Friday, September 28, 2007

Resilience

Grief---and its active cousin, mourning---settle into the bones, and one becomes accustomed to their presence over time. If, like me, one suffers from underlying mental illness---in my case, chronic depression---recovering from grief and moving through its inescapable trajectory is an elongated process.

Resilience is defined on Wikipedia as "the ability to recover from (or to resist being affected by) some shock, insult, or disturbance". In my case, and in the case of many others who walk this troubled planet, resilience is a skill or quality which cannot be taken for granted. Our American culture seems to be built upon values of positivity and self-reliance, as well as the innate ability to "pull yourself up by the bootstraps". Consequently, depression and mental illness, as well as the slow recovery from "some shock, insult, or disturbance" are often seen as character flaws and are frowned upon as a sign of personal weakness. Oh that it were so simple.

For those of us for whom mental illness (and I do not use that term lightly) is a lifelong struggle, recovering and moving through grief or personal tragedy can be inordinately slow and arduous. Support and patience from our friends, family and colleagues is of the utmost importance. Beyond the care and succor of others, what is most crucial is the gentleness of quiet and consistent self-care.

Many of my patients lack the benefit of strong personal resilience. This commonality which we share is perhaps the reason why my compassion for suffering runs so deep, but also perhaps why my well of compassion can sometimes run dry. When there is suffering both within and without, emotional fatigue may become the order of the day. Today I pray for resiliency and gentleness, and the ability to nurture them both.
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