Your worst days can bring out your best resiliency skills

I’ve been talking via email with my stepsister, Lori, whose teenage daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. Our online conversation was mostly about the highs and lows of raising her neuro-diverse daughter and she shared with me many of the gifts that come along with having a special needs child.

Then, one day, this was the message in my inbox: “Today is a day in the trenches! It’s a battle and I’m bawling in my coffee. This journey is joy and pain in every aspect of those words. My knees are bloody on this life path. My guilt over wanting my life (before it was chucked under the special needs bus) back is outweighing my good will today. A special needs child “needs” almost all of the time. There is also the alienation aspect of this life in the foreground today. It’s very hard for me to relate to neuro-typical people. I hear people gripe and moan about ‘normal’ problems and I want to cause them bodily harm! Some days are frustration!”

While my heart ached for Lori, I was also really impressed with her message because she was actually demonstrating a lot of resilience.

“What?” I can hear you asking, “Where’s the resilience in this horrible day for her?” Let’s look a little more closely at her resiliency skills.

1. Sharing pain with a friend. Instead of keeping these really difficult, raw thoughts and emotions to herself where they might boil inside her, she shared them with me. Using friends as a pressure valve can prevent your boiling emotions from scalding your heart.

2. The art of holding two opposing things at the same time. This is a really tricky thing to do. You can see it in the sentence This journey is joy and pain in every aspect of those words. Joy/pain, guilt/good will. It really is possible to hold two different emotions – and even opposing – emotions and be okay with it.

I’ve often heard people who are grieving say, “I’m so confused. I’m devastated that he’s gone, yet I feel relieved at the same time. Which one is the right emotion? Should I feel relief or devastation?” To which my answer is, “Yes.”  Both are appropriate and – although a weird sensation – it’s perfectly okay to experience both things at once.

3. Acknowledging emotions. One of my favorite things about Lori’s message is that she doesn’t beat around the bush about how she’s feeling. Today is a day in the trenches … it’s a battle … my knees are bloody … Acceptance of your own experience and emotions is key to being resilient; the awareness allows you to be very realistic with yourself about how hard life is at the moment so you can best figure out a plan to bounce back.

4. Realizing that this is how it feels today. Notice how Lori acknowledged her feelings of today: Today is a day in the trenches! My guilt is outweighing my good will today. Alienation is in the foreground today. Some days are frustration.

She is able to put things in perspective: today sucks. But notice how she doesn’t say, “My life is always in the trenches. I feel guilty all the time. I’m constantly isolated and alienated.” Her recognition that today is a really bad day automatically gives her hope for tomorrow. And realistically so, since she’s relying on her past experience to realize that there have been bad days in the past and she’s always made it through.

5. Using humor. I couldn’t help smile at some of Lori’s writing. She’s a very funny person anyway, and I could see that, even though this day was hell, her humor was still buffering it for her: I’m bawling in my coffee … my life was chucked under the special needs bus …  I hear people gripe and moan about “normal” problems and I want to cause them bodily harm! It’s dark humor, but it’s humor nonetheless and a great way to take the sting off of the painful reality of her emotions and experience.

Takeaway points: Sometimes even the worst days can bring out the best resiliency skills in you. Give yourself some credit, even when you feel like life has you down for the count.

Bobbi Emel is a psychotherapist who blogs at Bounce Blog.

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