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Resilience


Chisholm
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I have always been fascinated by the concept of resilience and what that means in the face of unbearable trauma. What it is that keeps us hanging in there against all psychological and physical odds, when we are stripped of our defences and completely vulnerable? When we have all but given up? What it takes? God, an inherent belief in the meaning of life or sheer mind over matter determination – a strength that is as of yet still ill-defined in psychological literature?

The book Touching the Void, a true story deals with exactly that issue. I found it a harrowing but unbelievably inspiring read. In the depths of my depression, after I had tried to commit suicide, I found the only way that I could get through a day was by dividing it up into sections and literally hanging on for 15 minutes at a time – until eventually I found the time intervals becoming longer and easier to endure. There are so many parallels in this story. I watched the televised documentary on the book and towards the end Joe Simpson (who quite simply understates everything in his interview!) makes the off hand comment that the only way that he kept on going was to keep making decisions, even if they were the wrong ones. I guess it was the only way that he could know that he had not given up.

A brilliant read! See summary below.

Simpson was 25 and his climbing buddy, Simon Yates, was 21 when they attacked the "unscalable" west face of the 21,000-foot Siula Grande. Its summit, higher than Alaska's Mount Denali (North America's highest peak), was covered with deep plumes of soft snow and unstable. But over 31/2 days, Simpson and Yates painstakingly advanced to the peak.

On the descent, Simpson fell. The impact smashed his right leg: The thigh bone was driven through the knee and into the bones of the lower leg, shattering them. It looked like a fatal mistake. But Yates chose, at great risk, to try to get his friend down the mountain. In a blinding blizzard, he spent an entire day lowering the crippled Simpson down the face on a rope, a few hundred feet at a time.

"He put his life on the line in a way he shouldn't have done," Simpson says.

They were nearing the base of the sheer mountainside when Yates unknowingly lowered Simpson over a ledge. There the crippled climber dangled for an hour, unable to communicate with his partner 150 feet above, who was losing his footing and slowly being dragged down the mountain. Just before he would have gone over the precipice, Yates broke the climber's taboo: He cut the rope to save himself, thinking he was sending Simpson to certain death. "The paradox was that by seemingly killing me," says Simpson, "he put me in the position of being able to save my own life."

Simpson fell 100 feet onto a glacier, and then crashed an additional 80 feet down into an icy crevasse. But he didn't die. His partner circled away from the ledge and made his way down. Unable to find Simpson's body, he went several miles down the mountain to base camp, arriving battered, exhausted, dehydrated and grieving.

Simpson remained trapped deep in the ice. Without food or water, in excruciating pain and often hallucinating, the young man managed to crawl out of the crevasse. That left him on the side of the mountain, miles from the camp.

The journey he faced seemed impossible. So Simpson broke it into 20-minute segments. Get from here to that rock in the next 20 minutes. As he inched, crawled, slid and stumbled, he focused on his watch. Ahead of schedule or behind? Early or late? Twenty minutes at a time he crossed a glacier laced with crevasses, navigated a massive boulder field, circled a lake, rolled and flopped down a rocky valley.

It took 31/2 days. He collapsed 100 yards outside the camp just hours before Yates was leaving to go home. Yates found him, lying on the ground in horrendous physical condition, raving.

" 'Touching the Void,' is about "the psychology of survival. Extreme survivors like Simpson go through the stages of anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance. And they experience a breakdown in personality, the mind splits as they keep on going."

"I think part of him was destroyed," says Macdonald. "Joe was so completely alone. He was in an enormous mountain range surrounded by ice walls that made him feel like a gnat who could be crushed at any moment. It's threatening to your ego, that sense of aloneness in the world."

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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Chisholm,

What you did during your dark times is an example of resilience. You found a way to get through by dividing your time into intervals of fifteen minutes. Resilience is doing whatever it takes to get through.

Allan:)

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But where do you find the reason to keep on going? Where do you find the will and strength to want to, even twenty minutes at a time? What if you have no reason to go on, no will or strength to?

