It may be that in writing this blog I am cursing myself; I have fingers, toes and legs crossed and am holding on to a piece of good solid wood, all for luck and against sod’s law. I hope nothing happens to derail me because I wrote this down!
I have spoken at events recently about ‘resilience’ and I have been pondering what it means. If resilience is important for people with long term conditions to have full lives, where they bounce back from inevitable setbacks, how can we help people to build resilience? or do some people just have it and others not?
One of the meanings of resilience is the ability of something to spring back into its original shape, an elasticity that helps things to retain their form. But I think this is unhelpful when thinking about health or indeed most aspects of life; life events, no matter how positive or negative they are, shape us as people and for many of us leave indelible marks. I think the definition that includes the word ‘adjustment’ is more helpful; after things happen to us, it is our ability to adjust and move on that makes us resilient.
Remember Weebles? Wobbling but not falling down? See also this brilliant blog from @betabetic about Resilience, Weebles and personal stones.
So, am I a resilient character? I think so. Having reflected, I think it is a learnt behaviour. I was a child of a broken home, although I still had a very happy childhood. The broken home part led to me taking up responsibilities probably beyond what you would expect of a 15 year old; I effectively ran the home and ended up moving out into rented accommodation at 17. I didn’t go on to do further study at 16, leaving school to earn money so I could completely support myself. My reflection is that my learnt behaviour, to be independent and self-sufficient, is an attitude that has continued into by Diabetes life. I have had a few curved balls thrown at me and I doubt that I have reached the point where no more can be lobbed, but I hope my resilience and ability to cope continue (keep those fingers crossed for me).
I am also as stoic as they come, even from Yorkshire. Stoicism is also an interesting word as it relates to endurance and acceptance, without complaint or emotion. I am not saying I don’t complain or get emotional, more that I seem to have a deep acceptance of life events. This leads me to a place where I can be more resilient; I adjust and move on.
So, has Diabetes caused me to face events and situations that require me to be able to adjust but keep focussed on positives and move on? Absolutely, my attitude continues to be that there are many worse things I could have, although it’s tricky and can be rubbish. I am alive and have a good life; I consider myself to be lucky.
So how can we help people to become resilient?
How we react when things happen for me is key. I once had my driving licence revoked due to my diabetes. It was a mistake and I did regain it but not for many, many weeks. I was also quite heavily pregnant and still working at a hospital 15 miles away from home. My attitude? Public transport is what I need to do and I quickly learnt how to manage and still get to work. The buses were OK and I learnt to read and gaze at the views as we went on the long tortuous journeys (bus routes are rarely direct). I can still get myself around on public transport unlike my 85-year-old aunt who has never been on a service bus and now can’t drive. I feel sure I would have my walking stick and umbrella and be waiting for the free Sainsbury’s bus – I developed a skill! She choses not to learn to use the buses and complains that she can’t get out and about like she could. Choosing public transport over going off sick or leaving work maybe isn’t a big deal but it demonstrates my attitude.
Electing to react in a positive way to an event is for me the crucial factor. I am not saying I don’t gnash my teeth and wail but I soon move on actively seeking a way of managing past the problem. I can be stroppy, though, as I hate people feeling sorry for me so people saying how terrible it is can sometimes get short sharp words (sorry!).
So we can actively encourage people to focus on finding a way forward. For me my resilience is about taking a very active stance – if something around my Diabetes management is causing real difficulties how can I deal with it?
Can I learn more about it? Can I change my behaviour or how do I get to a better place? How can I find a way forward?
Having an effective network of people who can help me solve problems is also important, despite my independence. I like to talk problems through and it helps if its people who understand. This is how the Diabetes Online Community (#DOC) is helpful to me, a small network of people where I have reasonably strong ties – comrades in arms! I can seek advice and support from these lovely people in addition to my own family and friends.
Creating peer relationships for people with LTCs might help some people, whether this be in person or online.
I like having things to look forward to and I feel this increases my resilience; setting goals, however small, helps me get past setbacks and put bad things that happen into an appropriate place in my life. I am a reasonably driven person and I always like to have something else in my life that can counter balance my health. Right now, for example, we are planning my husband’s 60th birthday party, we are determined to make it special and memorable and are having great fun doing so! It doesn’t have to be big grand goals that distract you (there are always cats and kittens).
So how can we help people to set goals and take positive action. What one thing each day will help them feel that they are in control?
I recently spoke to a group of Paediatricians who care for children with Diabetes and this made me reflect. It seems to me that we might want to protect young people and try to shield them from life events that challenge them but I think it is vital that they find out how they will cope and build and strengthen their personal resilience. Wrapping children in cotton wool when they have to face a lifetime of coping seems to me to be wrong.
There are of course other strategies I could use. I am not particularly good at looking after myself. I work too hard, rarely stopping and I’m not very good at relaxing. I think I need to learn these skills as I get older. I have tried mindfulness but I seem to be too busy to fit it in!! I need to practice more!
I found this information from the American Psychological Association to be very helpful when reflecting on my own resilience.
This picture was taken around the time I was diagnosed as having T1 Diabetes