often. We must look for the good, especially when life get hairy and our world feels like it’s closing in. I’d challenge you to recall the positives at the end of your day and see if it changes how your perspective.

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It’s OK to feel.

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“It’s OK to feel” is a long name for this latest painting but it seemed to fit. It has been asked: If we could see the internal pain of others on their outsides, would we treat them kinder & with more care? The heart I painted is a bit banged up and bruised but it still full of love.

Over the past year, I’ve tried to not allow myself to feel emotions. I didn’t want anyone to see my insides. I didn’t want to be judged for what might show. I had a good conversation today. It was about grief and the process of grieving. Allowing oneself to feel makes us face grief and start healing. It’s quite scary to face grief. The pain is excruciating. When we feel pain, be it emotional or physical, our first instinct it to do whatever possible to make the pain stop.

Over the past months, I’ve fallen into an unproductive pattern of cope with grief. I honestly didn’t know how to deal with my grief so I chose to do nothing. Distraction has been my go-to coping mechanism. Keeping distracted helped numb the emotions which beckoned my attention. As we all know, ignoring an issue never makes it go away, it only prolongs the sorting through process. Recently, I decided I needed to change my current path. Today, I made a step towards dealing with grief instead of running from it. This will be one of the most uncomfortable but beneficial things I can do for myself.

Uncomfortable ramblings.

Tomorrow I have my first therapy appointment with a new therapist. As with any time one starts therapy, there is an “intake” visit. An intake is where all your details are taken and you’re matched with a counselor. I’ve done an intake before as I’m not new to the therapy scene. The questions are pretty standard and most ask about general background such as siblings, marital status, kids and so forth. They always save the icky questions until the end. “Growing up, was there any drug or alcohol abuse in the family?” “No.” “Have you been subject to domestic, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse?”……

Before my first ever experience with therapy, I would have easily answered those questions with a “no”. The thing about therapy is, it shines a light on parts of yourself that you have neglected or hidden. It rips off the dark cover that you’ve placed on a situation (so you can deal) and makes you face your secrets and demons. The idea behind therapy is to find the root of a symptom and guide you away from a pattern which causes you pain. For anyone who is struggling with something which effects their daily life and interactions with others, I would highly recommend counseling.  It is the most difficult step but also the most worthwhile thing you can do for yourself.

So, back to those difficult questions…..

I have a deep seated need to not show any weakness. I absolutely hate crying in front of other people, especially if they’re strangers. Tears aren’t weakness nor is any other show of emotion. Something in me still cringes if I feel tears coming on. I hide my face or leave the room. I won’t even watch sad movies for this very reason. This need for a strong, stoic front hinders me from acknowledging that I have indeed been a victim in the past. Bullying is an easy one to admit and it’s an easier thing for me to talk about. Many people can relate to being bullied at one point or another. I was a bullied kid and it continued into my early twenties. Being bullied has shaped me and given me a dose of social anxiety for which I am quite angry. My experiences with sexual harassment were more difficult to talk about, especially given that the few people I told didn’t believe me. The people I confided in defended the man in question and minimized what I shared. It wasn’t until this man’s world blew apart and more victims came forward did anyone see I was telling the truth. I’ve written more about my sexual harassment experience and it too was a difficult time in the past.

There is one more time when I was a victim and it is the most difficult one to admit.  I have typed “that” word several times and deleted it. I will first start by giving you a proper definition.