Until I find a reason to keep on going, until I feel I can accept who and what I am and look forward to the years ahead and not dread them, until then, my life will still be one endless night.

My body has kept on going even when my mind, my heart, my soul have wanted nothing more than silence and peace. It would have been so much easier if it had just stopped.

This is the poem from which my name is taken:

Every night and every morn, some to misery are born

Every morn and every night some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night.

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It's a beautiful poem, M.

Now you have to decide whether you believe it.

{There's a reason I don't use your screen name.} ;-)

Personally, I believe that our efforts matter. Things can be changed.

I'm a little prejudiced: if I didn't believe that, I might be dead now.

I'm afraid the belief comes first; otherwise, you won't make the effort.

But you don't have to believe in the whole thing at once. Like the guy in the story, just believe that the next little bit matters: getting yourself up, taking care of yourself today, doing a little bit of something. If you do it for a little while, you might look back and surprise yourself at how far you've come.

The point of the story is that this particular person made his dreams happen, by just doing a little bit at a time. If he can do it, I see no reason that you can't.

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I actually came back to delete what I had written because I felt that it was just me whinging again and being negative, and I want to be more positive. I agree with what you said, I too believe that our efforts matter:

Personally, I believe that our efforts matter. Things can be changed.

I'm a little prejudiced: if I didn't believe that, I might be dead now.

I'm afraid the belief comes first; otherwise, you won't make the effort.

But you don't have to believe in the whole thing at once. Like the guy in the story, just believe that the next little bit matters: getting yourself up, taking care of yourself today, doing a little bit of something. If you do it for a little while, you might look back and surprise yourself at how far you've come.

I am trying Mark, I am trying,but it's so hard. I have to face up to and accept the fact that my life has gone by and that i've done nothing with it and have no way of making my future better than the past has been. I'm trying to learn to find contentment in the little daily things of life and let the rest go. I am going to need a lot of strength and will to do that though. That is the hard part: wanting to go on.

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Oh, M., I hear you trying, believe me. :-)

It's why I feel the urge to support you.

The part of your life that has gone by, has gone by.

The question is, what are you going to do with the rest of it?

There's no such thing as "no way"; that's the same as "born to endless night". Sure, it's easier, and it's what depression will tell you, if you ask it. How about believing that there are ways, that you just haven't found yet?

After all, you're not the only woman living where you're living. Others must have found some way to reconcile what they want and what they can get. Believe it exists, and you have a chance of finding it. Believe it doesn't exist, and you won't even look.

I hear it already: "But I have looked!" Yes, but you looked while not believing you would find. Can you try again, but with belief, this time?

Some things, you may have to accept.

But if you're having trouble wanting to go on, I'd suggest to try fighting against something. I don't know which thing. Pick the one you hate the most. But fight something.

You're much stronger than you give yourself credit for.

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Hi Endless or M?

I hear you - believe me I hear you. I had severe clinical depression 4 years ago (I am not talking about what happened after my therapy recently - that was aggressive, impulsive self annihilation - very different to the state I was in when I tried to commit suicide). I think the AD's had a lot to do with my recovery but also sheer grit - bloody minded determination (along with a friend who literally kicked me up the butt every time I faltered) which was often almost a senseless military project at times - I literally counted down the minutes of each day. There was no reason to keep going I just did and at the end of each 15 minutes I congratulated myself on still being alive. I think I tapped into a natural competitive/stubborn streak I seem to have - I competed with death. That was why Joe Simpon's comment was so significant for me:

the only way that he kept on going was to keep making decisions, even if they were the wrong ones. I guess it was the only way that he could know that he had not given up.

I have two beautiful children - they were not reason enough - I was convinced that they would be better off without me. I remember looking at family photos and imagining them in a year's time without me in them. I couldn't see any future - only the next 15 minutes.

Somewhere along the line (it took about 6 months to a year and I think my psych also managed to find the right AD combination) the clouds lifted and I started to see the light - it felt like a gray shroud was slowly being lifted, the sense of doom waned and I could see myself in the photo's again.

