Life Is Messy – Debunking the Myths of Resilience

How does one become resilient from all life throws at us?  Isn’t that what everybody wants to know?  How can I maintain my integrity, growth, spirit, humour….what I inspire to be as an individual when life keeps throwing things at me that I don’t expect? That I don’t think I can handle?  Things that make me feel vulnerable, weak and alone

The past 6 weeks have been everything in extreme for me.

I have had a birthday and tried to embrace the opportunity of still being alive and well after losing several school friends this year to cancer – yet I still struggle that I am getting older?

I went to smaccUS the most amazing and inspiring conference that focuses on the use of social media to promote all things educational for those who work in critical care.  I was fortunate enough to be a keynote speaker and join many talented and people much smarter than myself as we provided education and hopefully challenges to the 2300+ people who attended.  An audience who are motivated and inspired to make vulnerable peoples’ critical care experience the best it can be.  The smacc community left Chicago almost ‘untouchable’ – connected, invigorated, ready to work and put into place everything they had learned when just six days later one of the most respected and adored members of the smacc and FOAMed community Dr John Hind who I had just shared the stage with was tragically killed in an accident, bringing death right to our doorstep.

I have returned to work while my children were still on holidays to meet family after family struggling with illness, death, mortality so that when you come home each day you have to marvel at the luck and blessing that your own kids are well and safe.

Spending seven days away from family and responsibility demonstrates how altered life could be if you had made different choices.  Talking with other mothers yesterday we spoke about the unrelenting challenges and demands of parenting.  Yes children are a gift but they are also hard work and kind of selfish and certainly make huge demands on your time that can strip you of your sense of self.  How do you balance all of this and work like mine?  Feeling blessed yet trapped at times?

The reality is, is that every day is a choice.

The reality is, is that life is messy.

Life is messy.  If you want to live a full and creative life it is always going to be messy, and hard and glorious and frustrating and wonderful.  If we love others – at some point we will hurt, if we put ourselves out there for others to make comment they will and we will have to ride and live with that, if you are passionate about work and life then at times that passion has the potential to wear you out, make you disillusioned.  If you want to be engaged  in life than we have to be prepared for the good and the bad.

Resilience is not about never feeling pain, anguish, anger, sadness and frustration.

Resilience is experiencing all those things and then dusting yourself off at some point and making the choice and conscious effort to keep going.   Sometimes you have to fight your way back from grief and pain …that is all still resilience.

If I could take a series of photos of what resilience looks like it would be

  • Hiding under the doona
  • Crying until you are really ugly
  • Drinking too much
  • Making poor decisions
  • Not getting to the gym
  • Having that third piece of cake
  • Sneaking out of a bedroom of someone you can’t remember

As well as many other messy and confronting images.

Life is messy.

We experience painful and heightened states because our bodies and brains need to warn us when we are in danger.  When we are overloaded.  When we are in need of a holiday or a few days off.  When we need to slow down. Pain, fear and grief are our safety valves to make us stop and think and maybe do something different.

The true key to being resilient is being SELF AWARE.  To have insight. To sit quietly with yourself and think what is it about this situation, this person, this life, work, my partner whatever the case may be that feels like it is destroying me?  When you can answer that question you can start to find a solution.

The positive psychology movement has done wonderful things to bring balance back to the research into the benefits of life but we have to be careful that we don’t become as equally jaded into believing that we must always be happy.  Being in a place of constant happiness and fulfilment probably means you are psychotic or addicted to something.

The primary principle of Buddhism as I understand it, is we must all suffer.  If we can accept this as a fact we will paradoxically all be happier.  We will learn to ride the ebbs and flows of life

The great Hugh Mackay said “the greatest sponsor of happiness is sadness”, it’s true.  Sometimes we don’t realise how blessed we are until something truly awful happens.

To be resilient is to be aware.  To be insightful.  To be prepared to feel flawed and human and keep going.  To live a mindful life, aware of our engagements and reactions.  This is the challenge.

Personally I am not that evolved….

I am still struggling, trying to sit quietly in my own busy mind and work it all out.  One thing age is bringing me though is the wisdom to know what helps.  Sunshine, water, nutritious food, quiet, surrounding myself with people who enhance and support me, making better choices some of the time.  Learning to live and occasionally love the chaos.

