Resilience is a bucket.
Resilience is a piece of elastic.
Resilience is training for a marathon.
I’m talking in riddles and I’m avoiding any reference to better-informed sources than my own experience.
Let’s start with the last. If you’re training for a marathon, on the first day you’d have no hope of completing it. You exercise, you eat and drink well, you take care of your body and you sleep well. And by the end of your training period, you’re up for the gruelling challenge. I don’t believe that resilience is innate: it’s a capacity that can be developed, but it takes effort and insight. It also helps to have a personal trainer, and someone to cheer you along the route, returning to the analogy, because it’s easier to be resilient if you’re in good company.
Let’s pick up the piece of elastic. My resilience may have helped me to withstand all sorts of setbacks, or the earth-shaking roller-coaster of events over the past two decades. There have been times when I thought I might shatter into pieces, but I’ve surprised myself and got through them. However, if you stretch elastic for long enough, it breaks. However tough and impervious to stress we might think we are, the body has a way of telling us we’ve stretched ourselves too far. That’s where honesty and kindness come in: being honest with yourself about how tired, scared or stressed you are, before you end up in hospital. Been there, elastic snapped…
Finally, this bucket. I pride myself on being able to deal with most situations. I can get a bit shouty and needy, but that’s part of my resilience (admitting I need help or a hug). As I mentioned in my bit about courage, I become calm in danger. The same sort of thing quite often happens in situations where I am under pressure: my Vulcan takes over and I assume command, both of the situation and of myself.
But last summer, I found myself crying a lot over little things. Privately, in my lovely colleague’s classroom, with the door shut. But crying big wet tears. She told me about the bucket. It’s my resilience: for the most part, it has capacity for whatever comes along. You just pour the problem in and move on. But when something really awful happens, she said, it almost fills your bucket. Then the smallest problem becomes insurmountable. My mum had died, and that left little space in my bucket for anything else. Which is why good colleagues keep one eye on someone who’s back at work after a bereavement and appears to be okay…
So what does this tell me?
- First, resilience can be acquired and must be worked at.
- Secondly, everyone has their limit and we must watch out for warning signs
- Thirdly, however resilient we may think we are, circumstances may further limit our capacity to cope.
So let’s support one another, listen out for twanging elastic and check our buckets.