Home > Family, Personal > Resilient: what we are

Resilient: what we are

Reading an article on resilience recently, one particular paragraph struck me:

Academic research into resilience started about 40 years ago with pioneering studies by Norman Garmezy, now a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. After studying why many children of schizophrenic parents did not suffer psychological illness as a result of growing up with them, he concluded that a certain quality of resilience played a greater role in mental health than anyone had previously suspected.

My mother, who was beautiful, vibrant, and offbeat through her 2010 death to cancer, had schizophrenia. I thought my husband understood the complexity of this until we had a startling conversation in 2015. Afterward, I wrote:

His not knowing felt like a betrayal at first: How could he not know?! How dare he not know?!

Fuming to myself later, it struck me that the key culprit in his not-knowing was my not-saying. I’d collapsed decades of struggle and heartache into single-sentence statements: “It was like running the penultimate mile of a marathon over and over and over again.” I’d somehow expected him to extract details from my broad strokes, despite his never having run a marathon before.

I gathered together related entries from my private journals and shared them in a series here. The loving comments on those entries got me wondering how my siblings and I did survive those days with humor and hope intact. I knew we’d inherited some of it from our mom, but I didn’t know how.

What, exactly, had we inherited? Here, in a Harvard Business Review article (!), I glimpsed an answer: resilience.

The article’s author breaks resilience into three components:

Resilient people, they posit, possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three.

In each of those components, I saw my mom, my siblings, and me.

Resilience is what we have.

Resilient: it’s what we are.

My September 2015 series

  1. Losing loved ones still here
  2. The Before: Our evil neighbors (3/6/93-5/2/03)
  3. The During, part 1: This Demon with My Mother’s face (5/3/03-8/4/03)
  4. The During, part 2: I Miss My Mom (8/5/03-2/16/04)
  5. The During, part 3: Treatment Beyond Our Consent (2/17/04-5/15/06)
  6. The During, part 4: Fragments and Shadows (5/16/06-10/1/08)
  7. The End: We Will Carry You With Us (10/2/08-3/5/10)
  8. No longer afraid
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  1. February 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    When these studies started, there was no such thing as PTSD, much less disassociation that’s so often found in children of the mentally ill. Yes, we are “resilient” ,,, But at what other price?

  2. February 20, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    You inherited resilience ❤ There is something incredible about the human condition, and that is its ability to adapt to anything, forming an outer shell, to deal with the situation at hand, to protect itself, to thrive.

  3. February 21, 2017 at 4:37 am

    Now, as I climb out I must go back and read. Resilience I think is what I brought with me, I find I like this word far more than ‘strong’.

  4. February 21, 2017 at 8:05 am

    I once asked my GP why he and I did not succumb to drugs, inappropriate behaviors, etc. etc. like some of the population of students that I worked with – afterall, I reasoned, we, too have been subjected to all kinds of childhood abuse. He took a quiet moment and then said: “Kid, people like you and me are hard-wired differently; plain and simple. We’re hard-wired differently.”

    I didn’t understand what he meant then. I do now……. ❤

  5. February 22, 2017 at 5:01 am

    Thanks for sharing. I have a friend whose story is very much like yours. Now I understand her better.

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