Building our resilience is a tried and tested method within positive psychology for improving our general well-being and happiness. Our ability to bounce back from life’s curve balls rather than sinking in to overwhelm is a crucial part of your happiness toolkit.
According to a recent study, resilience in the face of adversity could be a characteristic of someone who is truly satisfied with his or her life. Researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona found that people who are more resilient are also more likely to report high life satisfaction and control over emotions. Their work was published in the journal Behavioral Psychology. The study was conducted on 254 students at the university, who were asked to fill out questionnaires.
“Some of the characteristics of being resilient can be worked on and improved, such as self-esteem and being able to regulate one’s emotions,” study researcher Dr. Joaquin T. Limonero, a professor at the university, said in a statement. “Learning these techniques can offer people the resources needed to help them adapt and improve their quality of life.”
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is important for dealing with hardships, and can be learned and developed. Factors that go into resilience include being able to manage impulses and feelings, looking at yourself positively, making realistic plans and goals and communicating and solving problems.
For more information on the road to resilience, take a look at the recommendations of the APA who have some great tips on building resilience.
10 Ways to build resilience
Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.
Posted by Shona Lockhart on 31st April 2013.
Based on an original article in the Huffington post
One of the highlights of my Mother’s Day this year, apart from my teenagers cooking for me, was sitting down to watch the Tesco Mums of the Year Award on Channel 5. It is wonderful to find a programme which focuses on celebrating good news and positive role models in our society rather than the usual doom and gloom we are served up on a regular basis in the name of news. The remarkable women who won the various awards demonstrated amazing resilience in the face of adversity and have a strong sense of the importance of family and of caring for the community. The seven winners could all have been straight out of the best positive psychology text books and they all serve as wonderful role models of what is possible if you put your mind to it. Many of them have faced incredible challenges in their lives yet none of them show any signs of self-pity or regret. They have all chosen to live their lives to the full, to accentuate the positive and to give something back to their communities.
Tesco Magazine has published some wonderful profiles of the award winners which you can read below, but do try and watch the Channel 5 programme while it is still live. You will need to have tissues at the ready but you will not fail to be inspired.
Anna Kennedy – Achieving Mum of the Year
Meet the mum who set up a school for autistic children after her own sons were turned away from mainstream education
Our judges said: ‘‘Anna’s singlehanded determination to help families living with autism, while also being a full-time carer to her two sons, is truly inspirational.’’
Anna, 52, from Uxbridge, remortgaged her own house so she could set up a school for autistic children after her two autistic sons were turned away from mainstream education. She has now expanded support for those with autism to include two schools, a college, a respite home and a website with over 50,000 international followers.
Caring for two autistic sons is a huge task, yet Anna does this and more every day. ‘When I was told by the authorities that Patrick (now 23) and Angelo (now 19) were the only children in our area with autism, I felt completely isolated and alone. It was only when I bumped into another parent one day and recognised the symptoms in her child, that I realised I wasn’t alone. Together, we started a support group in my home.’
The group grew rapidly and was soon attended by 275 families. When Angelo and Patrick were later turned away by 25 mainstream schools, Anna resorted to converting her garage into a classroom. However, the local authority granted her sons only five hours of home tuition a week. Angelo’s tutor was completely unable to cope with a severely autistic child and on her third day collapsed in tears.
Anna was a dance teacher and had no experience of running a business but decided to set up a school for her sons and other autistic children. ‘I knew there were other heartbroken parents like me, feeling desperate after being rejected by school after school,’ she says. ‘That’s when I realised I could create somewhere for those children.’ Read more about Anna in the full length article here.
Margaret Aspinall – Campaigning Mum of the Year
Margaret, 66, from Liverpool, lost her son in the Hillsborough tragedy and has spent the last 23 and a half years campaigning for the truth as part of the Hillsborough Families Support Group.
Our judges said: ‘‘Margaret’s utter determination to seek justice and her unbelievable strength in the face of such a tragedy make her a true inspiration.’’
