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Resilience and RA: A Call To Action

Resilience is the ultimate life skill. We are all innately resilient; life on earth wouldn’t prosper without it. Take a walk outside and you will see resilience everywhere you turn – in the blade of grass peeking through the sidewalk, the birds who fly thousands of miles over your head every year when they go south for the winter, the tree hit by lightning that figures out how to grow two trunks. Resilience surrounds us, even when we don’t know it.

What is resilience exactly?

  • The act of rebounding or springing back after being stretched or pressed.
  • Unpredicted or markedly successful adaptations to negative life events, trauma, and other forms of risk.
  • Experiencing life’s challenges and adversities, and then not only recovering but improving self-esteem, confidence, happiness, and life skills.

I personally like the third one. It reminds me that even though the JRA is physically wearing me down, I can use the challenge it brings to strengthen myself in other ways. I can learn from the repeated challenges JRA brings and allow them to help me to be more skillful by handling them a bit better each time. Sometimes it has taken me decades to fully learn to be resilient in an area, for example, learning not to be frustrated and angry when my body prevents me from participating in activities that I enjoy, but by staying patient with myself, eventually I’ve been able to change out of a victim mentality to a more resilient one.

Acting on your innate resilience

I think the ability to act on your innate resilience is the keystone for true health. There will always be people, scientific evidence, statistics, opinions, and schools of thought that threaten your belief in your resilience, but by focusing on the fundamentals of resilience, the weight you feel from outside influences will lessen. The pressure and anxiety you feel will be transformed into belief in yourself, and positive action that will begin to change your life for the better even if the RA itself doesn’t change.

So what are the fundamentals of resilience?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about, and actually wrote a whole chapter about in one of my books. I did this because, without resilience, there is no health. Without resilience, my JRA would have defeated me at the age of three. Without resilience, I would suffer from depression, and wouldn’t have reached any of my goals or aspirations. Resilience has allowed me to have a good life, even though my life includes a chronic, painful, disabling disease. I can say that resilience has made me weather a challenging life with grace, which is really all I truly want, to live with as much ease throughout a very uneasy existence.

The resilience “avatar”

Now for the fun part, I’m going to describe an avatar for you, one that embodies resilience. Let’s call her Staci, after my best friend. After each characteristic, I’m going to give an example of why it is important.

Staci, my resilient avatar has:

  • Imagination and curiosity.
  • In order to not freeze with fear, resilient people finding themselves in horrible situations will still marvel at their situation; often this leads them to find ways to survive. For example, during the Bataan death march, a few of the POWS that survived talked about looking around at the jungle and wonder at the beautiful green jungle in order to drown out the sounds of the others who were moaning in fear.

  • Perseverance.
  • Thomas Jefferson once said, “ I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways this doesn’t work.” If that isn’t resilience I don’t know what is! Resilient people understand that your rarely find an answer on the first try but that doesn’t dissuade them.

  • Realistic Optimism.
  • James Stockdale, a Navy Vice Admiral in Vietnam who was a POW for seven years at the “Hanoi Hilton,” was once asked which prisoners were the first to pass away in prison, He replied, “The optimists.” False optimism, based only on wishes, only end up disappointing. Realistic optimism, the kind that acknowledges ones true situation, however, can help to reframe your ideas about your challenges in order to move through them with more ease.

  • The Ability to seek out help when needed.
  • No human is an island, two heads are better than one. Both of these axioms are so popular for a reason-they are true. And they are necessary for a resilient life.

  • The Ability to Be Cool and let go of fear.
  • Author and survival expert Lawrence Gonzales studies what makes people survive plane crashes, airplane accidents, and other severe life circumstances. He says that stress makes you stupid; the ability to control your stress response is vital in survival situations. In his book, Deep Survival, Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, he talks about having a mantra. He talks about people who use mantras to survive, the man who broke his neck and began to tell himself, “ I broke my neck, my neck didn’t break me.” A man lost in the jungle for weeks who kept telling himself, “Man of Action.” These are powerful words that help a persons ability to be resilient even in the worst of times.

  • The Ability to celebrate small victories.
  • Resilient people know that most success doesn’t happen overnight. Celebrating small victories in some way, like a less painful day celebrated with a walk in the sun, helps to keep positive momentum when the road seems long.

