for the town in which I live and work
What we are experiencing is a slow-moving trauma. There is a way in which you see something coming, not exactly knowing what “it” is. But you feel the challenge already. It reminds me of the way that we have weathered hurricanes and tropical storms in the past … glued to our screens, watching the bands of wind and rain move closer and closer.
There are feelings of helplessness and fear … and the advice that we hear is often to prepare, then hold on.
At least for me, I want more than that.
Part of the reason that I think of this through the lens of trauma is my own occupational bent. I work with a lot of people, young and old, who have had upending experiences in their lives. We live in a “base town”. Often these experiences are related to deployment and war, but just as often they could be family trauma, abuse and neglect, or a present difficult reality.
This present reality we are facing involves some of the hallmarks of trauma: the threat of death to you or someone close to you, indirect exposure to violence or death (our healthcare workers), and those feelings of horror and helplessness as the event unfolds.
Most scholars will point to resiliency as the way through trauma, with “resiliency” being a trait that we can nurture in ourselves and those around us.
A resilient person as “a twig with a fresh, green living core. When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead, it springs back and continues growing.”from Aging Well by George Vaillant
This ability to “spring back”, to have some flexibility in the midst of life’s challenges, this is what we mean by resiliency.
But how do we foster resiliency in ourselves and in our community?
We start with the story that we tell ourselves. In therapy, I often use the analogy of eyeglasses, that the words we tell ourselves, about ourselves, will either bring clarity or distort how we see the world. If the story we tell ourselves over and over is one where we failed, where we were “not enough”, or a story that predicts future failure, then we begin to live out that story.
Now this is not to say that we can tell ourselves that we can fly without being inside an airplane! But it does mean that we should practice taking off those lenses, looking around at what is really in front of us, at all the possible ways of looking at our situation, and make a decision from that place.
As a community, this small farming village of Wellston grew into a thriving base town during World War II and then later during the Korean War. Our story is one of meeting adversity and finding a way to help.
Another aspect of resiliency is having a strong moral compass and the grounding of religious/spiritual support. This makes sense in that when one is being thrown around by the challenges of life, having some center onto which you hold aids you in making sense out of the senseless. Our faith communities help us hold on during the crisis. They also are the types of places where we rethink what happened and find ways in which meaning and purpose emerge.
Not that the number of places of worship is the only measure, but Warner Robins Georgia and the surrounding communities have a large number of faith communities. Finding our way through often means holding on, with others, to what we know to be true.
Standing together with others is also an important aspect of resiliency. It is a myth that any of us do anything on our own. Our military members will remind you over and over again that even the one who stands at the front has been supported by so many others behind them. Without a supportive community of parents, our teachers could not do their jobs. Without a community who cares about our first responders, they would lose their ability to keep us safe.
One aspect of a pandemic is a tendency to “draw in”, to become suspicious of others, perhaps even angry with others. And although “social distancing” requires physical distance, it does not mean that we cannot reach out to each other, support each other, in ways that don’t require us to be physically together.
Practicing flexibility is a key aspect of resilience. The shadow side of having that “strong moral compass” can also be an unwillingness to change or see another way; this is often a reaction based more in fear than faith.
Resilience is about looking honestly at your situation and then considering ways to adapt and change. We work to maintain a flexibility in our thinking and emotions. This often means taking a deep breath and asking yourself the question, “I wonder if there’s another way here?” You give yourself a moment to look around so that you can see all the possible directions.
Fear tends to cause us to think in either/or terms, not both/and.
With parents and children, I often find myself coaching both of them by simply saying, “I wonder if there’s some other way you might have thought of … even if it feels silly at first.” When we share these in a space of curiosity instead of judgment, then we may be surprised at the possibilities that emerge.
Physical and emotional fitness are vital to resiliency.
It has been heartening for me, a runner, to see so many people running, biking, walking, and finding those ways to take care of their physical selves. As a mental health clinician, I know how much research there is about how exercise is important not only for our physical health, but our mental health as well.
And as a clinician, I know that we often neglect our emotional/mental health because it seems to be harder to consider our brain as an organ that we need to protect in the same way that we see a cardiologist for our heart and an endocrinologist for our diabetes! Mental health is about our overall health. And when we aren’t caring for our mental health, our physical health usually follows.
We should also not forget how all of this works together, for ourselves as individuals, but also for our families and our community. Part of the story of this community is coming together to help an effort as a country. There was purpose and meaning in what we were doing. Oftentimes the best actions we can take are small ones that we see as connected to a larger whole.
Our lives are tied together. Our diverse community has a history of uniting in a shared purpose.
That is Robins Resilience and Robins Strong!