Earlier I wrote about the stages of the first responder’s career. For the police it seems to be a journey from the heroic to the cynic to, hopefully, the resilient. Fire fighters, doctors, nurses also follow a similar pattern. This pattern tends to be parallel to the psychological stages of reaction to a disaster, such as this pandemic. So let’s take a look at resilience.
When I first heard the term I thought it was like a football player who takes an enormous hit, doesn’t even feel it and keeps going. Nope, that’s not resilience, that’s being a refrigerator.
The word resilience came into use in the 17th century, came from the Latin resili, meaning to spring back, to rebound. The Latin roots of the word offers a clue to a deeper meaning: re and salire. ‘Re’ in Latin means again; salire means jump. Resilire: jump again, spring back. From that word came the word resile, Now here is the crux of the matter. Resile is defined as: to abandon a position or a course of action. For example, ‘can he resile from the agreement? And from there, resilience.
So the way I see it, being resilient is— do, abandon that position and then jump back, rebound. Stephan Curry shoots with the intent that the ball will go in. He drops that plan when the ball bounces off the rim. Then he leaps, grabs the ball, and shoots again. In it goes (Yay, Steph). He has abandoned the first plan, regained his composure about the loss, and shoots. Here is resilience: do, fail, do again differently.
This pandemic is a long term crisis that will continue until there is a vaccine, prophylactic drugs, or, as in HIV- a cocktail of meds that will ameliorate disastrous results. Epidemiologists say that ‘herd immunity’ is not a viable options because by the time that is reached the mortality rate would be far too high (tens of thousands of deaths just in the Bay Area). In other words, resilience in the pandemic is less 100 yard dash and more marathon.
In the flush of adrenaline, in fight/flight mode, the basketball player, the ER nurse, cop, doesn’t have the mental space to consider our reactions of ‘well, that didn’t work, how do I feel about that?’ Far too busy dealing with death and destruction. This has nothing to do with resilience. This is athleticism. This is warrior mode. This is override for the greater good.
The danger, of course, is that this is a potential set up for more problems down the road. If the deep emotional reactions to the ‘abandon the position‘ step is denied, there is the potential for long term consequences. Running over the top of pain and grief by denial, numbing, re-entering the fray without acknowledgement can bring trouble. I know how this works. After my mom’s awful and sudden death, I quickly went back to work. The irony, was of course, my work has to do with helping folks process the very emotions I was running from. That glossed over grief turned into depression and ultimately got me back into therapy. Thankfully.
This three part scheme of resilience (do, fail, do again differently) includes a very human reaction to the the fail-loss part. This can include anger, self blame, shame, and all kinds of other nasties. For some, there is a denial that can create psychological stress, and others a paralysis about the loss. And others: an acceptance and increased tolerance for that loss. A healthy resilience, I’d argue, in this pandemic, means to acknowledge the losses (a family member, patient; loss of social connection and touch; loss of economic stability, etc). Ideally, one grieves that loss, then takes the next shot. Doesn’t have to be in exact sequence. But, without that pause, this resilience may be short lived. That crucial ingredient has been glossed over. Burn out, irritability, depression may easily follow. And then attempts to fix that problem rather than the original one can lead to alcohol, drugs, sexual acting out, etc. Fall out from the not dealing with the grieving.
I’m not suggesting in the middle of the shift. Maybe not even when one gets home after shift. Or at the end of the week. But at some point— acknowledge the losses. Dealing with this damn pandemic takes a lot of control…letting go of that in a safe place helps. This sets in motion a healing process that will pay off as the crisis eases.
Building resilience is not rocket science… it’s mostly common sense. Going back over almost a thousand years, Arabic medicine recommended a healthy diet, exercise and fresh air. Sounds good to me. These are basics to building resilience.
What to do/what not to do:
What doesn’t kill you, MAY make you stronger— if you do something about it. If not, it will make you weaker. For example here’s a recipe for doing damage to yourself:
- Get angry, resentful, ‘it’s their fault,’ I deserved so much better than this.
- It is my fault. I shoulda woulda coulda, etc. etc. etc.
- My life is turning into an ongoing streaming of “The Lord of the Flies.’ No one gets along. We’re an episode of Ozarks, without the pretty lake.
- Everybody is toxic: stay away. I am alone, and I want to stay alone.
- I’ll watch everything on Covid on the TV… that’ll help my nerves.
- Numbness to the fear is a good thing—bring on the booze and drugs.
- Do not laugh at anything. People are dying.
In fact, none of these are bad, simply in and of themselves. For example, the first one, anger, if turned into positive political action can help recreate this damaged world. Even the self blaming second one, with a little thought, can lead to alternative strategies going forward.
Remember the ancient Arabs’ recommendations : a healthy diet, exercise and fresh air. Here are some more ways to build resiliency:
- The jangled body needs to slow down and rest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people fishing the ocean here before. Maybe build something in the garage. Try a meditation app. Yoga if you like; go birding. Get yr partner to give you a bad ass massage.
- It would be sweet if building resilience could be done on our own. Not so much. In a safe place with safe friends, a partner, open up. The emotional build up from the fail-loss part of do, fail, try again, is toxic. This is the key moment of healing.
- Laugh. Yeah, it’s awful. And it may look, if you’re not in a safe environment, that you are cold and inhuman. In a safe place: Feel free. The grief, love, care, frustration, and pure pain can come out this way. Try not to get fired. (I’ll deny I ever met you…)
- I’ve a couple of friends who are on a mission through this. Their goal: Spot one kind thing a day. Probably not on TV which can be pretty cheesy and gamey. At work. In the neighborhood. Believe it or not, on the road. It’s there…. if you look for it.
- Meaning- see the earlier blog.
Go easy, folks
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