The day Margaret’s 18 year-old son James died was the worst of her life. She knew he was in Sheffield to watch the match with his friend, while her husband Jim was there in another part of the stadium. When the television coverage started and showed footage of bodies being laid on the pitch she didn’t realise it was the same match until her sister-in-law explained that Hillsborough was in Sheffield.
She didn’t hear from her husband until that evening but he hadn’t seen James, so went looking for him in hospitals and people’s houses. At eight o’clock, Margaret got through to the coach company that had taken James and his friend and they said all passengers were accounted for. Jim drove home and the whole family went to meet the coaches returning to Liverpool.
‘We waited for every coach and when the very last one came in at midnight, I ran up to the driver and said, “Are there any more coaches?” He said, “My God, love, I’m so sorry, it was bedlam up in Sheffield. People were just jumping on to get home and we couldn’t turn them off.” And I said, “But I was told my son was accounted for. He went up with you and you’ve come back without him and his friend.’”
Margaret went to the local police station to report James missing and Jim drove back to Sheffield to try and find him. He rang home every half an hour to find out if there had been news and carried on driving if not. At four o’clock in the morning, he stopped calling. Read more about Margaret in the full length article here.
Melanie C – Celebrity Mum of the Year
Celebrity mum, Melanie C has global fame and girl power but still finds time to support multiple charities
Our judges said: ‘’Melanie is a high-profile celebrity but goes above and beyond to help others. Her commitment to charity work is an inspiration to us all.’’
As one fifth of iconic 90s girl band The Spice Girls, Melanie Chisholm has achieved worldwide success, and sold more than 12 million records as a solo artist. But despite her hectic workload, she has always found time to dedicate herself to charitable causes.
One of the charities Melanie is heavily involved with is the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, for which she became a patron a few years ago. The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is the only charity in the UK wholly dedicated to the defeat of lung cancer, funding research into the disease and providing support to those living with it. It also works to support members of the public who are trying to stop smoking.
‘My family has been touched by cancer and therefore I know just how important the work done by the Foundation and other cancer charities is to families all over the UK,’ explains Melanie.
In June 2012, the singer helped launch the charity’s Dream Walk, where thousands of women raised money by walking nine kilometres around Liverpool’s waterfront in their pyjamas. Read more about Melanie C in the full length article here
Ann Maxwell – Charitable Mum of the Year
Meet the mum who set up a children’s epilepsy charity and has raised over £7 million despite suffering from cancer
Our judges said: ‘‘Ann has raised millions and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children with epilepsy in the UK, whilst being a fantastic mum to her own children and dealing with serious health issues.’’
When Ann’s youngest son, Muir, was finally diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome (a rare form of epilepsy that causes profound learning difficulties, behaviour problems and severe developmental delay) she discovered there was a lack of support available. Ann, 50, from Dalkeith, Midlothian, pledged to help other families get the diagnosis and care they needed.
‘I’d spent a fair amount of time mourning the loss of the perfect child I thought I’d given birth to,’ says Ann. ‘Learning about Muir’s condition was an awakening. He began having seizures when he was four months old and I noticed his language regressing as a toddler, but the medical profession didn’t acknowledge he had special needs until he was three or four years old. After a clinical diagnosis they speculated that he had epilepsy but we didn’t get results from the genetic diagnosis (which at that point involved sending his DNA to Australia and took over two years) until he was 10. That’s late – it impacts on both treatment and prognosis.’
In 2003, she set up the Muir Maxwell Trust, now the most significant charity raising funds for paediatric epilepsy in the UK. ‘When Muir was finally diagnosed, he was one of 80 acknowledged cases in the world. Now, there are nearer 400 diagnosed cases in the UK alone – and this is mainly due to the genetic testing the trust has been able to fund.’
This DNA testing service is the first of its kind dedicated exclusively to testing children suspected of having epilepsy. In the UK, the tests are now run by the NHS and results are made available in just 40 days, which means that effective treatment can begin much more quickly. Read more about Ann in the full length article here.
Mireille Williams – Community Mum of the Year
Mireille saved her son’s preschool from closure by rallying her local community and turning it into a charity and viable business
Our judges said: ‘‘Mireille’s selfless determination shows what a difference one person can make to their local community.’’
