Article written for the Venice Gondolier’s Well Being in Paradise Magazine | November/December 2022
Brianna was not supposed to live. The fallout from the car accident included a severed aortic valve, a collapsed lung, four broken ribs and several crushed vertebrae. Three surgeries and two months of inpatient hospitalization was only the beginning of her recovery. Because at 19, Brianna needed to learn to walk all over again .
Rehab was painful, exhausting and at times, humiliating. It had been years since she required assistance to tie her shoes or wipe her bottom ,and this time around, no one celebrated her transition from diapers to toilet with cupcakes.
At times, she remembers thinking self-piteous thoughts that she never told anyone: “Why did I have to live while he (the driver of the other vehicle) was lucky enough to die? It was his fault, so why was I punished while he escaped immediately?” Other days, Brianna just wanted to quit. She practiced the speech she was going to give her family, thanking them for their efforts but reminding them that it was her life to live, and it was not worth this type of pain and humiliation. She wanted to admit defeat. Anyone would in my condition, she figured. Besides, even if she could eventually walk, the doctors said it would probably always necessitate a walker. She had a mind to tell them where they could stick their suggestion of a wheelchair.
Frank was told he was an excellent candidate for tech school, because he lacked the smarts for “a four year college”. This is the message that still reverberates in his head., even after all these years:
“College resources are scarce , why don’t we use them on someone who’s more college material? There will always be a job for a guy like you, Frank, but let’s be real, you are a blue-collar guy, at best. Expect to use a shovel, not a computer .”
Michael had an anxiety disorder that prompted his primary care physician to prescribe the benzodiazepine, Xanax, to keep him functioning. He was allowed three 1mg tablets per day, or essentially, 90 pills per month. What his poor doctor didn’t know, Michael was using all 90 pills in the first two days of the month, launching incredible highs for him, resulting in alcohol binges, petty theft, purchases of opioids and even crack cocaine. Michael could tell me of his exploits, but because of confidentiality, I could not share this with his physician. I encouraged rehab for him time and again, and sometimes literally prayed that he would make it alive for his next appointment with me.
Psychologists tell us that resilience- the ability to bounce back from life‘s challenges-is vital for humans to navigate a successful 80 year journey on planet earth. The resilient person is not excused from trauma, loss or addiction- no one is-but s/he manages to persevere, survive, and in many cases, flourish, when others would be waving the white towel of defeat.
What’s more, we now understand that there are characteristics of resilience that can be identified and measured in people.
Some have labeled these characteristics “the seven C’s of resilience”, including competence, courage, character, coping, connection, control and contribution. A more lengthy breakdown of these characteristics is impossible in a short article such as this, but here’s the take home: resilience can be taught to children.
Since we already know that they will be subjected to and challenged by life’s sometimes cruel plot twists, why not provide them with the necessary skills to absorb these blows and persevere? Or, in the immortal words of the old Timex commercials, “Take a licking and keep on ticking.“
incidentally, Brianna was inspired by an occupational therapist and now, a college graduate, zooms around a busy restaurant as a server. That’s at least until she completes her masters degree in occupational therapy, of course, where she aims to make a difference in the lives of others who are fortunate enough to meet Brianna after some debilitating misfortune. “No one give up the fight to recover when I am on their team. Not if I can help it!”
Frank was too stubborn to listen to his guidance counselor and decided to try on college anyway. He achieved three college degrees, including a masters degree in architecture science, and taught as a professor at the university level for more than 20 years. His favorite students, needless to say, were the students who needed a little encouragement, someone to believe in them, in order to believe in themselves. That became his mission, to be the guidance counselor that he never had.
And Michael? Michael entered rehab, put away the dangerous drugs, and learned how to champion his anxiety. He now works as a plumber, honest, hard-working and talented- the guy who’s always smiling and grateful to have traded in his crack pipes for bathroom pipes.
Michael lost his house in hurricane Ian. A hindrance, but not a disaster, to him. You see, Michael already has a wealth of resiliency skills to call upon. For instance, he is grateful to have parents to move in with temporarily, while his house is being rebuilt. After all, home cooked meals and laundry services are all included, at no charge.