This is part four of a series of posts dedicated to breaking down components of resilience. The series is an elaboration on a post I made in 2015, continued now as part of the June 2016 Carnival of Aces on Resiliency. In part one of this series, I covered tenacity. In part two, I covered affect management and positive frameworks. In part three, I covered support network and discernment.
In this final post, I will cover creativity and adaptability. Compared to most of the other items, these two are fairly self-explanatory. Since I don’t have to focus on giving an overview, I’ll be focusing more on my own experiences this time. Warning: I will discuss parental abuse, including some major privacy violations, and invalidation/gaslighting. I allude to but do not mention other kinds of abuse, but mostly it’s just general trauma/recovery talk.
Since Raven has already made an excellent post on processing through art, I’m just going to focus on how creativity has helped me build my own resilience.
I’ve always been pretty creative. When I was little, I made tons and tons of art. When I learned to write, I started making little booklets. Some of them were illustrated stories, while others were full of puzzles that I made up for my little sister. The stories were hardly original—I pretty much copied the heteronormative plot lines laid out for me in fairy tales. I also recall a lot of stories about friends with secret clubs.
Whether it was drawing, painting, writing, crafting, or sewing, I was always making something.
Eventually, I settled on writing as my primary form of creativity. I used to write fiction, mostly flash fiction, drabbles, or vignettes. My main problem with fiction was always that I could never stick with a story for long enough to establish a real plot. Instead, I have a tendency to write disjointed scenes that don’t really go anywhere. I realized eventually that I’m more the type to write poetry. I’m often more interested in the way that words sound, the turn of an intriguing phrase, than making up a narrative.
I think this is actually somewhat related to trauma. In her post about resilience through fiction, Queenie talked about how fiction was a useful way of processing for her, but she doesn’t think she “could have written something that too closely mapped” to her own experiences. In my case, I think the complete disjointedness and lack of any narrative structure was also a way of avoiding anything that was too close to my own experiences.
Something else that’s important: throughout my childhood, I could not keep journals or diaries. I tried. But my family would not give me any privacy. Not my father, not my mother, not my sister, not even my grandparents. It was actually so bad at one point that my parents removed my bedroom door. The entire door, and my bed was situated directly in front of the doorway. So I took to sleeping in my closet instead. With that kind of family, the only private writing I could have was anything password-protected on a computer. And my computer time was, of course, monitored and limited.
These days, I still cannot keep a journal consistently. I do have one, but I haven’t been able to establish a habit of writing in it. Instead, I kinda just write things down wherever, when it feels safe. Unfortunately, this means I get very disorganized, and it’s frustrating. One day, I would rather like to try out something like what Laura describes as her “neverending story” journal, but for now I have way too much anxiety about putting all of that sort of writing in one place.
Anyway, eventually I ended up deciding to pursue a poetry-focused creative writing English degree. That’s what I was doing with my life when The Thing happened. And… while it was really really useful as a coping skill, and having all that practice helped, eventually? I just couldn’t do it anymore. Because at a certain point, I went into full-on Processing Mode, and ALL my writing became about trauma. And it was just way too personal to share in workshops, especially when I had classmates who knew me, and worse, who knew my sister, from childhood. Just, no.
And, add to that how assholes in my classes who kept telling me aromanticism isn’t real, and my ace characters were completely unbelievable and unrealistic. They made the automatic assumption that my narrators were “unreliable.” The only place where I escaped that judgment was the creative non-fiction class.
So I had to drop out of that program, since continuing became impossible. And for a while, I lost the ability to write fiction. Instead, I decided to write a goddamn memoir. Because I had to create space for people like me to be possible.
I started in 2010, but I didn’t really give my full attention to it until 2012, right around when I quit updating this blog. I didn’t finish the first draft until the end of 2014—and it just stopped, because I hadn’t/haven’t lived the ending yet. This is a draft I’m not showing anyone. It was for creatively processing, and for storing my memories in a physical location before they drain away. Eventually, I’ll return to it and make a second draft, but for now, I’ve decided to focus on community-building instead.
I have this image in my head, that the whole endeavor is sort of like a macabre puppet-show, where I animate empty canvass dolls wearing masks of the past. My goal is to make it seem realer than reality, which due to constant dissociation/derealization, really seemed surreal to me while I was living it. Doing this is a way of taking control of my own narrative, taking back my power.
Releasing it, though, will mean that other people will start using my story to support their arguments. That’s inevitable. Every aspect of this is political, whether I like it or not. I’m not ready to deal with that yet—and I don’t think the community is either. One day, that will change.
Dealing with difficult and changing circumstances is what adaptability is all about.
It’s about finding a new solution that works (better) for you, given what resources you have. And make no mistake, adapting well is heavily dependent on all the other components of resilience. Creativity helps you process and brainstorm solutions, and tenacity helps you keep going when whatever you’ve tried doesn’t work out, so that you can try something else. Affect management helps boost your tenacity as well as sometimes being a direct strategy for adapting to a situation. Discernment helps you see the situation for what it really is, and figure out where the problem areas are so that you can work on a solution. Positive frameworks inform your understanding so that you have a solid base to build on.
And support networks give you more access to all of the above, and more resources to work with. Material resources like money and a place to stay are really important, and obviously not everyone has equal access to them. Having these is not what makes someone resilient, but they do help provide a sort of cushion. Sometimes, being poor is the difficult situation that you might have to adapt to, and thus it can be the impetus for building your own resilience.
There’s a special skill set related to managing your life well in difficult situations while having extremely limited resources. Call it resourcefulness, call it being scrappy, but whatever you call it, it’s about putting everything you have available to you to its best use, or conserving it for later when you need to.
I think in order to cultivate this skill set, it’s important to avoid having a rigid mindset. Personally, I’ve been working on this a bit lately. Things aren’t always going to work out the way you hope or feel like they should. Having a certain amount of flexibility, especially when you’re dealing with a mental illness yourself, and working with others who have the same, is really important. For me, having a more flexible schedule is necessary, because since my symptoms fluctuate DRASTICALLY day-to-day, I don’t really know what I’m going to be able to do at any given time.
Some of that extreme fluctuation is easing up these days, so it’s getting to where it’s closer to week-to-week than day-to-day. But I still feel like I’m continually behind on everything. The time between when I start planning an idea, and when I can actually take steps towards completing it, is very long—as you can see from this post series. The feeling that I just take so long to do things, and that I still have so much more to do, tends to limit any feeling of accomplishment I get from actually doing something. So I’m trying to work on building more flexibility into my mindset while planning things in the first place, so that I can adapt to changes in my symptoms better.
I’m also considering changing up how I do things in other areas, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time and place.
That about wraps up this series! I hope that my extended ruminations on resilience have been helpful to you, dear readers. I welcome any thoughts that you want to share about how you build your own resilience, and look forward to reading everyone’s responses to the Carnival. And, as a quick reminder, if you miss the deadline for the Carnival but still want to write a post about resilience, you can submit to Resources for Ace Survivors! This is a topic that we are always interested in.
This post has been cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.