Strategies for Strength

How can you be strong in times of adversity?

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My glimpse of the morning sunrise from the Mt. Fuji Summit 

Many people look at my travel photos and may be unaware that besides having adventures around the world, I work as a registered nurse too. It is one of the less glamorous hats I wear, but it is the most character-defining job to date.

In 2003, as a newly minted registered nurse, I had the privilege of working on the Burns, Plastics and Trauma unit at Vancouver’s largest academic teaching hospital. It was here that I not only learned to hone my clinical skills, but also gained perspective on life through a few great life lessons. The biggest lesson learned: resilience.

How can you be strong in times of adversity?

For years, you might not imagine that your teachers could be your unsuspecting patients that you would encounter and care for. You know that these horrific and traumatic events would change their lives forever but didn’t realize they would change yours. After this enlightening moment, I became a keen student; I would listen, collect and recall their stories.

There is a physical (medical and surgical) aspect of caring for a trauma patient, but there was also an emotional one. Yet, no textbook could fully cover the complex emotional rollercoaster of a patient’s journey. Everyone’s story was unique as well as the way they dealt with their circumstance to rise above. These stories are strategies for strength that you can use in your everyday life, no matter what your circumstance.

Sense of Humour: Being able to remember to laugh helps to keep things in perspective. There’s the saying that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. I’ve done both: I laughed things off when I reminisce about younger years with my high school friends and I have also cried when I remember how lonely I felt on the first day of grade eight in a brand new school in a brand new city. I also saw this when I watched the movie Stronger, a film about Jeff Bauman’s journey of recovery after having bilateral above the knee amputations as a result of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. He compared himself to ‘Lieutenant Dan’ from Forrest Gump offsetting the serious nature of his injury. As Forrest Gump reminds us, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”

Self-Reflection: While some rely on their humour, others can rely on self-reflection and outward expression as their coping mechanism. As someone who keeps a journal to express my thoughts, I can relate with this method, especially since I sat down years ago and penned my novella, The Love List. Extracting the swirling ideas in your mind can help provide clarity to your situation, whether you’re contemplating your next career move or big life decision.

I came across Jane Diamond, a trained ballet dancer who lost her ability to walk after a tragic motor vehicle accident. After countless years of multiple surgeries, loneliness and frustration, she turned to asking herself realistic questions like, “What am I waking up for?” and “How did I want to live my life?” Her answers became her short- and long-term guide and today Jane now works as a wellness coach, personal trainer and yes – she walks.

Who, what, when, where and why. Just start with that and see what flows out of your pen (or fingers, if you’re more of the digital type). You might be pleasantly surprised how therapeutic this may be.

Social Network: As much as I enjoy my alone time, I am a social creature who surrounds myself with love and support. In good times, this may not be as important; in times of need, like when I’ve seen exhausted families sleep in uncomfortable plastic chairs for a chance to hear healthcare professionals provide their assessment of their loved ones, a strong social network is critical.

I can also personally attest to this when I worked as a nurse to see the power of loved ones. Todd Green* was in a minor accident, however, a couple of his surgeries had failed outcomes. He was down-in-the-dumps but his family and friends, and the steady stream of well-wishers, shielded him from the true emotional toil they felt. Instead, they banded together and kept his room a haven for positive vibes. I know who will lift me up when I need some TLC. Who is your go-to support?

Although I am no longer a front-line clinician, I am reminded of these strategies for strength when I hear success stories like those of Jeff, Jane and Todd. All three were able to come back from their accidents and use the strength from those around them, and within, to walk away from being victims of circumstance to becoming resilient heroes in their own right.

*Patient name has been changed.

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