Should we be resilient? Or human?
I am a human being. And until recently, I didn’t understand what that meant. So, this is my story of discovery and recovery, and my battle with being resilient.
There was a traumatizing moment in my childhood where the playful curiosity immediately faded, and I began carrying the backpack of PTSD. I layered in expectations judgments and added trauma responses in my life, each like a brick added to the pack. Year after year, decade after decade, I created and carried my backpack of bricks.
Each moment of my life was witnessed, experienced, and engaged with my backpack on. These expectations, judgments on myself, others, and trauma responses were part of every breath I took. I carried it equally through moments of joy and moments of suffering. When I set goals in my personal life and business, it came from judgments and expectations. Even when I succeeded, I saw only the imperfection, and when I failed, I again added new bricks to my backpack.
Each moment the backpack became heavier and heavier, more complicated and harder to carry. Eventually, it became impossible.
As you can imagine, the load got heavier and heavier, and when I could no longer carry this load, I fell, backpack and all. It was like falling down a mountainside, leaving me bruised, disorientated, lost, and exhausted. Finally, my mind told me to give up, that I couldn’t carry on.
It was here that I first experienced my humility and humanity. I had spent all that time thinking it was my job to carry that load, believing I couldn’t put it down. Like I was some machine that just needed to work harder to get the job done. That if only I were enough, I wouldn’t be suffering. I believed that something was wrong with me since everyone else was doing ok. Even though logically, I knew this wasn’t true.
The irony is that I constantly tried to prevent others from this my fate, so I took on their work. But unfortunately, trying to make their lives easier was one way I continued to overload myself.
Waiving the flag of surrender
The moment of surrender felt like giving up to me. I had lived SO long, thinking all of it was mine to bear and bear alone. But, to surrender meant sharing how I saw myself with someone who could help. I was terrified, and I had resisted it for decades. Finally, I had to allow someone to see my broken self precisely as I am and exactly as I am not. Taking this step took every ounce I had left in me. I never thought I would make it, yet I found just what was needed to take another baby step forward each moment.
The risk was worth all the discomfort. I learned that I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It was the first time in my life that I stopped adding new bricks to my backpack. Instead, I asked for help. For the first time since I was five, I went back to that playful child and allowed my curiosity to take over. What could be different if I didn’t do all of this alone? Through this help, the therapy that followed that, I took the bricks out of the backpack one by one. Allowing myself to look at each one newly, playfully, and with curiosity.
Breaking through the surface
Over ten months of EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), talk therapy, reflection, and looking for the gold in each brick, slowly and with love, I emptied the backpack. Each time I considered all layers of self (in Sanskrit, this is Kosha, a term which means sheaths and acknowledges our physical, emotional, wisdom, energetic, and bliss self). How had this brick been formed? Was it a story of the mind? How had I chosen to cope with it? What was the impact of the brick on my body, emotions, mind, energy, and ability to experience self and joy? And most importantly, how was it impacting who I saw myself as and allowed myself to be?
The healing journey took time, love, care, space, and support. But, it was not a process to be rushed or pushed through. Instead, I could take my time, learn, understand, and discover how I became me. Then, I could take breaks, putting the work down whenever needed.
Each time, the weight of my past, mental health, and physical self became easier. Finally, I could work with who I am, not against me. I learned to be playful, cry, laugh, let go, celebrate, and pause in a healthy balance.
I am not “resilient.”
There is a significant push to be resilient, let go, reframe, and make everything something to have gratitude for in our society. To be okay all the time. Unfortunately, I bought it hook line and sinker. I almost drowned in these expectations.
When you look up resilient, it means “to able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” So why does it matter how quickly I recover? When did we become so hard on ourselves? Setting an expectation that we need to recover “quickly” actually makes recovery even harder. And for many, the have gratitude culture suggests that no matter what horrible stuff happens to you, even if it is repeated trauma, we should focus on getting over it and being happy it happened.
People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to trauma long after the event. For example, they may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares, feel sadness, fear or anger, and be detached or estranged from other people. It is complex, shitty, and painful. The work to recover from our trauma takes time. Telling us that we should withstand and recover quickly is freaking gross. Some things are not withstandable!
I’m one of many human beings with intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to my experiences that last long after an event has ended. I may relive an event, feel sadness, fear, or anger, and feel detached or estranged. Life moves through me: the fun moments, the sad ones, and the hard ones. There is no need to withstand or recover quickly. We can take the time we need, allowing ourselves to be supported, take pauses, and care for ourselves. Each of us can take all the time I need to recover. We do not need to be “resilient.”
Using breadcrumbs to be resilient
You may be wondering if I still carry my backpack. The answer is, of course, I do. I am human. I have a mind that makes up stories to understand and deal with scary things that leads to fear-filled thinking, and I continue to allow the speaking of society to impact me.
The difference is that I now have the tools to clean it out whenever I want to, or it gets too heavy. Sometimes I forget it is there, or I forget that I can empty it. And that is ok. it is part of my humanity. So, I have set a trail of breadcrumbs for myself to remember my tools when I need them most. For me, this is being resilient!
My breadcrumbs are reminders in my calendar to take time for me, schedule self-care, time with my loved ones, time in nature, and time held for absolutely no reason at all. Now, I fill my backpack to support me each day with hiking gear, others a good book, and a blanket.
I am human
I have learned that being human is balancing two opposites; times to work hard and rest, between strengths and weakness, between the inner experience and the outer experience. Being human means, I am a living, breathing, and evolving being. I will make mistakes and have great successes, and both are perfectly me.