In June 2015, for the Carnival of Aces I hosted on mental health, I wrote about resilience. This year’s June Carnival of Aces is about Resiliency. I find it pretty awesome that discussion of mental health and wellness has not only not faded into the background, but that we’re officially returning to spotlight this topic one year later.
Note: This post briefly mentions transphobic bigotry, hate crimes, the mass murders in Orlando, using survivors as rhetorical devices, and abuse. These are mostly contained in a single paragraph (you’ll spot it), and I don’t go into detail.
In my post last year, I gave an overview of a working concept of resiliency passed on to my by my therapist. Because, while “ability to bounce back” is a good nutshell definition, it’s not very practical when it comes to actually attempting to build up your own resilience. For that, you need to break it down into smaller components—and then from there, into concrete steps you can take to work on strengthening yourself in those areas.
Personally, I like to think of it in terms of video games, but that can potentially be confusing because some games use “resilience” as a simple, single stat. It’s actually more like a meta-stat, like how in Diablo III, Toughness is a calculation of your combined Vitality & Life (HP), Armor, Resistances, and any passive damage reduction you have to estimate the average amount of damage the player would have to take in one hit to go from full health to zero. There are lots of variables that this doesn’t take into account, but it’s just there to give players a basic idea of where they’re at.
This model of resilience is only one model, and if you google resilience or resiliency (these are interchangeable spellings, but it seems the latter is mostly used in America) you’ll find lots of other ideas about what traits make people resilient. Many of these lists I dislike because they tend to offer suggestions that:
- are too specific to certain world views (e.g. saying that faith/spirituality is essential, that it’s necessary to be an optimist/believe in the magical power of positive thinking)
- hinge on having a particular identity (e.g. implying that only those who identify as a “survivor, not a victim” can be resilient)
- or use a lot of empty aphorisms that are really just synonyms for resilience rather than explanations of what traits and skills contribute to it
They are often presented in such a way that it comes across like anyone who doesn’t fit all the items on the list just isn’t a “resilient person.” I reject that notion—everyone is resilient, to varying degrees, and everyone can work on increasing their resiliency, although it should also be noted that aspects of resilience and learning how to build it are not equally accessible to everyone. If you have to go it alone, it’ll be harder for you. And note, too, that it’s dynamic—your level of resiliency can change with time, even within a single day.
What I like about this model is that, instead of presenting specific traits or strategies, which may not work for everyone, it presents several areas which can each be strengthened in many different ways, and adapted to each person’s unique circumstances.
There are lots of variables that this model doesn’t take into account—research about what makes people resilient is ongoing—but it’s meant to be used as a working tool, rather than a Decisive Declaration of All There Is to resilience.
With all that said, the model of resilience my therapist taught me breaks down into these components:
- Support Network
- Ability to manage affect
- Ability to develop a positive framework for life’s issues
Not necessarily in that order. I unfortunately do not know the origins of this model or what research backs it up.
Some of the commenters on my previous post found these components were still kind of impenetrably dense. They are, after all, academic concepts, so it’s not surprising that this would be confusing, especially if you haven’t had a whole lot of exposure to psychological terms. So back when I made my first post, I thought that it would be a good idea to do a series of posts on each one. I even started planning them out. But my year ended up being severely hampered by setbacks, so I never finished. Now that there’s a whole carnival dedicated to the topic, this is the perfect time.
I’m starting with tenacity because quite frankly, I feel like I’ve had to rely on that the most this past year. And by “rely on,” I mean build.
Have you ever gone through a time where things just keep coming? Where you keep getting knocked down, over and over and over again, every time you try to stand back up and start over? That’s me this past year.
I don’t really feel tenacious. I feel more like I’m under-leveled. And the only way to level up is just by grinding. Boring, frustrating grinding.
And by the way, it’s not just me—it’s my whole party. We’ve been facing a situation where all of us have been reduced to critically low HP at the same time, and have needed a major recovery break. We’ll be all right—we’ll get through it. But we’re just repeatedly worn down, and it’s tough.
The political climate has been a major factor in wearing us down. Hate crimes have risen drastically, culminating recently in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. We’re all still reeling from that. On top of that, right-wing politicians have been using survivors as rhetorical devices in order to foment hatred against trans people, who are our allies and a huge part of our community. And it’s clear from the repeated travesties of justice making the news that these people only care about survivors when they can use us (or rather, the idea of us) to terrorize others.
In the face of all of that, plus the myriad more personal problems that tend to spring up, how do you keep going?
Tenacity. In other words: determination, persistence, sheer force of will.
Here’s the thing that I think people are apt to misunderstand about tenacity: It’s not about never falling, or about how long you stay on the ground after you fall. That doesn’t matter. It’s just about getting back up, and trying again.
And what I’ve learned is that to some extent, it’s a balancing act. I don’t mean that as in, keeping your balance so you don’t fall again—I mean that as in, the key is to balance expending your energy and effort on getting back up and trying again, with taking your time to rest and recover. If you try to get up too soon, without giving yourself enough time to regenerate, you’ll most likely find yourself right back on the ground. Which is fine, of course—there is nothing wrong with lying on the ground, that’s the whole point. Resting is a necessary part of the process. At some point, you’ve got to get back up, but it doesn’t have to be right away—and the more you guilt yourself about all the things you’re not doing, the less space you’re giving yourself to actually recover.
So, in order to be more tenacious—and I say more because all of us already are—give yourself time and space to rest when you need it, for however long you need it. It doesn’t matter if that’s five days or five years. Just let yourself have it, without trying to force yourself to stick to someone else’s bogus Recovery Schedule. Try to guilt yourself as little as possible—including guilting yourself for guilting yourself. If you’ve been abused, that’s probably something that’s been ingrained into you, so of course it’s a hard thing to break.
When you feel ready to try again—or at least when you feel ready enough, because you may never actually know whether you’re really ready or not, and that’s okay too—when you feel ready enough, get back up. Start small. Ease back into it. You don’t have to do everything at once. It might be hard to find the motivation, and it might be hard to figure out what steps to take, particularly if you struggle with depression or executive dysfunction issues. Figuring out how to get yourself going might be really tough, but stick with it anyway. That’s tenacity.
It gets easier with practice. Not necessarily in a linear way, life is messier than that. But the more you practice getting back up and trying again, the better you’ll know your own limits—and over time, you’ll see those limits change. Sometimes, you’ll have setbacks that severely reduce those limits, but even then, you may still be surprised at what you can manage even under those circumstances. You’re probably a lot stronger than you think.
This post has been cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.