“Rape: (n.): unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.” (Dictionary.com)

By this definition, I was indeed raped as a teenager. It was my first sexual experience. I was quite sheltered and uneducated about sex. At the time, I could not comprehend what had happened to me. I was more scared about my parents finding out I had sex. (Thank you super religious background for making sex dirty and shameful) The point that I was violated was not even registering in my brain. This was not a dark alley assault by a stranger. It was an ex-boyfriend. This was someone I felt I loved and I truly trusted. I think that is also why I was not seeing the whole picture. I couldn’t fathom that someone I trusted treated me with such disregard. I couldn’t acknowledge it. I could not see any bad in this man. I was stupidly blinded love and could only see the good in him. It was not until I was in therapy the first time that “rape” was ever identified and realized. I was also under the legal age of consent in the state where I live. Fear of prosecution for statutory rape was indeed the bigger worry for the male in question. After I turned the legal age, this boyfriend ignored my “no” a second time. He realized what he’d done and instantly felt remorse. Instead of letting him sit in those feelings, I comforted him. I told him it was OK. What he felt was, at that time, far more important than myself. I minimized what he did and internally blamed myself for what happened. That pattern of putting myself dead last did not serve me well in future relationships. It took a long time for me to learn to stand up for myself.

I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want that label. Yes, I was victimized but I am not a victim. I am strong, capable and I do have a voice now. I haven’t written about rape before because I have been afraid someone who knows me personally might see my post. This has been one of those secrets I’ve kept between myself and a therapist, until now. I read a fantastic post by another blogger who wrote about the difficulty of being vulnerable. She mentioned how unsure and reluctant she felt after writing and sharing a very real and raw post. I can relate 100%. I have put off writing  about this for a good while because I couldn’t summon the words. Writing it out and sharing makes it real and that means I have to face it. However, if my sharing helps someone else and shows them they’re not alone, the cringing, fear and internal screams are worth it.

Raw Art.

Sometimes, the weekend never really goes as planned. When I got up this morning, I had such great ambitions. It is now almost 4 pm and I’m ready for bed. I tried. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

I found a post online which featured 100+ artist’s work, depicting depression and other forms of mental illness.  I was scrolling through the many pictures, thinking how amazing it would be to paint or draw like these artists. I was admiring and relating to their work when I came to picture #34. It was titled “Sadness” and it was a sketch of what appeared to be a wolf-human hybrid. The creature was injured, bleeding and hanging it’s head, hugging itself. The caption read, “I feel sad and cold. But happy, because I have friends. So I feel guilty that I’m sad.” This image and caption brought me to tears and it summed up much of how I feel a lot of the time.

It’s difficult to express how I feel when I am not doing OK mentally. I don’t want to burden anyone with my sadness because they have their own problems. I don’t want to share the fact that anxiety has been nipping at my heals lately and I don’t know why or what to do. I see the apprehension in my husband when I talk about my mental health. I sense he fears history will repeat itself as my mother had a breakdown which caused her to stop working. It’s not easy to tell anyone what I’m feeling because I never want to appear weak. The funny thing is, whenever someone trusts me enough to confide in me, I see them as the bravest person in the world. I feel honored by their trust because I know how difficult it is. I am always afraid someone will see me as weak or incompetent if I share too much about my experiences with anxiety and depression. The stigma is still present and it does society no favors.

I’ve tried in the past to sketch how I feel when I’ve really been struggling with depression. I’ve been very hesitant to show the world that side of my art but I’ve included one in this post. It’s incredibly powerful when a picture that is so raw and personal comes together. I started painting as a form of art therapy. I know could be more brave and raw with my art and I’d like to work towards that.  The beautiful thing with art, in all it’s forms, is it makes one think, feel and imagine. It connects people like few other things can. Art is a brilliant medium in which to speak with when you can’t find the words.

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The idea behind this picture is: I am guiding my 10 year old self and my inner child through a tunnel of darkness and turmoil towards hope. This picture was done back in 2013, soon after I started therapy for the first time.

 

Today, I am grateful.

It’s said that living in the past is a waste of time. I would agree with that, to a point. Why? Sometimes you have to look back on life to really appreciate what you have and how far you’ve come. I’m not really sure why this is on my mind today but it is.

