We are all faced with circumstances we would never choose. Knockbacks, rejection, disappointments, the idea of failing. Life’s loss and griefs; death of a loved one, health conditions, changes at work, relationship breakdowns, all of these things come at us at some point. This beauty of this thing called life, change is constant. Recognising the good in the bad, the bad in the good, is all part of the experience.
And collectively we’ve all been through the most ambiguous of losses over the past few years – a global grief. Sensations that some may have never felt before, while others, much like my family, have been living in a strange place of knowing a certain uncertainty for while. The pandemic was an extra heavy load on top. This thing hasn’t gone away yet either. It’s just something we have all learned to accept, adapt and live with.
The challenge with uncertainty is to find a way through and carry on. To find resilience.
I learned the hard way.
Imagine if everything about your life changed all at once. That’s what happened to me and my husband Rob. He woke one morning, on holiday in Sydney, stumbling around in the dark of our hotel room. I opened the blinds to see what was wrong and Rob screamed in pain. The sunshine burst in, like nuclear glare, obliterating everything in its path.
Rob suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage and stroke, aged 37. I was told he was dying. If he survived, he would never be the same. I spent weeks by Rob’s bedside whilst he was in a coma. And when he did come round, Rob woke like a 6ft baby; unable to speak, read or write, with full right-side paralysis.
To make this more complicated, our home was Hong Kong, where we lived and worked, yet this happened on holiday in Sydney, with family back home in the UK. We lost more than Rob’s health that day, we lost our homes, our identities, our jobs; the lives we knew.
Rob had to learn to swallow and learn to chew, all before greater challenges such as learning to stand, walk or talk were to come. I had to show everything was going to be okay when it felt like my guts had been ripped out. I had to hold on to the beauty; his smile when I walked the room, the way he held my hand and motioned he wanted to learn to kiss again.
We were stuck in Sydney until Rob was able to travel and with help from fundraising, we got back to the UK, where the real hard work began. We had to build ourselves and our lives again, from ground zero. I gave up my life as I knew it to support and care for Rob. Yet Rob’s determination and resilience strengthened mine, we keep each other going. Rob defied all odds and remarkably pulled through with many complications, yet is thriving eight years on.
We came through it, with courage, resilience and creativity. We built a new, different life.
It feels like a hell of a lot. It is. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all led me to this point. I am a life coach and writer. I support and guide people through big or sudden changes. I help people to face change differently, and a positive way through the challenges, and see the opportunities it presents.
It took tragedy, stillness and reflection for me to understand myself and what resilience meant.
Understanding who I was, what I was made of and what my values were, without the identity masks of work and other labels we define ourselves by. I concluded that my values are beauty, courage and love. And if I applied this to everything and anything I do, it will hold me steady when changes come, allowing me to embrace acceptance.
Acceptance is the key to building resilience. Understanding it is certain these things will come. The way to navigate it all is to be mindful of the opposing thoughts, rather than remaining fixed hard on one emotion, understanding the myriad of feelings that will be coming our way is a huge step too. Doing this ensures that we stay steady, knowing ultimately we are human and can hold mixed views. The biggest of steps is simply focusing on what we can control and recognising the good that is all before us.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor to ignore the anger, the sadness the disappointments or grief. It is a way to try and be liberated from the fear of it all, to have the courage to start over or try again.
Matt Booth knows this all too well, where he took steps to drive the change himself. A design consultant from Manchester, Mat was working within global sports brands when a series of unpleasant work environments and knockbacks became damaging to his wellbeing. So he decided to forge his own career path. There have been times of doubt and isolation. It’s taken guts and courage to speak up about workplace toxicity and bullying and, sadly for many people, it’s a daily reality.
Mat explains how vulnerability and knowing one’s self is key to building resilience.
“Resilience has been sold all wrong. It’s been packaged in a macho ‘man up’ world as a one-off act of heroism. I see resilience as a daily practice.
What’s helped me is my work in design revolves around critique, problem-solving, a commitment to constant improvement. A steadfast belief in learning to do better next time, both professionally and personally.
It was leaving professionally damaging, toxic working environments, that meant I am now able to use those experiences to call on resilience as a driver to find an independent way forward. Having established my own businesses, I now hold tight to my values.
Holding your values, particularly when under direct professional or personal values challenge, can be a character-defining act of courage.
Resilience is in the small acts of courage that may push you to find a new path.”
Forging a new path fuelled by resilience rings true for Lizzie Jordan, who shares how her life experiences have shaped her and led her to found a social enterprise to support others.
“Before life happened, I had a very privileged upbringing. I had an amazing job in London and fell pregnant which was rather unexpected. I ended up back home in Lincolnshire, initially for maternity leave. I never envisaged that Lincolnshire was going to become home again. Yet it’s where my son was born and life happened to me.
My son’s father Benji died very suddenly. He went into the hospital with an infection and three days later, he died. I was in my early 20s, with a tiny baby. Instead of being a family of three, there were two of us. But then we eventually found out that Benji’s death was related to AIDS. He was unaware that he was living with HIV, which weakened his immune system. To make things worse, I then had to get tested.
In amongst the grief, I was diagnosed with HIV. Our baby had to get tested too, by some absolute miracle, our child was fine and HIV negative. I was back in Lincolnshire with no plan of staying there but then how could I move, what could I do, where would I live? All of this was layered by what at the time I thought was a death sentence with the diagnosis.
I know now that it isn’t, thanks to advances in medication, but coming to terms that I was living with HIV, my son no longer had a dad and that it was the two of us trying to work out what on earth we were going to do – my world was flipped upside down.
It’s a privilege to experience those things as I did, in my early twenties. It has made my life so much richer and changed my outlook on life. I have a profound respect for everything, for people, for their experiences, for the wonders of the world, those simple things that so many people just take for granted.
By having life happen to you, you have to grow through the changes. Through no choice of your own, there is a phenomenal experience that becomes a gift.
I now run a social enterprise supporting children, young people and their families across the UK. We encourage conversations that many people find awkward; sex, death, gender, sexuality – and we support people to talk about what’s important. That all came from the experiences I have had.”
Resilience in the face of uncertainty is faith and hope in action. It’s understanding that if we remain open-hearted, we can make our way through and adapt. It doesn’t always need to be hard or nor do we need to be either, we can be resilient and still want tenderness, softness and love from people around us. Simply knowing there is always a way, whatever challenge arises helps. Hearing from others too, that if they make it through, perhaps you can too.
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