Mireille, 36, from Bristol, enrolled her eldest son, Alexander, at Ridgewood Preschool in Yate, South Gloucestershire. Like many mothers, when the preschool needed extra support, she was happy to lend a hand. Yet after volunteering to be secretary, she became aware that a treasurer was desperately needed to take control of the finances. ‘I noticed all the equipment was old and tired and that the staff never received pay rises. Everything was second-hand or donated.’
When she took on the role of treasurer in 2010, she quickly realised that the school was in financial trouble. ‘I wasn’t qualified, but someone had to do it. As I looked at the books, I started to realise that the funds really didn’t balance. There was a huge deficit and no reserves,’ says Mireille. ‘If something wasn’t done quickly, the school would most certainly have to close.’
Instead of accepting this, Mireille decided to do everything she could to save it. She explored alternative funding, reduced staff hours and worked tirelessly to raise money. While her children were asleep in bed at night she would also go online to source the cheapest school supplies and so reduce outgoings as much as possible.
‘Losing the school would have been a disaster,’ says Mireille. ‘Seven teachers would have lost their jobs and 40 children – some with learning and social disabilities – would have been left with no education for the rest of the year. I just couldn’t let that happen.’ Read more about Mireille in the full length article here.
Claire Lomas – Courageous Mum of the Year
Meet the winner who though paralysed got married, had a baby, walked the London Marathon in 16 days and raised £200,000 for charity
Our judges said: ‘‘In the face of adversity, Claire not only found the strength to rebuild her own life, but also to raise hundreds of thousands for others. Claire, like all our winners, is truly an inspiration.’’
Claire, 32, from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, was paralysed from the chest down after a riding accident at the Osberton Horse Trials in 2007. She was told by doctors that she would never walk again but didn’t let it affect her spirit.
Determined to stay fit, Claire worked tirelessly with physiotherapists to build her strength and stamina. ‘I discharged myself from hospital after only two months – they wanted me to stay in for six months – but I was determined to rebuild my life and do my own physio,’ says Claire. ‘I’d have spells of three or four days where I just couldn’t face the world but I never gave up.’
In 2008, Claire met husband Dan after signing up to internet dating and had a daughter, Maisie, in February 2011. But Claire also wanted to help others in the same situation and began to raise funds for the charity Spinal Research. ‘About 10 months after my accident, I’d become an ambassador for Spinal Research and fundraised for them for four years. I saw a clip of the robotic suit on the internet and I thought how amazing it would be to walk the London Marathon in it and how much money I could raise for Spinal Research.
‘The only trouble was the robotic suit cost £43,000. We fundraised and even got friends from the equestrian world to do a naked calendar! Paralysed ex-rugby player Matt Hampson donated money, event riders held a fashion show, and over two years the money came together. Read more about Claire in the full length article here.
Kate Hardcastle – Enterprising Mum of the Year
Kate, 36, from Huddersfield, created a community group to raise awareness of lesser-known charities, as well as running a company that dedicates 20 per cent of its time to charitable work.
Our judges said: ‘‘Kate has worked incredibly hard to create her own business, and has always ensured that helping those less fortunate remains a huge part of this.’’
When Kate realised that many UK charities weren’t getting the exposure they needed to raise funds or recruit volunteers, she decided to celebrate her thirtieth birthday by organising and performing in a one-off charity concert.
She wrote to a number of huge Motown stars to see if she could enlist their support. When Smokey Robinson sent a video message and Martha Reeves committed to fly over from the USA to perform, it exceeded her wildest dreams.
The concert was a sell-out success and Kate decided to set up an organisation that would continue to run events raising awareness for smaller charities that couldn’t do it themselves. The organisation, set up in 2007, was called Charity Dreamgirls. ‘I created the group as a way to give a voice to smaller charities,’ says Kate.
‘There are 180,000 charities in the UK – all competing for the public’s attention and money. If you are a smaller charity, how do you get yourself heard? I knew I could bring my skills from the corporate world to support them and create fun events people would want to get involved with.’ Read more about Kate in the full length article here.
