We are encouraged these days to develop resilience, but what does that word mean?
Resilience is defined as:
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.(1)
So the image we may get is one of a tough but elastic ball, that just bounces back, no matter where it is thrown or what is thrown at it. But we are not rubber balls – we are sensitive and caring human beings, made of flesh and blood and even finer substances that do not embody the properties of hardness or toughness at all.
When we are born, we are deeply sensitive and delicate beings and that feeling never leaves us. We can see the toughest looking man, holding a baby with all the tenderness and sensitivity and deep care that he innately is and be reminded that we are all that, we always have been and always will be.
So why and how do we lose our connection with our innate sensitivity?
The process starts early – when we fall and hurt ourselves and are told to stop crying, when a pet or a person we love dies, when we go to school and are teased or bullied or just not accepted into the group – and at each stage we are encouraged to toughen up, and just get on with life.
The process continues as we move through the education system and medical training is one of the most brutal training grounds of all.
We know that becoming hard, toughening up, can be associated with illness and disease, especially of the cardiovascular system. So why would we want those who care for our health and wellbeing to learn to become hard and to treat themselves (and therefore all of us) with that same hardness, risking their own health and lives – and ours – in the process?
Why would we not want our doctors and other health care professionals to remain sensitive, deeply caring, and in touch with their bodies and feelings?
The medical training system is more like an army boot camp than a nurturing day care. We are encouraged to toughen up, override our bodies and our feelings, bludgeon our sensitivity and generally prepare ourselves as if we were going to war.
We treat medicine as a war zone – we are the front-line health care workers, illness and disease are the enemy, our drugs and devices and operations are our ammunition in the fight. And if we die from friendly fire or are sacrificed ‘for the greater good’ along the way, well so be it.
And this is how it plays out. Doctors have higher than ‘normal’ rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, substance abuse and suicide. Collateral damage.
The system we have created is not working for us and it is not working for our patients either. Despite all the wonderful and deeply appreciated advances that modern medicine has made, our rates of illness and disease continue to climb, and we are collectively getting sicker at younger ages, at faster rates, and with more complex diseases and multiple illnesses.
And many of these illnesses and diseases are completely preventable. Chronic disease now accounts for the majority of illness and disease and almost all of it is related, if not directly attributable, to the way we live. Modifiable risk factors like smoking, overeating and not exercising largely account for the epidemic of chronic disease that currently plagues us.
But in a model of health care that advocates, and at times enforces, 6-10 minute medicine for each patient, or ‘give them a pill, patch them up and get them back out there so they can keep doing whatever made them sick in the first place’ we don’t have time or space to address the complex issues that underlie why someone would choose to live in a self-destructive way, including ourselves and deal with them before we develop an illness or disease we have to recover from.
And therein lies both the problem and the solution.
We don’t need to teach people to be more resilient.
We need to teach them how to be more loving and caring and sensitive, because that is how we will all start to learn to live in a more healthy and sustainable way. And that is what we need of our doctors, for themselves and for all of us, and that is what we have raised, educated and trained out of them.
To heal the resultant great deficit in modern medicine, we need to start with us. When we start treating ourselves with tender loving care, we will not accept any less than that same care from others or for others. The entrenched bullying, harassment and discrimination that blights medical training and the treatment of young doctors will not be able to be perpetuated if we collectively care for ourselves enough that we cease to ‘tolerate’ it.
The deep care for ourselves cannot but be shared with others, and we will treat our colleagues, staff and patients with that same care. And that means sharing our living way of self-care with them, for if we truly care for ourselves, we cannot but share that care with others who cross our paths.
We will start to take the time and make the space to talk to our patients about the way they are living, not just in a functional tick-box way, but by sharing a true way of living from a body that lives it. Living in a way that cares for ourselves can be seen and deeply felt by others and may inspire them to ask questions about what we are doing and how we are doing it.
This is true medicine – living in a way in which body, mind and soul are one and that oneness impulses forth a way of living that is deeply loving and caring. A physician’s job is to keep their patients well, to educate them on how to live in a way that maintains the health and harmony of the body, naturally so. Once we restore this living way, in ourselves and others, and thereby reduce the burden on the healthcare system of lifestyle related diseases, there will be enough time and money to deal with those diseases that need our highly trained expertise and technical wizardry.
Developing true resilience means living in a loving, healthy sustainable way, developing a level of love in the body that sustains us through life and supports us to bounce back in full from adversity, restoring ourselves to wholeness, not allowing ourselves to be chipped away or eroded by the inevitable pitfalls of life.
If all we have is work, with no other dimensions to us outside of that, when work fails us, or we make mistakes at work, we can feel like we have failed completely, and that feeling can be overwhelming at times.
If we are well-rounded people, with a deep level of self-care and with a range of friends and interests outside of work that support us and sustain us, it is easier for us to bounce back into shape when life throws us the occasional curved ball.
If we develop ourselves from within as full and rounded people, caring deeply for ourselves, with healthy eating, drinking, exercise, work, play and sleep habits, and developing healthy loving relationships that support us and sustain us, we will be able to resource true care within ourselves and without. We learn to value ourselves as people first, for who we are, not just for what we do, so that when adversity comes our way, we will be held and supported to recover, to bounce back in full, rather than allowing it to erode us or even destroy us, as it can do if we are not so well rounded in our lives.
The key to developing true resilience is to care for ourselves and restore our sense of innate wholeness and worth, learning to love and appreciate ourselves just for who we are and to honour our innate sensitivity, letting the wisdom of our body guide our way, each and every day.
It’s important that we begin to question that “norms” of healthcare, especially at times where we clearly see the cracks that have been there for a very long time, but covered by ways we may call resilience. We can no longer rely on this as our way to move through difficulties. In fact the truth is we have never been able to rely on this, but we have successfully, to a point used resilience to get though our work days in healthcare. I say to a point for its success (or more to the point its failure) is highlighted very clearly in the health and wellbeing of everyone who works in healthcare. There is greater pressure in healthcare than ever now and these cracks are growing. As you have shared Anne now is the time to consider that what we have relied on in the past has never been ‘it’ and now is the time to consider that living true care, wellbeing and love is what is needed in how we are with ourselves first and foremost. This is the stop we need and the biggest opportunity we have to completely change our own direction which will have very obvious ripple effects not only on our work and our lives but on that of the people we care for, our patients.
Anne I thoroughly enjoyed your superb article on true self care in all aspects of our lives. The wonderful thing is we can begin to self care NOW no matter what age we are; for the future quality of our lives and planet depend on this.