Gabrielle Giffords, you’ve inspired me. As I watched your halting entrance Monday onto the floor of the House of Representatives, I joined millions of Americans in applauding your tenacity and courage.
Before Jan. 8, you were unknown to most of the country. Since that day you’ve become a household name. At first, we marveled that you even survived the shooting. We were cautiously optimistic as bits of good news were released to the press.
Your horrific story was another reminder of just how fragile all our lives really are. One moment, things are boringly stable. Our dear ones are healthy and accounted for. Everyone performs his or her daily tasks with ho-hum ease. The next moment, we’re facing overwhelming adversity that has forever changed our existence.
Such events arrive wrapped in different packaging. We receive a call informing us that our beloved soldier has been wounded in Afghanistan. A husband drops dead from a heart attack at the dinner table. A child is hit by a car as she rides her bicycle home from school. The family home is leveled by a natural disaster.
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These are the raw moments that take us to the brink of psychological meltdown. We feel broken, shattered and confused. We wonder if we’ll ever recover.
But people are nothing if not resilient. They somehow stay afloat through raging tempests, righting their vessels after each capsizing wave.
Many even go on to inspire us with their uncanny abilities to rebound. They not only regain their footing after an emotional avalanche, they guide the rest of us to higher ground with their motivational flashlights.
Examples of such heroism abound. Local residents Paul and Bridget Ready founded Jack’s Helping Hand, an organization that assists critically ill children, following the death of their 3-year-old son, Jack, in 2004. The parents of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey, who died in a hazing incident in 2008, began a campaign, With Carson, to educate others about the dangers of alcohol poisoning.
Candy Lightner founded MADD in 1980 after her daughter, Cari, was killed by a repeat drunk-driving offender.
Rep. Giffords, I place you among these other reluctant role models. None of you sought the limelight. I’m sure you’d gladly return to your former status quo. Still, your responses to tragedy have been uplifting, a sort of guide book that others may follow.
Hopefully I won’t need to draw on that inspiration for a long while. Things are stable at home for the time being. Yet all that could change in a blink. Thanks to you, I’ve had lessons about how to survive.
Tips for facing adversity
If you’re in the midst of a personal catastrophe, consider these survival tips:
Get ample rest. Calamity is always exhausting. Both your physical and emotional reserves are drained. Allow yourself plenty of time to sleep and nap. You’ll not only feel better, you’ll reclaim a much needed sense of control.
Focus your energies. Each catastrophe is accompanied by its unique requirements. They’ll dictate what you tend to first. Don’t worry that you can’t take care of all issues. Your physical and emotional resources are limited.
Seek appropriate advice. You can’t possibly have all the skills or answers. Decide who can be helpful and enlist their services.
Find emotional support. Friends and family members can lend sympathetic ears. Support groups and professional counseling provide more in-depth knowledge and care. You don’t have to handle your problem by yourself.
Don’t make any unnecessary decisions. Crises are not the time to make big decisions. Wait until things have settled down before tackling any but the most immediate concerns.
Utilize all offers to help. Allow neighbors to buy bags of groceries or feed your cat. Let family members babysit while you go to the hospital. Everyone wants to pitch in during a crisis. And you can’t possibly do it all alone.
Accept chaos as your temporary norm. Yes, your life feels scattered. Nothing is as easy as it once was. Your emotions are all over the map. These are all normal during a crisis. They’ll gradually recede as the problem resolves.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com