– Resilience – what is it and where can you get some? –

Sally Northeastby Sally Northeast

It’s one of the big buzzwords of our current times isn’t it – resilience. I was planning a #CUontheair podcast episode about it this month but it turns out I don’t actually have the resilience right now to do it!!

I suspect that people have different views about the meaning of the word so a quick Google search revealed that my hunch was right – there are a range of nuances:

  • The ability to be happy, successful etc after something difficult or bad has happened
  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness
  • Adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress
  • That ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and to come back stronger than ever

What they have in common is the bit about facing difficulty, stress, knocks, challenges – and boy is that something we all know a great deal more about this year!lino printing

But then they all deviate slightly. Is it about recovering from those challenges or adapting? Is it about being stronger or being happy again afterwards? Is it a quality people have or a skill they develop?

I consider myself a resilient person on the whole and I think that’s about an ability to pick myself up and see the good stuff when there’s madness all around. Ask my nearly 16-year-old (currently inhabiting the world of dark and sad that only teenagers understand) – she regularly tells me to dial down the positive attitude!

One of the reasons I started Comms Unplugged with my wonderful co-creators Georgia Turner and Darren Caveney was to spread some of that positivity, support that army of hard-working comms people, provide a safe space for us all to share our ups and downs and benefit from each other’s knowledge and wisdom.

I’m also very good at looking after my wellbeing (and encouraging others to do the same) – doing the things that (in the words of our Fresh Air Fridays friends) fill me up and give me the energy to keep going. I have wonderful family and friends, lovely hobbies, a beautiful environment to explore, a dog (what’s more positive than a wagging tail?)….

SukiI’m lucky. And – as reflected in the definitions above – I’ve faced a range of challenges through my life and have come through them. I genuinely believe they have made me stronger and more able to deal with what’s going on.

And yet (you knew that was coming right?)…

Like all of us I’ve had times this year when I am just flat out DONE. In the words of a former team member, I feel like I have nothing more to give. This past week has been one of those times. There was so much going on – big stuff – that I actually told my boss I literally didn’t care about the Christmas decorations debate (working in the NHS with infection control at the forefront you can imagine the conversation we were having!). Me – not care about Christmas – what?!!

So I’ve wondered how resilient I actually am. I’ve questioned how good I am at bouncing back. I’ve doubted by ability to recover from the challenges I face. I’ve compared myself to our amazing clinicians, working on the frontline caring for COVID positive patients. If they can deal with that, why am I making such a big deal about my situation?

In the end there are only so many dog walks you can walk, so many Lino cut designs you can print, so many watercolour pictures you can paint. They help take your mind away from your worries. But they don’t make the challenge go away.

It’s the conversations you have with yourself (and, with the wonderful people in your life who support you at these times) that build you up or knock you back down. Comparing my situation with that of frontline NHS staff is pointless. Their struggles don’t make my own any less – for me anyway.

I shouldn’t be trying to talk myself out of feeling sad, stressed, angry, grumpy. These are legitimate responses to a struggle like nothing we’ve faced before. We’re allowed to feel those things. We’re allowed to rant about them in a safe space. We’re allowed our time in the dark, sad teenage shadows to stamp our feet and shout about how unfair it all is and how much we hate it.watercolour

Resilience is the door out of that place. It’s the inner strength that we find from somewhere (who knows where) to get up off the floor we’ve been lying on, pounding our ineffectual fists. It’s the determination we feel rising in us to get to the other side of the door and face it all again.

We’ll undoubtedly be in and out of that place many more times through the current crisis and beyond. But that’s OK. We’re allowed that time out from being strong. See you on the other side – we got this!

Sally is one of the co-creators of Comms Unplugged and Deputy Director for OD, Participation and Communications at NHS trust Dorset HealthCare. You can find her art and baking pictures on Instagram.