Please remember to watch the Channel 5 programme while you can.
Continuing with the subject of resilience, I was fortunate to attend the TEDxObserver event earlier this year – an inspiring day of stories and ideas. One of the most unforgettable speakers at the event was Giles Duley, who told the story of how his life as a photographer had changed from taking pictures of models, to taking pictures of people with personal stories to eventually becoming part of the story himself. Giles is an amazing example of someone with a strong resilient spirit and a belief that we can all use our talents and gifts to make a difference. Listen to his story and be inspired:
The Happiness Experiment blog posts have been focusing on resilience this week and I spotted this Resilience Workshop which will be run at The School of Life on 1st December 2012.
The course is run by Chris Johnstone whose book Find Your Power has been part of my resilience research this week. I’m sure the course will be interesting.
Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover from difficult situations. It includes our capacity to make the best of things, cope with stress and rise to the occasion. This one-day workshop offers a practical training in skills, strategies and insights that help our resilience grow.
Drawing on research from Positive Psychology and the plot structure of adventure stories, we will look at four key skills that raise our resilience:
• visioning skills that strengthen our sense of purpose by helping us see, and then head for, the outcomes that attract us
• creativeproblem-solving skills that help us find a path through the obstacles in the way
• positive relationship skills that enhance our ability to find allies and draw in the support we need
• emotional intelligence skills that raise our capacity to work with our emotions, so that we can benefit from the guiding signals and energy they offer.
The day will involve a mix of tutor presentation, personal reflection, guided exercises and group discussion. The goal is to increase each participant’s ability to draw upon the resilience they need in their lives.
Our intensive workshops provide an opportunity to work with leading members of our faculty over the course of a highly structured day session.
Sessions are limited to 18 participants and will be based at The School of Life. All food and drink is included in the ticket price.
Chris Johnstone is an author, trainer and coach for resilience, happiness and positive change. He is author of Find Your Power – a toolkit for resilience and positive change (Permanent Publications, 2010).
09.40 Tea, coffee and pastries served
10.00 Intro & morning session
13.00 Lunch provided
14.00 Afternoon session
The School of Life
70 Marchmont Street
If you are interested in attending this workshop click here for details.
Continuing with the topic of resilience, today’s blog post looks at the subject of strokes. Every year over 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke and it is the third largest cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. The brain damage caused by strokes means that they are the largest cause of adult disability in the UK. These are sobering and depressing statistics, so why feature the subject of strokes in a blog about positive psychology and happiness?
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was a 37 year old Harvard-trained brain scientist when she suffered a stroke. 75% of strokes occur in people who are over 65 so Dr Taylor was extremely unlucky to suffer from a stoke at such a young age. Dr Taylor’s amazing resilience combined with her knowledge of the brain gradually helped her to recover completely. With the help of her amazing mother it took her 8 years to recover from her stroke and she has described her experience and the lessons she has learned from this in her bestselling book My stroke of Insight. Jill’s book shares her recommendations for recovery and the insight which she gained from her experience and it looks into the unique functions of the right and left halves of her brain. Jill recounts how “having lost the categorizing, organizing, describing, judging and critically analyzing skills of her left brain, along with its language centres and thus ego centre, her consciousness shifted away from normal reality. In the absence of her left brain’s neural circuitry, her consciousness shifted into present moment thinking whereby she experienced herself “at one with the universe.”
Jill’s knowledge as a neuroscientist and her personal experience of having a strokes, has not only helped others rebuild their brains from trauma, but has also helped people with normal brains to better understand how we can ‘tend the garden of our minds’ to maximize our quality of life. I had never really understood the difference between left brain and right brain functions until I watched Jill’s TED talk.
Jill’s example teaches us how we could exercise our own right brain more with the intention of helping all human beings become more humane. Jill states: “I believe the more time we spend running our deep inner peace circuitry, then the more peace we will project into the world, and ultimately the more peace we will have on the planet.”