  • Humor
  • Staci, my best friend, is one of the funniest and most resilient people I know. She finds a way to laugh about most things, even the heartbreaking ones. Resilience isn’t all hard work, instead, it is a way of life filled with good feeling and humor.

How resilient are you feeling right now? I hope Staci, my best friend, and avatar, can help you to be more resilient, and more healthy from now on!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • rockcandi
    1 year ago

    I love the way you write kat-elton! It makes so much sense that you’re an author, something I aspire to be very soon! (Well, I’m already an author, I meant aspiring to be a published author.) I don’t think I felt like a resilient person until I read your article. I agree with Rick about children causing me to feel (and be) resilient. My son has definitely brought out the resiliency in me. He’s an active two year old so I have two choices: no resilience and I will be taking a back seat in my sons life, or be resilient and, for now, be in the drivers seat and enjoy every minute of the ride! Thanks for posting!

  • kat-elton author
    1 year ago

    Hi Rockcandi! It’s funny, until I studied resilience I didn’t know that I was either and now I think we all are resilient, we just have to remember and practice
    Glad you are in the drivers seat enjoying the ride❤️

  • karenkaye
    1 year ago

    Thanks Kat, Thanks for the info and reminders. I just attended a Resiliency workshop with Rick Hanson in SF. He talks about Resilience and Neuroplasticity. This is great work and very helpful.
    Check it out as you would probably love his view and work. It certainly helps me.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    1 year ago

    Kat, thank you for this article!

    For some reason, I always thought of resilience as a physical attribute not mental. For example, my dad had multiple unrelated health issues that were pretty bad but he always bounced back like a rubber band.

    We’ve had our share of challenges (who hasn’t!) but never thought of myself as resilient. Maybe I just didn’t think about it?

    But, now, I want to make my own avatar because Staci sounds awesome!!

    Thanks Kat for the lovely article. It really made me think 🙂

  • kat-elton author
    1 year ago

    Thanks Monica, someone just described to me the whole avatar world and I thought it was really fun; enjoy making your own! Just reading a few of your articles I can tell you that you are very resilient 🙂
    Have a great day!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    All great points Kat. I find my resilience tends to ebb and flow depending on many factors, some of which might even be rational. I find my resilience is lowered because of pain, fatigue and winter. What raises my resilience is summer, grandchildren, and bicycles (really just me riding one).

    I think that we all have some version of that list. I do know the one thing we absolutely agree on, humor improves my resilience a great deal. In fact the lack of humor can short circuit resilience as much as improve it.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    1 year ago

    Hey Rick! I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your perspective. You are such a positive force here and you always make me smile. I look forward to reading your comments!

    Resilience is also a very personal thing. You mention bicycles. I cannot bike to save my life and don’t understand when people say it helps their RA! It really hurts my knees (but whether that is the RA or that I’ve always had bad knees I can’t say). Rock-climbing is that thing for me. When I can’t climb I just feel wiped out!

    I also agree that humor is a very powerful factor of resilience. Personally, it can make or break my “strength” at any given time.

    ~Monica

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    Monica,
    I tried rock climbing once and became petrified at the height. It prompted me to come to an understanding that I am afraid of heights. Later I learned a more basic truth, I am not afraid of heights, I am afraid of landing. Because being afraid of heights is an irrational fear but being afraid of landing is completely rational. 🙂

    By the way I have been on a diet for some time and I am about to have lost enough weight to go tandem skydiving. I hope on my birthday in June. How’s that for a 60-year-old man who is afraid of landing?

  • kat-elton author
    1 year ago

    I agree, the constant disease chaos can really affect how resilient I feel at any given moment. But I’m the dark days of winter dreaming about summer and bicycles usually brings it right back!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 year ago

    Very interesting Rick. You mention the positive effect of summer and negative of winter. The amount of sunlight or lack of it(in the extreme, seasonal affective disorder) has been shown to impact many aspects of personality and health. Grandchildren and the bicycle also make sense to me – something/someone beyond oneself and goals respectively. Your version of the list that helps resilience certainly seems to be working for you. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

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