I don't know that I even found a reason - I just "fought" and thankfully, despite everything, regardless of who we are or what we have been through, that sheer genetic instinct for survival is inherent to us all. One just has to find a way to tap into it.

You can do it E

X Chisholm

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Hi Chisholm,

I've always liked reading stories of people who have overcome great odds to achieve their goal, and I've always admired them very much, maybe because I gave up a long time ago.

There isn't really anything that I want. The dilemma: what I want I can't have and what I can have I don't want. I know I am not unique in this, probably a good percentage of the world's population feels the same way.

I have been living here for most of my life yet I still feel like a stranger in a strange land. Yet I know that if I were to return to England I would feel the same way. I am some kind of oddity that has drifted through life...as someone said 'one of the walking dead.'

I've been disconnected from life for so long that I dont know how to make myself a part of it again. There is too much bad history. Mark, I can almost hear you saying, 'but that's the past, now move on!'

I don't know what to move on to. There isn't anything for me to move on to.

I know you see me as someone that loves to use the word 'can't' and is afraid to say 'I can', and you are probably right. I do not know how to make my life something I can be contented in, i'm not even comfortable in my own skin.

Is it so bad to just give up? I don't want to hurt anymore.

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I am trying Mark, I am trying,but it's so hard. I have to face up to and accept the fact that my life has gone by and that i've done nothing with it and have no way of making my future better than the past has been. I'm trying to learn to find contentment in the little daily things of life and let the rest go. I am going to need a lot of strength and will to do that though. That is the hard part: wanting to go on.

Is there something you can do in your life that feels meaningful to you? Something that gives you purpose? Maybe it would help to have something to strive for. I realize that your life situation leaves your choices limited, but there could still be something.

I sense that you are a kind and gentle soul. Are there any times when you sense your own kindness?

Chisholm, it's interesting that you brought up the subject of resilience. This is something I was thinking about recently myself. I have wondered why some are able to bounce back from tragic life events and others find it more challenging. Are we able to become more resilient? I imagine that having a strong sense of self and will (as you mentioned) would be beneficial.

Edited by IrmaJean
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I believe there is no direct connection between words/thinking and the will. You can talk as much as you want with no impact whatsoever on your action center. The thought universe, being in your head, is not enough.

The will is motivated by being in this moment right here right now with your senses and your feeling center, your energy, and with the ability to be silent in your head, even if it is only briefly.

It's kind of like a leap of faith your talking brain has to take, to set up an intention first, but then it must go silent.

And you step forward into right now. Not with your talk, with your walk.

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I don't know what is going on with me right now. One minute i'm okay, the next I feel so down and just want to give up.

I don't know that I even found a reason - I just "fought"

I dont know what to fight for, I have nothing to fight for. I had the fight kicked out of me long ago.

I imagine that having a strong sense of self and will (as you mentioned) would be beneficial
.

I don't know who or what I am, and have no will to survive.

I sense that you are a kind and gentle soul. Are there any times when you sense your own kindness?

I've been told for so many years how useless, how worthless I am, that though I appreciate your words IrmaJean, I find it hard to believe there is anything good in me at all.

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Hi Endless,

"I've been told for so many years how useless, how worthless I am, that though I appreciate your words IrmaJean, I find it hard to believe there is anything good in me at all. "

I copied this from your last post. I understand what you are saying. I wonder why it is easy to see kindness and compassion in others but we can't see it in ourselves. I want you to know that your kindness and compassion shines through so brightly to me and to others on this board. I am so sorry that you can't see it in yourself.

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Guest ASchwartz

Endless and Notmary,

Each of you needs to dismiss the thoughts that tell you about how bad you are. Dismiss them as automatic thoughts that are not realistic. Replace them with a mantra: "I am good, I am good, I am good." Then, find the ways you really are good. They are there. Look at facts, not your own self opinions. Thats a form of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Allan:)

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