If you want to be really resilient be prepared to hurt, learn and grow because life is messy and glorious and exhausting.

Take care x

Recommended Reading:

The Upside of the Dark Side – Why Being Your Whole Self Not Just Your Good Self Drives Success and Fulfillment by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener

Any of Hugh Mackay’s books

Recommended PODCASTS:

Keep an eye out for the release of the smaccUS talks and two wonderful men talking about vulnerability and recovery.  Though there are many others to be found in the smacc archives and the talks to be released from 2015.

‘All Alone on Kangaroo Island’ Tim Leeuwenberg

‘All in a Day’s Work’ Iain Beardsell

Grief is not something that Happened, it becomes a Part of Who we Are Now.

Grief is not something that happens and then leaves never to return.

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When we experience any sort of grief, it shapes our world, who we are and who we are in the world.  It can have powerful consequences – it can help us grow and it can deplete us.   How we initially react to grief will not be our lifelong story of the grief, our initial sorrow and pain is not the end of the story.  Sometimes after knowing bereaved individuals even for over a decade, one day I catch a glimpse of who they once were, prior to this deep sadness and they have returned. They are changed, different but not necessarily damaged or destroyed.  The sadness will remain but it is no longer central to their every day experience of life.

I like to think that grief gives us a metaphorical pair of glasses in which we will now view the world differently.  No one else knows we are wearing these glasses, they won’t be seeing the world from the same perspective we are, and that’s okay.

Grief is not something to happens to others. Grief comes with loving and experiencing life.  It is a normal and natural response to loss.  The challenge for all of us is to move gently and with compassion when it visit’s us or someone we care about.  To understand that each grief is individual and unique to that person. That we all have personal resources that enable us to carry our grief and that for some those resources are quite large – allowing them to carry grief in a way that is very functional, for others those resources may be smaller and so grief may be too heavy to carry for a while.

There is no normal way to grieve even though grief during the life-cycle is normal.

Move gently, take care

Liz x

Does Toxicity Attract Toxicity in Our Personal Lives?

When aspects of our life become toxic why do we allow it to spread and actually invite it in?

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Our environment shapes our behaviour from a very early age.  Babies that are exposed to violence and fear will have different MRI’s of their brain compared to babies growing with good health attachments in a safe environment.  People who only have healthy food in their house will eat healthy, people who are surrounded by chips and chocolate will succumb and consume these foods despite good intentions simply because they are there.  It is the same with the people in our lives.  Who are you surrounded by and are they making your life toxic?  What can you do about it particularly if there are problems either at home or at work?

We have all made the resolutions to eat healthier, be fitter, do more yoga and mindfulness in 2015 but here we are week four and how are most people going?   I have become acutely aware that when one area of my life becomes toxic it is very easy to slip into toxicity in other parts of my life.  Does any of this sound familiar?

You have been eating well, exercising three times a week and trying to get more sleep.  Then someone at work first challenges you and then is passive aggressive and nasty in a meeting.  You feel unsupported and attacked.  You stew on this negativity for the rest of the day.  You alternate between being really angry and annoyed at the person and the rest of the team for remaining silent despite unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour; and the rest of the time you are overly critical of your own role and part to play in the meeting. You may ask ‘Why am I so passive?’  ‘Why didn’t I think to say this or that?’  ‘What is wrong with me that I always attract hostile behaviour from this person?’  By the end of the day you have a headache.  That night is designated ‘gym night’ which you have been organised and already packed your clothes ready to go after work but when you collapse into the car that afternoon it all seems too hard.  You decide not to go to the gym because you have a headache and the day has been too awful.

