By Sophie Scott
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising up, every time we fall.” Confucius
When life doesn’t go exactly the way you had hoped, what is it that helps some of us to be able to cope better, be resilient or even grow as a person through adversity?
As a journalist, focusing on health and medicine, much of my time is spent with patients, some of whom have been deeply traumatised, whether they are living with a chronic illness or recovering from a life threatening condition.
Or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Recently, I spent time with three women, who had unimaginable tragedy in their lives. They had all lost someone they loved to suicide through an eating disorder.
I travelled interstate to spend time with one of the mothers, Fiona.
Her young daughter Tess was diagnosed with anorexia at 11, and died at 16.
What struck me was her quiet determination that her daughter’s death would not be in vain.
“I don’t think anyone can understand this experience unless you have been there,” she said.
Fiona battled for five years, to get her daughter the help she needed.
Instead, she was told by doctors to ‘force-feed’ her child.
Another time, she waited for 35 hours in the emergency room of a hospital and wouldn’t leave until her daughter got medical care.
(See more about Fiona's story here)
Losing her daughter was shattering, but somehow just months after it happened, she found the inner strength and resilience to be able to open up about what happened to her and her daughter.
I actually don’t know if I could have done the same and I admire her so much for her courage.
“I just don’t want other families to go through what we went through,” she told me.
What I realised by talking to Fiona was that maybe her act of speaking out to advocate for change was one tangible way she could claw back some sense of meaning out of such tragedy.
When I went back at looked at the research into resilience, I was struck by the insight that the the creator of positive psychology Martin Seligman had about how people overcome setbacks.
He found the best way to move past setbacks was to move beyond the three Ps:
Personalisation - the idea you are at fault,
Pervasiveness - the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life,
Permanence - the thought that the effect of the event will be life-long.
Do these thoughts strike a chord with you? They do with me.
When something goes wrong, how often do we think; it’s my fault or this will change everything or that life will never be the same now this has happened.
Fiona told me that she struggled to move past feelings of blaming herself when her daughter became ill.
“One doctor said I needed to go into therapy so I could find out why it was I couldn’t save my daughter’s life,” she said.
“That stayed with me for a long time.”
Ultimately though, she realised though that it wasn’t her fault.
It was the system that let her family down.
And while the loss of her beloved daughter would change her life forever, she was able to make a difference to others, by shining a light on a health system that failed her family.
Women like Fiona embody the true meaning of courage, that is ‘strength in the face of pain and grief.’ She spoke out when it was much easier to stay silent.
Her desire to protect other families from a similar heartache helped boost her strength and resilience.
I’ve written more about resilience and the paths to happiness in my book Roadtesting Happiness. (click here to see more.)
But Fiona’s story will always stay with me, as will the stories of the other families I met.
And I know their stories of hope despite sadness and resilience in the face of loss, resonates with others too.
What has helped you to become resilient?
What strategies have helped you to get back up when you have fallen down?
Until next time.
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