Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” This is resilience.
When my doctors recently gave me the good news that I am cancer-free, my surgeon told me that I was one of the most resilient patients that she has ever seen – she noted that I took everything the doctors threw at me and showed a courage and strength that she had rarely seen in her patients. I tried to accept the compliment (something I’m not very good at), while maintaining my humility (this was coming from an experienced surgeon at one of the top hospitals in the country). I left her office in tears, both because of the diagnosis and the fact that she noticed something in me I had trouble seeing in myself.
The Mayo Clinic describes resilience as: “the ability to roll with the punches. When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain, but you’re able to keep functioning — both physically and psychologically.” This is a mindset that I strive to teach my students – we call it being #hydetough. At a recent press conference, Tom Brady was asked how the New England Patriots were dealing with the onslaught of injuries on the team – “mental toughness,” he replied. I couldn’t help but think that he was exhibiting an attitude of resilience.
I never thought of myself as resilient during this challenge. So many times over the past year I wanted to quit; so many times I failed to contain my emotions – one day I even had a tantrum in the middle of a doctor’s waiting room; so many times I said aloud to whomever would listen that “I can’t do this anymore” and seriously contemplated the consequences of quitting. But something inside me knew I had to keep going. As described above, I let myself “experience anger, grief and pain,” but I didn’t let it get the best of me. I drew upon those times I had to “look fear in the face” – when my character has been tested.
As I pick up the pieces of my year – heading back to work, reconnecting with friends, even getting my body back in shape – I know I will need to rely on my resilience. Recovery is not easy. The world is a different place than it was when this began nearly a year ago. But now I know I have it – I can do the things I think I cannot do.