Then despite having chicken breast and vegetables ready to make a healthy stir fry you pick at chocolate and snacks in the kitchen. You may even have an alcoholic drink or two, why not?  You are stressed and it might help you ‘relax’.  You now feel too tired, drunk and full to make dinner properly but eat a large bowl of cereal at 10pm because you haven’t eaten enough earlier and are now hungry.  You have a good book or maybe even study waiting but the headache, conversations and junk food are now going around and around in your body and ruminating in your head making it impossible to settle or concentrate so instead you watch some rubbish reality show on TV.  Despite not enjoying the show you stay and watch until completion. When you finally go to bed you are annoyed at yourself for:

  • Getting into an argument at work
  • Missing the gym
  • Not eating a proper dinner
  • Drinking alcohol during the week
  • Wasting a night on rubbish TV
  • Not staying with any of your New Year Goals.

And now this is all ruminating over and over in your head and you can’t sleep? Sound familiar?   This is why I have come to realise that toxicity creates toxicity and in actual fact fosters further toxicity.  We have an obligation to ourselves to stop the toxicity cycle. If someone is being rude at work, model exemplary processes and then do something active and appropriate about it.  If you have had a terrible day nurture yourself, not with chocolate and alcohol, but with healthy food and exercise or mindfulness.  If you genuinely have a headache, instead of plonking in front of the TV try a gentle walk by the water or a lovely relaxing bath.  Recently I had a friend tell me that when something awful has happened to her at work or personally she allows herself to retell the story THREE times only.  Because three times allows the opportunity to debrief and gain some insights or ideas on how to manage the issue. She figures that anything more than three times you are simply feeding the problem!

If your car was making a terrible clunking noise you wouldn’t forget to put water in, or put in dirty petrol or give it a further kick.  You would service it, investigate the problem and work at resolving the issue.  We need to have a similar approach to ourselves!

Don’t let the old habits of a toxic lifestyle encouraging an ongoing toxic lifestyle.  If toxicity creeps into your life, clean it up!

As always, take care of yourself, you are important!

Liz x

As always, take care of yourself, you are important!

How Do We Explain the Sydney Siege to Children?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all children could live in safety, be securely attached, never go hungry, never be frightened or know disappointment?  It is what nearly every parent aspires too.  Yet, to guarantee these things children would have to be disengaged from life.

Life for all of us who are engaged in the world will inevitably come with joy and heartache, disappointment and celebration.  None of us will ever be exempt from the challenges and heartache of life while we are alive.

The violent, tragic nature of what has happened during the Martin Place Siege in Sydney has shaken the foundations of all Australians.  The randomness of the victims involved.   Innocent individuals who stopped by to get their morning coffee only to have their world altered forever and has left two loved and valued individuals dead on the week before Christmas. So what on earth do we say to children about this?

Due to the extensive nature and coverage of this event most children of speaking age will be aware that something major has happened.  Children who are well attached to their parents and caregivers will intuitively know by our facial expressions, our concerns and hushed conversations with others that something major has happened in the world.  Most children whether by accident or by choice will have seen some aspects of the footage or will have heard the shooting and news on the radio.  Many children are smart enough and have access to their own technology that they may have simply looked up the siege on the internet.   The majority of parents will hope to protect and shelter their children from this confronting scene that has changed the course of Australia.  However can we realistically achieve this when it is all the whole nation can talk about?

Often a parents desire to ‘protect’ a child from any sort of illness, frightening or sad news has the opposite effect to what is being aspired.  Those of us who are parents know all too well that you can ask a child to come to the dinner table 15 times, to clean their room 20 times only to be told “I didn’t hear you”, however if we swear 20 kilometres away or cry or say something inappropriate suddenly every child in the house has bionic hearing.  Children become far more INTERESTED when we are upset or whisper, they attune themselves to our every word.  If all they hear is bits and pieces they will take what information they have and join it together.  Then they will make sense of this information based on their own understanding of the world and their previous experiences.  So, if for instance, they hear us whinging and moaning about how annoying our partner is – they may equate this to a fear of divorce.  If they hear that there has been a siege in Sydney by terrorists when people went to coffee they may be terrified that all coffee places or cafes may now have bombs.  Children are not illogical – they can only make sense of the world based on the knowledge they have.    For children and adults information is power.  Regardless of what the news is if children are going to hear it, and chances are they will, who do we want them to hear it from and what do we want them to know?  It is much better to hear information from your loved and trusted parent or caregiver than the kid across the road.

