Resilience: Rewriting Your Story
I recently read an article from the New York Times entitled, "How to Boost Resilience in Midlife." Some of the tips on boosting resilience are more obvious, like practicing optimism (not to be overlooked!). Others were more subtle, like the tip "rewriting your story."
The article focuses on a researcher and professor who suffered a traumatic shooting. As he recovered, the professor knew his students were watching him, that he could be a role model to them in the way he handled his injury. This sense of himself as a role model allowed him to reframe the trauma he suffered and to "rewrite his story," to go from being a victim to being an example.
I once expressed something like this to a therapist. I said that I wanted to live the best life I possibly could -- a rich, full life, touched by sorrow, certainly, but overall, happy. My dream, I said, was to have strong family bonds and satisfying friendships, to do good work, to pursue my creative goals and a life of faith, and to give back to my community. My goal would be to show my family, friends and community that a life with a mental illness could be a good life.
I am not sure I am succeeding at this goal, but every day I am striving toward it. Just today, I had the opportunity to rehearse with the praise band at my church -- the learning curve is going to be steep! But I am so excited about getting the music and the opportunity to learn. I attended church following rehearsal -- another chance to deepen and expand my faith life.
Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Workbook, a staple for so many therapists and counselors, suggests doing the work of "building a life worth living." Linehan proposes that we can do this in the present, by accumulating more pleasant events in our daily lives, and work towards this in the future, by setting goals and taking small steps toward them.
Linehan's "pleasant events" -- journaling, taking a bubble bath, taking a walk, daydreaming about going back to school, calling a friend, and going to the movies are just a few from this huge list -- is a great resource if you are looking for simple thing to do to bring more pleasure into your life. As you build more pleasant events into your days, life will gradually get lighter and brighter.
Goal-setting also is key. What is important to you? Is it having friends to do things with? Is it a job? Is it your education? Your other relationships? Write down a large goal you have for your life and then write down three small, concrete steps you can take in the next week to further your goal. For instance, if your large goal is "Get a job," one of the steps you might take might be "Revise my resume." If you are unsure how to revise your resume without help, a step might be to look for career resources in your area that can help you revise your resume.
I think these are some of the keys to leading a rich, full life -- daily enjoyment and working toward goals. And they go hand-in-hand. It is a goal of mine to deepen my spiritual life. So I attend church regularly, which happens to be something I enjoy. Or it is a goal of mine to exercise. So today, I walked on the treadmill, which, once I got going, I found that I enjoyed.
Sometimes, of course, I don't want to exercise. But we can do things even though we are ambivalent about them. We can choose our own good.
As a writer, I know that I have the chance to write and rewrite my story, to shape my own narrative. Doing so allows me to find meaning in even the darkest parts of my story. And I know, too, that, as I am becoming more open about my mental health journey, I can be a role model.
Don't get me wrong... I totally expect to slip up sometimes at this "role model" stuff. But I will get up, brush myself off, and keep going. Because I am building a life worth living.