Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) over a decade ago, Birgit Bauer feels she now has claim on a superpower: resilience.
Shortly after my diagnosis with MS in 2005 I was frustrated, depressed and unhappy. I didn’t understand the things that were happening to me and it felt like no one was there to help. For a few days I simply sat, not knowing what would happen next, and waited.
I have no idea what I was waiting for, but eventually something did happened: After four days, I suddenly felt this new force inside of me. It said that I had to do something. This call to action was so strong that I decided to follow it and well… do something.
I’ve since learnt that this inner strength or invisible power is actually something called resilience.
Resilience is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I like to think of it as the inner power which helps you to overcome a crisis situation and find your way back to normal.
How do you find your inner strength?
Resilience is not inherent – it is something we learn to cultivate over the years. We also don’t all have the same level of resilience, since it depends on our experiences, education and lessons learnt from parents and peers.
During our lives we build up the ability to survive crisis situations and move forward. Some of these situations happen during childhood – conflicts in kindergarten, bad grades in school, your first heartbreak, fights with parents and lots of other small and big problems.
In adulthood everything changes, including the kinds of crises we have to deal with and how we’re supposed to deal with them. Problems at work, strife with partners or struggles with family or financial issues are all typical occurrences in an adult’s life. Add the health problems into the mix as well as the emotional difficulties that go hand in hand when we feel the loss of a loved one and we’re talking extreme stress and pressure.
Resilience is what makes us recover and survive. Those of us who have managed to cultivate it are usually stronger than others.
What my diagnosis taught me
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness, this can really give you an opportunity to show you how resilient you are. Despite the fact that I had to take a few days to think about the situation and wallow in self-pity, I eventually stood up.
To me, resilience means just this: standing up, stepping back and looking at a situation from the outside before you assess and find your own way.
In Germany we have a saying: When you fall, stand up, fix your crown and move on.
This is exactly what I do in bad situations. I use my superpower to learn from bad situations and use that to my advantage. Then I collect this experience and draw my own conclusions as how to move forward.
Everyone can build this superpower. Here's how:
Resilience is something we can learn. Being mindful and living consciously are very important building blocks. Practicing yoga and meditation can help to strengthen mindfulness which in turn, can help strengthen resilience.
Getting professional support is another thing that goes a long way. I went to a psychotherapist and learnt a lot. Just the action of looking for support was a moment that grew my inner strength since I made the decision to look for a therapist by myself without any help from anyone else.
I learnt to sort things out by myself and to see facts before I saw the bad things. I learnt to understand that what was happening to me was a path to finding a new direction for myself.
During this time I also learnt not to let myself or others put pressure on me. With some things you have to take time to organise yourself and do it at your own pace.
Added stress doesn’t help when you’re trying to start your new life with MS diagnosis or any other disease. You have to trust in your abilities, talents and competence.
4. Trust yourself
This isn’t always easy as disease can often destabilise everything in your life. Believe in what you know, and in your experiences and competencies. Knowing what your strengths are in moments of crisis can also help you.
Do you use humour, positive thinking or curiosity as a coping mechanism? In my case it was my curiosity to learn more about my disease that really helped me to move forward.
Resilience isn’t an easy thing. Sometimes people say they don’t understand how I can live my life and be mostly happy and satisfied, despite my situation. Then I start talking about my “invisible superpower” and they are amazed.
But it is just a matter of training yourself. Yes, my training wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day I’ve learnt a lot about myself and about my power.
So ask yourself: How resilient are you and what are you doing to cultivate your superpower?
NPS-IE-NP-00162 December 2020