My own children had 40 minutes on their own on Monday afternoon in-between the babysitter leaving and me arriving home.  At 10 and 13 years they were glued to the TV when I arrived, watching the siege with curiosity and fear.  When I walked in we watched it for five minutes together, spoke about what it meant for the hostages, for their families, for people in Sydney and for us in Brisbane.  Then I turned the TV off.  We checked in again later in the evening, talked through their concerns and then we did other more relaxing and pleasurable activities as a family to help everyone get ready for bed.  My 10 year old was very concerned about terrorism and our safety.  We talked about all of this really honestly but I kept assuring him it looked like the act of an individual which was very different to a terrorist attack.

I woke early on Tuesday morning and watched the images of the storming of the café and to hear tragically of the death of two innocent people.  When the boys woke I explained to them what had happened overnight.  I let them watch these scenes once (children’s imaginations are far more gruesome and bloody then anything shown in the media), we talked about it as a family highlighting once again that this was not a terrorist cell but an inhumane individual and then the TV went off again for the rest of the day and they headed to a friends for a swim.  Children under the age of 10 often learn and test life through play and talking.  My 10 year old was full of theories about what he would do if held hostage, how he would wait to escape or save others.  Again this is very normal.  It is important to acknowledge these theories, explain that this is also probably what the hostages were doing, state you hope they are NEVER in this situation and then gently guide them to move on to other activities.  Some children depending on their personality or imagination may get more stuck in this phase than others.

When having to explaining any sort of confronting, sad or frightening news there are some important tips to consider.

TIPS FOR TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT SAD OR FRIGHTENING NEWS:

  1. Use clear plain language. Do not use metaphors or too much description. Keep it short and simple otherwise children may become bored and switch off.
  2. Use correct terminology. Eg “Grandma has cancer, it is a tumour or growth in her brain”. Even with very young children this is important because to just say someone is “sick” means that every time anyone has a headache, earache, tummy bug (including the child themselves) they may worry that they will lose their hair, go to hospital etc. Eg: a man is holding people against their will in a café.
  3. Talk to children at a time that works for the children. Often adults are so concerned about telling their children the news that they do it when the parent is ready and prepared. If kids are tired, hungry or watching their favourite TV show the message will be lost and often conflict will arise. Do it when everyone is in a space to hear the news and has time to talk it through as a family
  4. Assure children of what will stay the same. Let children know what will change and what will stay the same, offering as much security and assurance as possible is important. However you still need to answer honestly – if someone may die or leave or the house has to be sold children need to know this information
  5. Do not expect an immediate reaction. Young children, children under the age of 12 years or sometimes older sometimes find it hard to reflect into the future. So news that will impact them in the future, “your brother may has to go to hospital”, “the puppy may only live another 5 weeks”; “we are going to lose our house”, may not impact them immediately. This is not denial. This is developmentally appropriate.
  6. Avoid generalisations.
  7. Do not make promises you cannot keep
  8. What if they ask a question you cannot answer?. Children particular in relation to the siege may ask “could this happen to you/us”. The chances of being involved in a siege are very minimal and children need to know that. However if they ask “could you die” we have to say ‘yes we will all die one day but that most people die when they are very old and if we were ever sick or worried about our health we would discuss this with you”. Children will ask very truthful and confronting questions about spirituality, sexuality and life. If you genuinely do not know the answer or how you feel about a topic ask them their own point of view. Their understandings and insights are often amazing
  9. Children who do not know the truth are at risk. Children if left to their own devices often attribute blame to themselves. To not talk to children means they often have to make sense of their world on their own. They always place themselves in the centre of the story which can be really concerning. Teaching children about how to have difficult conversations builds resilience and good mental health.
  10. Children need messages that they are safe. At the start of any family crisis or situation the CENTRAL message we want to give children is that there are people around who love them and will care for them

Children who know they can fail and get back up and keep trying are more likely to succeed.  Children who are exposed to loss and grief and are allowed to be involved, to mourn and ask questions will be changed though not necessarily damaged by the experience the research is really clear about this.

What happened in Sydney is horrendous, wrong and frightening.  However with clear and open conversations the majority of children will see it as an isolated experience and cope with the information.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the children and family of Katrina Dawson and the parents and family of Tori Johnson.

