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Nov 02 2009

The Limits of Resilience

There’s a Facebook meme running around that’s basically, “Describe me in one word.” I put that up recently, and someone answered, “resilient”. While I’m sure it wasn’t his intent, I almost cried.

Resilience was a fairly new field of study when I was getting my degree in psychology, lo, those many years ago, and I was fascinated by it. I would be, of course. It’s the study of how people recover from bad events instead of being irreparably broken by them. At the time, much of the focus was on how some kids from less than ideal backgrounds grow up to be happy and successful. Hence, my fascination.

In case you’re curious, two of the big things that allow kids to survive and thrive whatever their circumstances are problem-solving skills and the presence of even a single adult who is thoroughly in the kid’s court. This plays no small part in my opinions on education and informs my interactions with the few kids in my life. It also limits the number of children I do interact with. But I digress.

In the end, resilience mostly comes down to resources–having them and knowing how and when to use them. I got myself into a bit of trouble this spring by gambling that I had the resources to support me in taking an emotional risk. For various reasons, some of those resources weren’t available to me when things went badly. Between that and the fact that I’d declared some solutions to my problems to be off limits, I boxed myself in. Badly.

I got hurt. Not sleeping for more than a couple hours at a time, running on adrenaline, back against the wall because that’s one direction they can’t come at you from–that kind of hurt. Unsurprisingly, I made myself sick. Slightly more surprisingly, I stayed sick.

Actually, I’d already been sick. Too much time off in the last couple of years for sleeping away the muzzy head and sore throat. Too much time off for migraines. Just a day here and a day there, but enough to eat up all my time off so I didn’t get vacation aside from the occasional long weekend. And after I hurt myself, it was worse.

Being, indeed, at least somewhat resilient, I decided this was a problem that needed fixing and went to the doctor. There’s nothing really wrong with me. Well, I have allergies that are now responding decently to a new antihistamine. The joints in my big toes are screwed up in ways that can probably be compensated for without intrusive intervention, like my knees. I still have a wonky heart valve, but it’s not noticeably worse than it was seven years ago. But all my blood tests are well within normal ranges, and I’m not showing any inflammatory markers that would suggest I picked up the family problems.

Oh, and there’s the problem of the bad Pap smear. And the waiting for the biopsy results. And the figuring out what kind of surgery I’ll be having. All just a little stressful.

So changing my antihistamine hasn’t made me any better. In fact, I’ve been worse. I’ve slept twelve hours in a night before, but never while averaging nine to ten hours of sleep regularly, and I’ve still had trouble keeping my eyes open while “awake.” Not content to let my throat have all the fun, my ears have been hurting too, all without a fever or elevated white cell count. I went on leave from work to formalize the fact that they can’t count on me to be there on any given day. The drugs that are supposed to help keep me from getting migraines haven’t been helping, or at least I’m still getting migraines.

In other words, it’s not been good around here.

That’s what “resilient” was dropped into the middle of, and why I almost cried. I haven’t been feeling my most resilient lately, despite this person nailing one of the ways I usually think of myself.

At the same time, I realized that I am being more resilient than I’m giving myself credit for. Maybe my body isn’t bouncing back, but I am still working on my problems, even if I don’t know how the answers will turn out. We changed my migraine medication to propranolol, which has worked for me before. It may also give my body a rest from some of the stress by blocking the action of adrenaline.

I’m grabbing glimpses of fun where I can find them, saving the energy I do have for a friend’s birthday dinner, another’s baby shower. I’m fighting the work ethic that says that if I can’t do the things I normally do that require concentration, I shouldn’t be doing anything else either. I’m losing the war on feeling guilty about it, but I’m trying.

I’m not ruling out any solutions this time around. Some of them aren’t very appealing, but they’re staying on the table while I think about what they offer and what they demand. In the end, that may be this summer’s big lesson. This is where my limits lie.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Becca

    The morning sun is shining like a red rubber Stephanie?Functioning at a supremely high level when everything is going to hell around you is nice and everything, but it's not actually resilience. You will pull though. If there's anything I can do to help across the intertubes just let me know. I don't know if you have the particular stubborness that I do, but just in case… Remember that getting people to help you is a problem solving tool, not a cop-out.

  2. 2
    D. C.

    Resilience is getting back in shape after the pressure is off.Doesn't sound to me like the pressure is off, and "doesn't crush under pressure" isn't "resilient" it's "hard." As in, "brittle." As in, "does fine until it all goes Humpty-Dumpty.""Tough" is something else again. "Tough" is being pushed past your limits of resilience, and not coming apart for good [1].IMHO, "tough" is more admirable than "resilient." It's also something that only shows after someone has had the shit beat out of hir.So when the world stops putting unbearable pressure on you, maybe we find out if you're "resilient," or maybe "tough." Hope the day comes soon.This bit of semantic pedantry is brought to you courtesy of my metallurgy professors — but I've always found it comforting, so since I can't offer you much besides words …Be well, Stephanie.[1] By and large, Hollywood "tough guys" aren't. They're too used to winning.

  3. 3
    Stephanie Zvan

    Thank you both. I should note that where I'm talking about having questioned how resilient I am is looking at the summer and having stalled in "getting back" after the pressure was off. I do know that resilience is not measured in the middle of the siege.

  4. 4
    Stephanie Zvan

    Oh, and Becca, my particular form of stupid in these situations is not even mentioning them to people I think can't do anything about them. Blogging helps with that tendency, but it's still there.

  5. 5
    Jason Thibeault

    Sometimes after you've been knocked down hard, you need a hand to get back up. Once you're back up, resilience is recovering now that you're on your feet and the pressure's off. Don't think it's a measure of your resilience that you were having problems restoring normality while you were still flat on your back, just because you weren't being pummeled while you were there.DC said it — a better word for what you are is "tough".

  6. 6
    Anonymous

    Steph, You are wise to recognize your limits. Not everyone can. When you are weak, accept help. Give it back when you are stronger. I hope everything comes out OK (no pun intended) today and that you heal quickly. Take the nice drugs while you need it and make Ben wait on you hand and foot.april

  7. 7
    Silver Fox

    I wish there was something I could do to help from a distance. Really, like sending soup one electron at a time, or cleaning your house, or anything. Do get people to do those things for you, be specific when they say, "is there anything I can do?" Give them a list. Many people won't think of specific things on their own, at least that's been my experience in the past.Do you need an editor, someone to write to? These are the only kinds of things I can think of right now.

  8. 8
    Tezcatlipoca

    All the best.

  9. 9
    Dana Hunter

    My dear Captain, I wish I could be there in person to offer assistance as you navigate the sometimes stormy seas to recovery. If there's anything the ship's crew can do, you have only to ask. If there be something from the Seattle waterfront required for your convalescence, drop by the cantina and let me know – it shall be on its way to you immediately. And if you end up needing me to pass the collection tankard, do not hesitate to ask. We're only too happy to help!Here's hoping that after this bit of stormy weather, it shall all be smooth sailing for you from here.

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