I woke up this morning thinking about everything that has been going on for the past few weeks and the idea of resiliency. What is it about people who have gone through some of the most difficult challenges that allowed them to come out on the other side stronger? Why do these people seem more resilient and how did they get that way? Do they function better under stressful situations like the one we are experiencing right now?
I’ve been reflecting upon my experiences and challenges as well as many of my patients who I’ve helped over the years, and one thing I’ve noticed is that those who have had traumatic experiences are coping with what’s happening today in a much better way than you might anticipate. There’s so much for us to learn from people who have experienced trauma and gained strength through their struggles.
There’s no doubt in my mind that what we are experiencing now will leave many with posttraumatic stress. So I’ve decided that for the next few weeks I’m going to share stories of people who have overcome different challenges so we can learn from their resilience. I’ll be interviewing them about strategies that have helped them cope with stress and anxiety in the past so that we can learn ways to alleviate some of the stress that we are feeling now and perhaps learn coping mechanisms that we can take with us into the future to become more resilient ourselves. However, for the first post, I’m going to share a bit of my own story and one small idea that made a huge difference.
I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel in 1975 to immigrant parents from Iran who dealt with a great deal of anti-Semitism and hate. We were living in a country surrounded by enemies, and the loss and stress they experienced inevitably transferred to their children. I have two sisters and a brother and as children, we experienced emotional abuse and neglect as well as extreme poverty. At the age of 12, I was forced to leave my home and go live with a foster family. By the age of 14, I had developed an eating disorder and continued to struggle with anorexia and bulimia for 10 years—until I was 24 years old.
This is only a small glimpse into the stress and trauma I went through as a child, teenager, and young adult, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll just say that I can acutely remember what it’s like to deal with prolonged tragedy, hopelessness, and stressful living environments and the toll that it takes on a person both mentally and physically. I remember knowing at a very early age that I had two options: One was to continue feeling sorry for myself and focus on all the horrible things that I had experienced and was experiencing and the other was to find a thread of hope that I could cling to in order to maintain my sanity and continue to fight for my survival.
For me, that thread of hope—my reason for fighting for survival— was knowing that I have a passion for education and that there is love and kindness in my heart that I want to share with the world. Once I figured out that I could empower myself through education, both mentally and then financially, I clung to the belief that I could create a life where I wouldn’t have to struggle in the same way my parents did. I also somehow knew that even though I was hurting, someday I would be able to help others who are experiencing anxiety and stress come out of their deep dark hole and feel better. I didn’t yet understand all I would have to learn about my disorders (knowledge would become a huge part of my recovery) and what living an authentic life meant for me (I was still in survival mode), but I knew that education would somehow be a big part of the answer to my problems.
While I could fill the pages of several books about my road to recovery and my journey to becoming a psychotherapist, the one thought I ask you to think about today is this: What can you cling to right now? What idea or notion is strong enough to be your beacon that will allow you to know that This Too Will Pass and you can lead an authentic, meaningful life worth fighting for. Do you want to go back to school? Is there a career change you’re searching for? Think about your relationships. Maybe there’s a relationship you need to repair or maybe your spouse, or parent, or child is your beacon right now—the hope you can cling to. You might have to do a little bit of soul searching, but sometimes, the smallest idea (whether it’s tangible or far-fetched seeming) can get us through the toughest of times.
Now, this isn’t to say that as soon as I realized I needed education, I was miraculously out of my bad situation and didn’t have to struggle mentally (and physically) with my eating disorders. If you continue to follow my story, you’ll see just how long my journey was. In fact, when I reflected back on my experiences and what helped me overcome my own challenges, I was able to identify five specific steps that I had to go through in order to overcome my challenges. Over the years and as I have obtained my education and worked with many other patients suffering from mental illness, I developed my coaching program called The KARMA Method, which stands for Knowledge, Acceptance, Release the past, Make Meaning, and Achieve Authenticity.
If you’re interested in learning more, I invite you to check out my website, where I explain more about The KARMA Method, which incorporates evidence-based tools into a program that is designed to be customized to help people with a wide range of challenges. Stay tuned for more interviews that I hope will provoke healthy thoughts and insights that will feel relevant for whatever you are feeling right now.