Committing to Resilience

The last 10 days have been turmoil both personally and in my world. Globally Australia saw the death of a much loved cricketer who was tragically killed playing the game he loved.  Brisbane the City I live in was hit by a violent storm with no warning and left with an estimated 200 million worth of damage and many close friends and family who have had houses, cars and businesses damaged.  Personally I have had to leave a much loved job to join the new merger of paediatric hospitals and my grandmother died.  Welcome to Life!

Life and the Universe do not wait until we are on stable ground to throw us something new.  How do we stay resilient?  How do we maintain our own wellbeing when sometimes it feels like we are being pounded by one challenge after another?

We have to commit to wellbeing and commit to the things that maintain that wellbeing and sense of balance.  And that is hard.  Working in an environment where children die as part of the job never gets any easier, the level of sadness does not change.  What changes is the way I think about it and the things I can do for myself and others to ensure someone will always be there when those families enter our doors.

For me I have many strategies – reflection, meaning making, humour, exercise, dancing, perspective and an ongoing commitment to believing in what I do.

Friday night I had a few drinks to farewell my old work place and had a few drinks so had to leave the car.  Saturday morning is my Nia dance class which is 25 kms away from my house.  This dance class is core to my recovery from the week and part of my routine for welcoming the new week.  I work early Saturday feeling tired. I wanted to stay in bed however I knew as the day wore on  I would regret this and knowing the challenges of the week ahead did not think this was the best way to commit to my own wellbeing.  So… I walked the 2kms to the train, caught the train, ran another kilometre to get my car and then drove to the dance class. Why?  Because there is never a day I can afford not to commit to my own wellbeing and resilience.  I have to be disciplined to maintaining my resilience all the time – I have to view it as one of my greatest priorities.  So even when I am tired I try to exercise.  When I am feeling miserable – I whistle, dance, laugh and sing.  And in the quiet I think, I ask myself the tough questions of what is bothering me and what I can do about it.  Resilience is NEVER about always feeling positive, strong and able.  Resilience is feeling all of those tough emotions, falling, hurting and getting back up again.

I encourage to find your own pathway to resilience and commit to it.

Blessings to you and yours

Liz x

Dreams Can Come True though it takes Courage and Hard Work

I first thought about writing a book when I was 8 years old. I have always loved to read and was known for sitting up late at night with a hidden torch under my covers to read the last few precious pages before going to sleep. Then as an adult while that dream grew the reality of the situation set in.  I joined Qld Writers Association.  I heard how hard it was to get published, the barriers, how few people ever made any money from publishing and so over time it started to feel impossible.  We have a mortgage, children in school a book was a pipeline dream that could not be afforded the time or finances.  So I put the dream to the side, and it felt awful.  When we put our dreams too far to the side it can affect our wellbeing.  Despair or feelings of failure can make us ill. It felt like I was constantly trying to deny a part of myself, and that part would not be silenced.

Then one day I decided it was better to try and fail miserably then to never try at all.  I felt sick, nervous, fraudulent but I still decided to write and self publish.  The book has had moderate success.  2000 copies sold since April 2014.  I still fear reviews and each book sold from the website makes me anxious to please but the feedback has been tremendous.  We have almost broken even financially though it was never about the money.  It was about producing a book that may in some small way assist people in grief and could be read by readers of all ages and levels of development.  I am still extremely humbled and proud to find it on a bookshelf or when people take the time to email me and thank me.  So the book is now a gift that hopefully continues for the reader and absolutely for me as well.  I encourage you to think about what would enhance your own wellbeing.  Are you doing enough of what you love?  Follow your passion, not with foolhardy blindness, with strategic plans and backups. It may come with sacrifices.  What is the worst that can happen?   If you fail you can enjoy the journey and experience and learn from it.  Failure will never taste as bitter as the well of regret.  I cannot tell you of the thrill and almost childlike delight at finding my book on the shelves of Gleebooks in Glebe NSW and Kinokuniya in the Sydney Galleries this weekend. Be brave, it has it’s rewards.

Book Sydney Glebe 2Book Sydney K2

You will have to excuse the hat, it was very hot in Sydney over the weekend!