You can choose to watch her video or to read the transcript of her talk below. I would thoroughly recommend watching the video and also learning more about how to help someone who is having a stroke. It is highly probable that we will all know someone else in our own personal circle who will suffer a stroke even if we don’t have the misfortune to share Jill’s experience ourselves. Dr Jill Bolte Taylor is for me another great example of how resilience can enable us to overcome a potentially devastating medical condition.
Transcript of video:
I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder, schizophrenia. And as a sister and as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true — what is it about my brother’s brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common, shared reality, so they instead become delusions?
So I dedicated my career to research into the severe mental illnesses. And I moved from my home state of Indiana to Boston where I was working in the lab of Dr. Francine Benes, in the Harvard Department of Psychiatry. And in the lab, we were asking the question, What are the biological differences between the brains of individuals who would be diagnosed as normal control, as compared to the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or bipolar disorder?
So we were essentially mapping the microcircuitry of the brain, which cells are communicating with which cells, with which chemicals, and then with what quantities of those chemicals. So there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing this kind of research during the day. But then in the evenings and on the weekends I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But on the morning of December 10 1996 I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own. A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. And in the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. I essentially became an infant in a woman’s body.
If you’ve ever seen a human brain, it’s obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another. And I have brought for you a real human brain. [Thanks.] So, this is a real human brain. This is the front of the brain, the back of the brain with a spinal cord hanging down, and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head. And when you look at the brain, it’s obvious that the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another. For those of you who understand computers, our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor. While our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus collosum, which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers. But other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate. Because they process information differently, each hemisphere thinks about different things, they care about different things, and dare I say, they have very different personalities. [Excuse me. Thank you. It's been a joy.]
Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.
My left hemisphere is a very different place. Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it’s all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment. And start picking details and more details and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information. Associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It’s that little voice that says to me, “Hey, you gotta remember to pick up bananas on your way home, and eat ‘em in the morning.” It’s that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, “I am. I am.” And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.
And this was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke.
On the morning of the stroke, I woke up to a pounding pain behind my left eye. And it was the kind of pain, caustic pain, that you get when you bite into ice cream. And it just gripped me and then it released me. Then it just gripped me and then released me. And it was very unusual for me to experience any kind of pain, so I thought OK, I’ll just start my normal routine. So I got up and I jumped onto my cardio glider, which is a full-body exercise machine. And I’m jamming away on this thing, and I’m realizing that my hands looked like primitive claws grasping onto the bar. I thought “that’s very peculiar” and I looked down at my body and I thought, “whoa, I’m a weird-looking thing.” And it was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality, where I’m the person on the machine having the experience, to some esoteric space where I’m witnessing myself having this experience.
And it was all every peculiar and my headache was just getting worse, so I get off the machine, and I’m walking across my living room floor, and I realize that everything inside of my body has slowed way down. And every step is very rigid and very deliberate. There’s no fluidity to my pace, and there’s this constriction in my area of perceptions so I’m just focused on internal systems. And I’m standing in my bathroom getting ready to step into the shower and I could actually hear the dialog inside of my body. I heard a little voice saying, “OK, you muscles, you gotta contract, you muscles you relax.”
And I lost my balance and I’m propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I’m asking myself, “What is wrong with me, what is going on?” And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and — total silence.
And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.
Then all of a sudden my left hemisphere comes back online and it says to me, “Hey! we got a problem, we got a problem, we gotta get some help.” So it’s like, OK, OK, I got a problem, but then I immediately drifted right back out into the consciousness, and I affectionately referred to this space as La La Land. But it was beautiful there. Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world. So here I am in this space and any stress related to my, to my job, it was gone. And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine all of the relationships in the external world and the many stressors related to any of those, they were gone. I felt a sense of peacefulness. And imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage! I felt euphoria. Euphoria was beautiful — and then my left hemisphere comes online and it says “Hey! you’ve got to pay attention, we’ve got to get help,” and I’m thinking, “I got to get help, I gotta focus.” So I get out of the shower and I mechanically dress and I’m walking around my apartment, and I’m thinking, “I gotta get to work, I gotta get to work, can I drive? can I drive?”
And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, “Oh my gosh! I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!” And the next thing my brain says to me is, “Wow! This is so cool. This is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?”
