This I Believe

Leslie - Noank, Connecticut
Entered on November 14, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, hope, setbacks

Resilience is More than Bouncing Back

Like everyone, I’ve faced some very tough times: betrayal, divorce, illness. Each time I work through a time of difficulty, I remind myself that everyone suffers in one way or another. And I think about resilience. I believe resilience is an essential part of a happy life.

We don’t hear much about resilience these days. Instead, self-help books and t.v. shows talk about “moving beyond” and “getting past.” While these are time-honored ways to heal, I’ve found that sitting with whatever it is that hurts, allowing myself the time to have it filter through me, has made a difference in how I approach the world.

While in my mid-thirties, I began a long slow slide into a depression so severe that it hurt to move, even to smile. Thoughts of death were with me during all my waking hours.

I was hospitalized for months in a locked psychiatric unit, where I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and major depression. I was fortunate to receive treatment, both medical and psychiatric, that worked. Still, it was a painful eighteen months, during which my children suffered from my absence, many of my friends turned from me, and my marriage failed. My depression eventually lifted, but I felt a great deal of shame about all I’d lost. Bouncing back—what most of us think of as resilience—was out of the question. My life had changed from its edges to its core.

The crisis was over but I was at a loss. I’d spent much of my adult life as a wife, mother, and neighbor. Now single and without my children living with me, I needed to find another life. A wise man advised me “Find something that you love doing and do it. Choose anything: pottery, accounting. Anything.”

And there began my understanding that resilience takes many forms. I moved just far enough away to start my life anew. I bought an old house in a tiny fishing village where I knew no one. I painted the living room, learned to tend the antique pink roses that tumbled over my picket fence, worked in the village bakery. I acted as if I were a normal woman with a normal life.

While I painted and pruned and baked, I let grief and shame filter through me as water filters through bedrock to reach the deep seams that feed reservoirs. I fed my own reservoirs this way.

I remembered the joy I felt in writing poetry as a young woman and found an accomplished poet to tutor me. Now, ten years have passed, and I’m a published poet with a master’s degree in writing. Recently it occurred to me how similar the words “pottery” and “poetry” are. My wise friend would smile at the pun. I write poems instead of throwing pots. I believe that each poem is another chance to filter through sadness and joy; each poem is another chance to remember that resilience has many faces.