When I was 13 years old, my family moved to Arizona from Louisville, Kentucky. I basically went from a kid living in the suburbs to living out in the middle of nowhere. Quite literally. We moved to the Navajo Indian reservation and my parents were “missionaries” for about two and a half years. We’ve been in Arizona since December of 1987 and while talk of moving “home” was suggested before, it’s not happened yet. This morning, I was thinking about when we lived in Kentucky. Our life primarily consisted of school and attending every church function on the books. Occasionally I’d be allowed to go visit friends but rarely did we have friends over. I had one good friend at church. I went to a religious school too. I was usually the weird, new kid and I changed schools several times because I was not liked by my classmates (and several teachers).

I was wondering what my life could have look like had we never moved to Arizona. I know what would have been expected of me if I stayed in Kentucky. I know I would have been expected to marry a nice church-going boy, have several kids and have a middle class home in the ‘burbs. The culture in Kentucky and Arizona are very different and importance is placed on different values and ideas. Living in rural Arizona, the landscape alone is very different and therefore so are the opportunities.

While I wondered who I would have married, where I would have lived or whether I would have gone to college if I stayed in Kentucky; I couldn’t imagine not having all the blessings I have right now. I count my husband, kids, pets and friends as blessings. I count the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met as blessings. These people have been teachers for me (yup, even the kids) and I am the person everyone sees today as a result.

Success is so much more that having a fat bank account. Happiness is something you can’t really buy. While I can’t afford to travel or buy my dream house or live in another country, I am grateful for what I have. My life and my little world of people and experiences is a gift. A precious gift.

1 January, 2017

My new year’s eve was spent deep cleaning the house. I did not wake up with this bright idea in mind. This was my husband’s suggestion. Needless to say, I was not thrilled at the prospect. I envisioned my new year’s eve as a perfect time to veg and do nothing. My husband sold me on the idea of cleaning by saying he wanted to “start the year fresh” with a tidy house. While I was grumpy at the start of this endeavour, I am glad we took the time to clean. The house feels less furry and the energy feels lighter. The place smells better too which is also a big plus. It’s astonishing (and disgusting) how much filth a family can become accustomed to. You don’t realize the dust bunnies are slowly taking over until you’re on a mission to flush them out. Thankfully, the man with the plan was doing much of the climbing and dusting of the high places in the house. This was not a chore I could have tackled on my own and all the family pitched in.

My house, before today, reflected how I’ve been treating myself lately. I haven’t been caring for myself. I’ve become too worn out to bother. If I’m on my own and hungry, I won’t fix “real” food. I’ll usually snack on whatever I can find that’s fast or I just don’t eat. I tend to keep myself on the bottom of my list and I’m feeling the physical effects.

“Starting fresh” might seem like your typical new year’s cliche, much like losing weight or whatever else we promise ourselves. Taking a step back to reevaluating one’s life choices is something that can be done more than once a year. I don’t do a new year’s resolutions anymore because I can’t keep them. When the new year would roll around, I be left feeling like a loser because I’d failed (again) to meet my goal. However, small mindset changes don’t hurt and they can pay off well in the long run. Last year, I set out to buy myself quality things instead of buying cheap things for myself to making due (like I usually do). Bigger events happened this past year and reality sidelined my best intentions.

Last year, my goal was sort of in the same vein as this year’s goal. My goal this year is to respect myself. What I mean by that is: treat myself as if I really love and care about myself. I don’t do that very well at all and I haven’t for a very long time. I am really starting to feel the effects of putting myself last. My body is tired most of the time. I get frequent headaches and I have discovered I am quite a tense person. Even as I type, my neck and shoulders are tense. I have trouble sleeping as a result of simply feeling lousy. When I over extend myself, my body revolts.

Self care is important and it’s not a selfish act. “One doesn’t get far on an empty tank” is a quote I’ve seen on those inspirational Facebook posts. It is a cliche but it’s true. We can’t help others if we’re struggling to drag ourselves out of bed! Putting myself towards the top of my to-do list is essential if I am to make it through this year and beyond. I’m going to start off my goal with going to bed now as it’s almost 2 am. Happy 2017 everyone.