Trauma and Growth: Developing Resiliency
Today I went to speak to a high school class about resiliency. It was an epic flop.
In my enthusiasm, I wrote out speaking notes, discussion points, and created activities for maximum engagement. I read more research than I thought possible on resiliency. Looked at available resources to share. I even had a social media campaign planned and was excited to have their feedback. We agreed to have the talk outside since the weather was gorgeous. I wanted to tell stories and hear theirs.
Except being outside was distracting, my talking points didn’t connect with them, and at the risk of being my own worst critic, I straight up sucked as a presenter.
Wooooooooah there, normally I’m a story telling champ so what gives? Well… <<shrugs shoulders>> …it happens. Outta practice for suuuure. As they say, failure promotes growth. So I’ll keep trying until my presentation is an interesting as the message is important. Till then, bloggin’ is ma jam and this is what I actually wanted to convey…
During my nursing degree I drove three different students to psych emerge. That is three too many. Trazodone is a popular prescribed drug of choice to help nursing students sleep. Using ‘uppers and downers’ although not confirmed, is whispered about frequently. Burn out, like mine, even before you actually become a nurse is common.
Among military/veteran friends, the struggles of dealing with PTSD are real. Coping with alcohol and cannabis is common. Late night calls in distress or elevated outbursts happen. Suicide happens.
In my 40 plus crowd there stress, burnout, depression, anxiety attacks…
Something is wrong. Very very wrong. Or maybe ‘concerning’ is a better choice of words. We (society collectively) are failing somewhere along the lines when it comes to nurturing resiliency.
That’s a pretty broad statement. C’est vrai, I know, but you can’t tell me we’re great at raising resilience youth. I mean, you can try to argue it and I’ll do my best to listen…but it’s not the argument itself that I’m interested in (we can save that for another day). What perks my interest is how to arm our youth (and adults for that matter) with the coping skills they need to manage life with all it’s hurdles.
Because there will be adverse events in life.
Who the double H hockey sticks am I to even bring up resiliency? Well, there was witnessing a plane crash at 18yrs old, getting into a damn tank accident when I was 19yrs old, and having a child die in my arms when I was 20yrs old. Not to mention a handful of military deployments, bad relationships, and brush with bankruptcy. I’m pretty good at bouncing back, not always, but mostly. None of which makes me an expert on adversity and resiliency, but it does make me someone who understands it a little.
So here is what I actually wanted to say today:
- If you struggle with coping with adverse events, that is not on you. You do not have to keep silent or bare it all yourself. You do not need to ‘man up’. You are not a failure nor are you weak. You are struggling, it is normal to struggle, and growing to be better at coping/managing those struggles is possible.
- You are not alone. Ever. You are not alone in your thoughts, in your struggles, or in your emotions. Just because it’s not talked about often doesn’t mean that others haven’t been through it. Struggling with adverse events is ok. It’s ok to not be ok. We should speak more often, normalize these feelings and advocate for increased available resources.
- Keep fighting but allow yourself some self-compassion. If one coping strategy doesn’t work, try the next, and the next, and the next. Along the way, embrace self-compassion. You strong for trying, strong for reaching out, strong for expressing your feelings, and strong for today.
- One trauma is not more or less significant than the other. I’ve heard countless times where military members grapple to understand how the <insert derogatory term for a support trade here> has PTSD or struggle but you (the super soldier that you are) have been through the same or “worse” and are just fine so what gives with that weak ass other guy? Admittedly this drives me bananas. This is not a truth. This is a lack of understanding surrounding mental health and trauma. It has no bearing except to highlight the need for further education.
- We are all loveable and worthy of love. End of story. I highly recommend reading Loveability by Robert Holden if you even think a smidgen otherwise.
- For the love of all holy, manage stress before it manages you. It’s not just a fluff-hippie-wellness type statement. Stress creeps in and before you know it you’re overwhelmed, on survival mode, and the physiological responses are hitting you like a mac truck. Your sleep cycle, nutrition, perspective, exercise, outdoor time, support structures (family, friends, counselors, mentors) matter. Work on that. By not focusing on the burn out, but rather at changing one habit at a time to support healing is what allowed me to stay sane while bouncing back to good health.
- Find positive coping mechanisms to replace the temptation/habit of negative ones. Journaling, art, music, dancing, running, hiking, meditation, mental health apps, therapy, counselors, volunteer for an organization that gives you joy, puppy therapy, seek our mentors, light therapy, connect with friends who ‘get it’, find local social groups or support groups online, practice breathing exercises, explore your faith or spirituality, or find a positive purpose and advocate for change. Try one thing, or another, or ten…keep trying until you figure out what works for you. It’s no secret, I’ve changed my lights to bright blue/white ones to fight winter blues, hike often as a moving meditation, help other when I can because it feels good to do good, and blog as a creative outlet.
- Our time is now. We are gifted this life, it is wonderful and painful and exciting and scary all rolled into one and that’s ok. It more than ok, it’s damn gorgeous. It was team no fun to lose friends friends on deployments overseas. Their deaths were understandably impactful, however here’s my perspective; if we’re the lucky ones to be alive, then dammit, I am really going to be alive. That’s how I choose to honour them, by making the most of my life no matter what is thrown my way.
Wrapping it up
It’s not like you’re either born resilient or you’re not, resiliency can be developed. The biggest question today was ‘how?’ Well, ain’t that just a darn good question. How as adults do we develop our ability to process and cope, and just as importantly how do we foster resiliency in our youth? Well, my thoughts are to start with the above and to exhaust any and all community/health resources if needed. Although I don’t have the solution to magically fix this, it is painful obvious that our ‘bounce back factor’ needs a hell of a boost.
Most of all, I’d say to never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. It’s humbling AF. I’ve realized this, boy oh boy have I ever realized how humbling it is in the last few years. I’ve cried and self-served humble pie more times than I care to count while asking for help. The funny thing is, help is hard to get if you don’t ask. So reach out. You might be surprised by who steps up to the plate.
And later, when you are able and strong, you can return the favour because like I mentioned above – the only certainly is that there will be hurdles in life for us all.
Note: I am not a health professional, this is an opinion piece only. Please contact your family physician or local health care resources for support. The numbers for crisis centres in Canada are listed at Lifeline Canada. There is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-8255 for American readers.