On Being Resilient
One thing that families living with HD/JHD learn fairly quickly is resilience.
As a grassroots nonprofit run by family members living with Huntington’s disease, Help 4 HD International practices resilience as an organization on a daily basis. HD hasn’t been able to break us as individuals, and Mother Nature won’t break us as an organization. We will continue to serve our families, despite devastating events like Hurricanes Matthew, Harvey, and Irma. Matthew didn’t stop our annual symposium in October 2016; Harvey is not stopping our Houston HIPE Day on September 30; Irma is not stopping our annual symposium in Tampa on October 21, next month. We are resilient!
According to “Developing Resilience” (https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/resilience.html), resilience is “the ‘rubber ball’ factor: the ability to bounce back in the event of adversity.”
Sometimes, then, resilience doesn’t mean we vanquish adversity; it means we keep going in spite of adversity.
Those who live with Huntington’s and Juvenile Huntington’s disease would probably agree that there’s more than enough adversity to go around just in the course of daily life: being at risk, learning that a loved one has tested positive, dealing with a new symptom, finding a doctor who’s familiar with the disease, finding the right med (or combination of meds), finding an appropriate care facility, losing one’s independence, losing part (or all) of the family’s income … the list goes on and on.
So does everyone have resilience? Is there some secret formula? How do you deal with all the adversity this disease throws at you?
First, everyone who is not totally compromised by physical or mental illness has some degree of resilience. It may be physical, mental, or emotional, or any combination of the three.
Think back to childhood: when you fell on the playground and scraped your knee, you got back up and kept playing. That’s physical resilience. Nearly all of us have seen a child who’s been felled by the flu only to bounce back, filled with energy, as soon as the fever is gone. Again, physical resilience. An adult who’s had a knee replacement eventually walks normally again. Physical resilience.
Again, let’s go back to childhood. Remember that bad grade on a school test? You studied smarter the next time, and you aced the next test. That’s mental resilience. As an adult, you may have become frustrated at getting to the grocery store only to forget what you went there to get. Next time, you write out a list, or you use a mnemonic device (a memory trick). Mental resilience. Sometimes it’s devising a strategy to deal with adversity.
Maybe as a teen you went through a bad breakup, but eventually, you decided to try dating again. That’s emotional resilience. Most of us have known someone who’s gone through severe depression, but through medication and/or counseling, that person has come through the depression. Again, that’s emotional resilience. Someone who’s lost a beloved pet has grieved the loss but has learned to love a new pet. Emotional resilience. Sometimes it means admitting there’s adversity and asking for help.
But what if the hurt or the grief or the loss or the fear is so overwhelming that it seems impossible to bounce back from such intense adversity? Can resilience be learned? Yes! It can be learned, and it can be practiced.
According to “Developing Resilience,” the first step is awareness. Notice what is going on around you and inside your head. Second is thinking. Learn how to interpret the events that are going on in a rational (“it’s not the end of the world”)way. Third, reach out. Know when (and often whom) to ask for help. Finally, develop fitness—the mental and physical ability to cope with adversity without becoming ill.
The American Psychology Association (APA) in “The Road to Resilience” offers several strategies to build resilience (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx). Those that I find particularly helpful in living with Huntington’s and Juvenile Huntington’s disease follow:
Make connections—HD and JHD are isolating, partly because they are “rare” diseases that people don’
Practice resilience! Be that rubber ball! Adjust your sails! And please, join us at our next event!