Trying to keep up with more than one conversation at the table I caught the words “is having surgery” coming from my husband’s mouth… “WHO is having surgery??” I ask urgently. So much has been happening this first quarter of the year (which has seemingly evaporated) I thought I missed some vital news. “I hate to break it to you”, he replies with a smile, “but it’s you.”. The table erupts in laughter, I shake my head… so much going on, I had actually forgotten that though I don’t have a date yet, surgery is on my Spring schedule.
Much of the work I do involves guiding others to find their inner and outer resources to get through difficult times, reconcile the challenges they have faced and move towards wellness and hopefully, better days. Much of this work, I find, informs me as well. I know that each day sitting in the chair across from another, virtual or otherwise, gives me new insights into the healing process: how to heal and how to be healed.
For me, like so many, the end of the last year and the start of the new one overflowed with stressors, never mind a pandemic brewing in the background over the holiday season. A medical issue that discovered another, surgery for the first, another pending for the second, family member crisis that led to one or two more, family members suffering with illness and crises. Despite this collection of obstacles I have endeavored to keep my head up and move forward, counting my blessings, knowing things could be worse, believing my family and I will get to the other side and be ‘ok’. I think I’m coping pretty well, but am I? My plans to be more creative, set time aside for a writing practice (and this blog!), establish a healthy physical activity routine and be more involved in community classes and finally get out more, were tossed out the window of weeks of surgical recovery that would and will be needed, the need to show up for family and work and the need to keep it simple to hold it all together.
At some point I found myself searching for knitting patterns on my favorite Crafter site, Ravelry. I already had plenty of yarn and patterns but it was easy to disappear into all the ways Harry Potter, Moons or animals can be represented in knit projects! That progressed into scanning eBay for yarn, mind you, I already have a very healthy yarn stash. I have since started more than a handful of projects at a time of year I am usually wrapping them up in preparation for Spring planting and activity. I realized the feel of the yarn in my hands, the satisfaction of a project coming together and the distraction of following a pattern were my tools for keeping my mind focused on the NOW, so I could be present for my family, my patients and keep my mind steady.
The work I do has informed me too well that we all have a point at which it becomes too difficult to hold it all together. Without a variety of tools, it can be difficult to do so. This brings me to another aspect of my work: assisting others to build on their innate resilience.
What is ‘Resilience’? “Merriam-Webster offers two definitions, the second definition reads: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” (Meyers, 2018) There is much written about resilience, and a typical google search will produce the ‘5 Cs’, the ‘7 Cs’, the ‘five skills’ up to ’11 skills’ for fostering, promoting, and or honing resilience. What do all of these perspectives boil down to?
The few I will speak to are the ones I think I am relying the most on these days:
- Community: The close ties to family or friends, or spiritual community, understanding colleagues, your writing or soccer group… I believe humans are a good part ‘herd animal’: we receive signals from each other, give each other cues, and as much hurt as there is in the world we also have an incredible capacity to also help each other. While group mind can have its shadow side, there can be safety, support and comfort found in community to support one through difficult times.
- Coping Skills, Distress tolerance, Confidence in one’s ability to ‘weather the storm’: A lot of the work done with patients centers on these items, while supporting the first. We only have the skills that our childhood lives provided us. I say to patients, we get a toolbox from our families, if you are lucky you will have a variety to choose from, but for many, you may leave with skills that may not be healthy, or perhaps lack variety. The old saying “if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is folk wisdom advising us that if we do not gain additional tools, we will only use what we have and it may not be the appropriate, or ‘right’ tool. Some tools served us during difficult times. Without gaining new tools we continue to use old ones that do not necessarily fit the new situations we find ourselves in causing greater difficulty in our lives.
- Flexibility, Acceptance, Mindfulness: Yoga poses are not being referred to here, more along the lines of “go with the flow”. It sounds easy, but these skills require surrender, vulnerability and trust which are difficult to access when we have sufferred wrongs, hardship and struggle to get through our days. Simple tasks or projects can help us be mindful: folding laundry, gardening, woodworking, rebuilding an engine, knitting. These project-based activities can help us be present, keeping us from getting lost in distorted thinking patterns. The more time we spend in the present moment the easier it becomes to ‘flow’ and adapt.
- Emotional and Physical Self-Care: This one can be especially hard with all the demands that life can impose upon us. It is improtnat to keep the notion of ‘small steps’ here. Five minutes here and there add up and the result is care for the self that gives us the energy reserves needed to face stressors as they show up.
Therapeutic work can foster all of these skills. Assisting others experiencing hardship and surviving our own hardships can help us learn these skills. The joy of my work is sitting across from another and sharing these skills and insights in order to find some peace in a storm. The gift from my work is having the opportunity to revisit these skills myself and learn from those sitting across from me. We have so much to offer each other and it is a privilege to have these conversations.
You can find links to articles below if you would like to read more. There are more qualities and skills you can read about to build resilience in yourself and encourage it in those you care about in an article by the American Psychological Association. I have also linked a lovely article on how knitting can serve as therapy as well as an article on the benefits and potential perils of retail therapy. In the meantime, when you find yourself without an umbrella, tip your head back, smell the air, feel the ‘water’ on your face, feel your feet on the ground and set your sights on the passing of the clouds.
If you would like to read more about Resilience: https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
The benefits and perils of retail therapy: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/retail-therapy-shopping-compulsion/ and https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-why-behind-the-buy/201305/why-retail-therapy-works (and how to spot a habit gone awry)
Last but not least, if you want to read more about the earth-shaking Venus retrograde conjunct Pluto in Capricorn that brought in the year, these links are good places to start: https://chaninicholas.com/a-note-from-chani-on-venus-retrograde/
& our local astrology goddess in Montpelier on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/LindaRiverValente/posts