And then it crosses my mind: “But I’m a very busy woman. I don’t have time for a stroke!” So I’m like, “OK, I can’t stop the stroke from happening so I’ll do this for a week or two, and then I’ll get back to my routine, OK.”
So I gotta call help, I gotta call work. I couldn’t remember the number at work, so I remembered, in my office I had a business card with my number on it. So I go in my business room, I pull out a 3-inch stack of business cards. And I’m looking at the card on top, and even though I could see clearly in my mind’s eye what my business card looked like, I couldn’t tell if this was my card or not, because all I could see were pixels. And the pixels of the words blended with the pixels of the background and the pixels of the symbols, and I just couldn’t tell. And I would wait for what I call a wave of clarity. And in that moment, I would be able to reattach to normal reality and I could tell, that’s not the card, that’s not the card, that’s not the card. It took me 45 minutes to get one inch down inside of that stack of cards.
In the meantime, for 45 minutes the hemorrhage is getting bigger in my left hemisphere. I do not understand numbers, I do not understand the telephone, but it’s the only plan I have. So I take the phone pad and I put it right here, I’d take the business card, I’d put it right here, and I’m matching the shape of the squiggles on the card to the shape of the squiggles on the phone pad. But then I would drift back out into La La Land, and not remember when I come back if I’d already dialed those numbers.
So I had to wield my paralyzed arm like a stump, and cover the numbers as I went along and pushed them, so that as I would come back to normal reality I’d be able to tell, yes, I’ve already dialed that number. Eventually the whole number gets dialed, and I’m listening to the phone, and my colleague picks up the phone and he says to me, “Whoo woo wooo woo woo.” [laughter] And I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, he sounds like a golden retriever!” And so I say to him, clear in my mind I say to him. “This is Jill! I need help!” And what comes out of my voice is, “Whoo woo wooo woo woo.” I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, I sound like a golden retriever.” So I couldn’t know, I didn’t know that I couldn’t speak or understand language until I tried.
So he recognizes that I need help, and he gets me help. And a little while later, I am riding in an ambulance from one hospital across Boston to Mass General Hospital. And I curl up into a little fetal ball. And just like a balloon with the last bit of air just, just right out of the balloon I felt my energy lift and I felt my spirit surrender. And in that moment I knew that I was no longer the choreographer of my life. And either the doctors rescue my body and give me a second chance at life or this was perhaps my moment of transition.
When I awoke later that afternoon I was shocked to discover that I was still alive. When I felt my spirit surrender, I said goodbye to my life, and my mind is now suspended between two very opposite planes of reality. Stimulation coming in through my sensory systems felt like pure pain. Light burned my brain like wildfire and sounds were so loud and chaotic that I could not pick a voice out from the background noise and I just wanted to escape. Because I could not identify the position of my body in space, I felt enormous and expensive, like a genie just liberated from her bottle. And my spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria. Harmonic. I remember thinking there’s no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny little body.
But I realized “But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.” I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated my to recover.
Two and a half weeks after the hemorrhage, the surgeons went in and they removed a blood clot the size of a golf ball that was pushing on my language centers. Here I am with my mama, who’s a true angel in my life. It took me eight years to completely recover.
So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are — I am — the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you? I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.
Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.
We are all familiar with terms such as to be “caught between a rock and a hard place”, having to choose between “the devil and the deep blue sea”, being “between Scylla and Charybdis” or having to face something similar to Sophie’s Choice , the harrowing Meryl Streep film based on the novel by William Stryon in which a Polish woman has to choose which of her children will live or die in a concentration camp.
The film “Touching the void” is a very graphic example of someone who is literally “caught between a rock and a hard place” It is a docu-drama film based on the true story of two mountaineering enthusiasts attempting to climb the 21,000 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. It follows the story of two young climbers who attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. One man is left looking after base camp while the two climbers, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. They reach the peak but on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite the challenges this involves, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevasse. This film tells the story of how Joe got back down. The film is worth watching for the ethical dilemma that one of the climbers faces. What would you do in such a situation? It is also worth watching for the amazing resilience and survival instinct of the other.
