I used to be tough. I had to be. I grew up in a family where being needy was a sign of weakness, and feelings and emotions were things you kept to yourself. My parents separated when I was quite young, which meant I had to learn to depend on myself because neither of them was ever reliably available for me. Repeated disappoints from my parents made me resilient because I had to recover and bounce back from so many situations that need not be a part of a person’s childhood. That learned resilience helped me cope with every obstacle life put in my path and all the crappy things people believe it’s okay to do to each other.
The thing is, the longer I’m sick the less resilient I feel I’m becoming. The unshakeable pain I feel every minute of every day is starting to chip away at my psychological and emotional strength and my ability to bounce back, relatively quickly, from difficult issues that crop up, regardless of the size. That concerns me because I think to survive this illness for an unpredictable amount of time I need the spark of combined toughness and grit I’ve always carried within me. That spark has lit my way and guided me through countless hard and painful situations in my life; and I feel like it might start to fade under the unyielding pressure from my pain. To be truthful, I’m more than concerned, I’m a bit afraid. What if, I can’t hold on to the intangible thing that has kept me grounded and moving forward in life until now; until now, when I need it more than ever.
The strange thing is, the more I question myself about this, the more my mind turns to a TED Talk about grit and resilience – primarily in children – I watched a few years ago. I felt immediately connected, to the theories the speaker, Psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth raised as she spoke. I understood her ideas about how or, more accurately, what is necessary, beyond intelligence and socioeconomic background for a person to succeed. However, that was three years ago, when I was healthy. Now, I can see that there is so much we don’t see or are unable to measure with tests or studies to chart ‘success’ because my perspective of success is no longer measured in the same ways. Now, my success is rooted in what I can do from day to day, within the limits set by my pain; and I can feel my pain chipping away at my toughness and working to dim my spark every day.
As I thought more about this TED Talk, I wondered if anyone had done any studies on resilience and chronic pain. I found some published psychological studies that I’ll be reading in more detail later. The gist of them all is that resilience does matter and chronic pain patients with greater levels of resilience have a higher survival rate. Now that I know this, the question for me is, how do I keep myself from losing my resilience? I truly hope I’m able to find something in one of these studies that helps me to keep my spark lit.