Getting Back Up on That Horse: The Struggle for Resilience in 2020

Getting Back Up on That Horse: The Struggle for Resilience in 2020

It’s little contested 2020 has been a sh*# show for most every American.  It has personally knocked me down countless times.

There are so many aspects of this pandemic and 2020 that have challenged my resilience as an individual, a mother, a small-business owner, and a female leader in my field.  Despite what people assume, resilience-lacking 2020 hasn’t been a personal failing.  

Resilience is not a choice.
Resilience is not an attitude or a mindset.
Resilience is a physiological phenomenon.  

I vividly recall the day the cancellations started rolling in as entire cities and states began shutting down.  It had been less than a month since I had published The Regulated Classroom©  and was overwhelmed with its early success.  But that momentary success vanished into thin air when the week of March 10th began with cancellation calls, texts, and emails— one after another.  

I knew I wasn’t alone.  That didn’t change that it was so freakin’ painful.  

I remember walking into my dining room and seeing books sprawled out on the table and crumbling to the floor in a guttural sob.  It was as if my whole life and all that I had been striving for had finally arrived and then… abruptly ghosted me.  

The loss overwhelmed every fiber of my being. 

In those first two weeks of lockdown, I vacillated between defense mobilization (fight or flight) and shutdown (freeze).  That rollercoaster continued far into the ensuing weeks and months.  

I engaged in agitated blood pumping exchanges with others on social media;
I initiated and sustained zero domestic tasks;
I suffocated under the pressure to pivot my business and generate income for my family;
I choked with sorrow over political and racial injustices,
I moved about with restless fervor to break free from the stay at home mandate;
I hungered to be with others and found scant comfort in virtual attempts.

All of this rendered me resilient-less.  

I was NOT sleeping.
I was drinking way more than usual.
I was cooking and baking, seeking comfort in every. single. thing.

In a tidy nutshell, I was a freakin’ train wreck.

I was attempting to quell an overwhelmed physiological state and none of the things I did provided sustained relief.

This kind of ‘writhing about in one’s misery’ is not about making poor choices or suddenly becoming mentally-ill.  And it is not about being a drama-queen.  

It’s about being desperate.  

I was desperately seeking safety.  

The dramatic and prolonged change to life sent my autonomic nervous system (the body’s stress response system) into survival DEFCON 1.  I was locked and loaded for protection.

The body’s powerful survival mechanism is recruited in overwhelming circumstances.  How that manifests behaviorally is entirely a reflection of one’s lived experience, one’s familial and intergenerational context, one’s historical context.  And it is P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L.

Resilience is not a mindset about how to bounce back from struggle.  Resilience is derived from the ability to regulate one’s physiological state and represents a reflection of one’s social and economic context.  Dr. Steve Porges, author of The Polyvagal Theory says,

“I define resilience as the capacity to rapidly return to an autonomic state of calmness following a challenge.  We can observe resilience when states of disruption are replaced by an autonomic state that supports homeostasis. Individuals who are easily irritated or angered aren’t resilient. Individuals who, following physical or emotional challenges, have the capacity to rapidly calm, are resilient.”

By June, restrictions loosened in the state of NH and I knew I needed to work on widening my window of distress tolerance. 

Truth be told, I am a trauma-informed consultant and therefore needed to get my sh*t together. I needed to work on my physiological resiliency and I knew that I could alter that with body-based, sensory rich activities.   

The only physiologically modulating activity I had engaged up to that point was flower and vegetable gardening.  And it provided some solace and relief.  

The wafting fragrance of peonies, the resistance of tilling soil, the birds chirping and soaring above, the seeds sprouting through dirt, the warmth of the sun on my hunched back— it was all zen-inducing.  It probably would have sufficiently regulated my physiological state if I could just have stayed in my garden 24/7.  But I needed to attend to the realities of life.  

The Dog.
Paying Bills.
Household Chores.
Preparing Meals.  

So I began hiking too.

Regularly.  I hiked five days a week— an hour at minimum.  I replaced my cocktail happy hours with socially-distanced hikes and invited good friends to join.

With every step of hiking, with every moment of weeding, with every shared giggle or momentary eye contact with friends and loved ones, I grew my resilience for addressing the current moment.  

I was able to start setting goals again.   

I set a goal;  hike Mt. Washington.  

Then another; revamp my business model.  

The hardcore proprioceptive input one gains from hiking coupled with its repetitive motion generates a kind of rhythm.  It was exactly the kind of rhythm and whole body input I needed to regain a physiologically regulated autonomic nervous system.  And I was doing it in the context of relationships, with friends and loved ones. 

I was back!!!!  I was so back…

Hike Mt. Washington – check
Revamp my business model – check
Launch a whole new website – check

and then…

“Both of my schools will be remote as of Monday,” my husband tells me on a Friday afternoon.  The familiar pit in my stomach forms as the word Monday falls from his lips.

“Are you f*%king kidding me?” was my instinctual response.  My physiological state is immediately hijacked.  I can feel my chest explode with an accelerated heart rate.  This means he’s likely out of work, again, indefinitely.

I exhale slowly, and then find my feet on the floor.

“Okay…okay…” I reply.  I was getting my head on again because I can do that now.

“Maybe this is just the universe bucking us into the leap of faith we’ve been needing to take.  Maybe it’s time for you to finally quit your job and work with me full-time to grow HERE this NOW.”  

He replies, “Or maybe it’s just 2020 being 2020.”