Another climbing story which demonstrates the “rock and a hard place” dilemna is the Danny Boyle film 127 hours featuring the actor James Franco. It is a fascinating, but at times harrowing, film about the climber Aron Ralston. Aron’s zest for life and will to live is brilliantly portrayed by James Franco. It is a remarkable story of a man who is trapped in a crevice in a Utah mountain for 127 hours and whose resilience enables him to make a difficult decision which leads to his ultimate survival. Aron’s autobiography 127 hours: Between a rock and a hard place is the subject of this film. You can choose to either read the book or watch the film (see great film review here) if you are intrigued to learn more. Meanwhile Aron Ralston continues to climb and has become a motivational speaker since his ordeal.
I have to admit that there is nothing in these films which make me want to take up climbing as a pastime any time soon, but both films are overwhelmingly positive examples of the resilience of the human spirit. They demonstrate that in life and death situations it is our resilience which pulls us through. Most of us are not climbers and are unlikely to face such physically and mentally challenging situations on a daily basis, but learning the skills of resilience could serve us well in other situations too. I would encourage you to watch these films and be inspired.
“I never needed eyes to see — never. I simply needed vision and belief.”
Continuing with the subject of resilience, today’s blog post features the story of Caroline Casey, the founder of Kanchi, who I had the good fortune to meet in person last year at the Aspire conference in London. Caroline, who is legally blind, did not become aware of her sight limitations until she was an adult. Caroline had always assumed that what she was able to see was the same as everyone else. The fact that Caroline was unaware of her own sight limitations meant that she was unaware of her own limitations as a human being. As far as Caroline was concerned there was nothing she couldn’t do if she put her mind to it. She behaved as if she had no disability and focused on her abilities. She held down a job as a management consultant with Accenture until someone in the HR department made her confront the reality of her limited vision.
“Stop with the labels … because we are not jam jars; we are extraordinary, different, wonderful people.” Caroline Casey
After coming to terms with her new “reality”, Caroline decided to embark on a 1000 km trek across India on an elephant named Kanchi and raised enough money for 6000 cataract operations. On her return she set up the organisation Kanchi, named after her travelling companion, because in Caroline’s own words “disability is always the elephant in the room”.
Caroline has gone from strength to strength, setting up the O2 Ability Awards which were launched in 2004. Her social enterprise, Kanchi, works to change attitudes and behaviours around disability and Caroline campaigns constantly so that we focus on people’s abilities and see beyond their disabilities. If you feel that you have either an emotional or physical obstacle which prevents you from realising your dreams you would do well to listen to Caroline speak. You will quickly realise that the biggest obstacle we have is the limitation of our own mindset. Caroline is living proof that if we look beyond our current limitations anything is possible.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” Confucius
Recent blog posts have looked at the British stiff upper lip in response to the excellent recent BBC 2 series on the subject by Ian Hislop. Forthcoming blog posts will continue on a similar theme looking at some amazing people from different corners of the world who demonstrate that coping with adversity doesn’t necessarily require just a stiff upper lip, but can also require resilience and “bouncebackability”. Resilience is a crucial factor in our own happiness experiment. It would be unrealistic to expect to go through life without having to cope with adverse events or experiences. Why do some people seem able to survive traumatic events and even experience post traumatic growth whilst others flounder and become completely overwhelmed by their circumstances? It is often assumed that resilience is a character strength we are born with, but scientific evidence shows that resilience is a skill which can be learned by all of us. By developing our resilience we are better able to cope with life’s adversities and to increase our well-being. There are many resilience building techniques to learn and to chose from and there will be some which work for you and some which don’t. As with any skill worth learning, practice makes perfect – so give it a try.
If this is a skill you would like to practice you could take a look at The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté. The book, written by two resilience coaches, encourages you to take a resilience questionnaire and teaches you 7 different ways to overcome life’s hurdles. As “self-help” books go, it is considered to be one of the best of its kind.
For additional inspiration I would encourage you to listen to this amazing TED talk by Janine Shepherd: You are not your body.