Jul 05

Adversity as a “Gift”: And Two Other Books

Regardless of how much money you have, your race, where you live, what religion you follow, you are going through something. Or you already have or you will. As momma always said, ‘Everybody’s got something.’ Robin Roberts, Everybody’s Got Something, regarding adversity

Several other books in addition to the above describe ways to overcome adversity.

I. The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections by Norman E. Rosenthal (2013)

Like anyone else, this author, a psychiatrist, has not been immune to adversity. But he’s dealt with it. He quotes an old Eastern proverb: “The fox has many tricks, but the porcupine has one big trick.”

Interestingly, it’s helpful to have to face hardship in life, states Rosenthal. Not tons of it, just some. Some is more likely than none to help us develop needed resilience, which in turn serves as a foundation for more optimal mental health.

II. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (2017)   

“We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build,” states the publisher. “…Two weeks after losing her husband, Sheryl was preparing for a particular parental activity. ‘I want Dave,’ she cried. Her friend replied, ‘Option A is not available,’ and then promised to help her make the most of Option B.”

A pertinent quote: “Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning in to the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more. I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.”

III. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma and Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris, MD (2018)

Kirkus Reviews: ““Twenty years of medical research has shown that childhood adversity literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades.’ Indeed, adversity ‘can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes—even Alzheimer’s’.”

How can we heal? “Sleep, mental health, healthy relationships, exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness—we saw in our patients that these six things were critical for healing. As important, the literature provided evidence of why these things were effective. Fundamentally, they all targeted the underlying biological mechanism—a dysregulated stress-response system and the neurologic, endocrine, and immune disruptions that ensued.”

Feb 03

“Wintering” by Katherine May: Selected Quotes

A recent book that’s perfect for today’s world is Katherine Mays Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. Although we’re currently in the actual season known as winter, wintering in May’s book is not necessarily what you readily imagine it to be—but it often involves such feelings as rejection, loneliness, loss, humiliation, and/or pain:

Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider. Perhaps it results from an illness or a life event such as a bereavement or the birth of a child; perhaps it comes from a humiliation or failure. Perhaps you’re in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds. Some wintering creep upon us more slowly, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of caring responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden, like discovering one day that your skills are considered obsolete, the company you worked for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with someone new. However, it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.

Selected Quotes from Wintering

Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.

Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.

If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too. Perhaps through all those years at school, or perhaps through other terrors, we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.

We seem to be living in an age when we’re bombarded with entreaties to be happy, but we’re suffering from an avalanche of depression. We’re urged to stop sweating the small stuff, yet we’re chronically anxious. I often wonder if these are just normal feelings that become monstrous when they’re denied. A great deal of life will always suck. There will be moments when we’re riding high and moments when we can’t bear to get out of bed. Both are normal. Both in fact require a little perspective.

There are times when everything seems easy, and times when it all seems impossibly hard. To make that manageable, we only have to remember that our present will one day become a past, and our future will be our present. We know that, because it’s happened before. The things we put behind us will often come around again. The things that trouble us now will one day be past history. Each time we endure the cycle, we ratchet up a notch. We learn from the last time around, and we do a few things better this time; we develop tricks of the mind to see us through. This is how progress is made. But one thing is certain: we will simply have different things to worry about. We will have to clench our teeth and carry on surviving again. In the meantime, we can only deal with what’s in front of us at this moment in time. We take the next necessary action, and the next. At some point along the line, that next action will feel joyful again.

May 31

Commencement Speeches: Mental Health Field

…Commencement speeches typically draw on timeless themes of optimism, goodness, and altruism. The two most frequent messages…analyzed [by researchers] were “Help Others” and “Do the Right Thing.” Next on the list in descending order of frequency were “Expand Your Horizons,” “Be True to Yourself,” “Never Give Up,” “Appreciate Diversity,” “Cherish Special Others,” and “Seek Balance.” Pamela B. Paretsky, PhD, Psychology Today

Most of the commencement quotes below do fall into the categories cited above. This should not be surprising, though, as they’ve all come directly from the mental health field.

Psychiatrist Neel Burton (Psychology Today) wrote about his “dream graduation speech.” Just a sampling of his 21 points about commencement talks:

  • Keep on asking ‘silly’ questions. People may look at you funny, but at least you thought of the questions.
  • Be very sensitive to your feelings and intuitions. They are your unconscious made conscious. And they are almost always right.
  • Don’t be envious. Whenever you come across someone who is better or more successful than you are, you can react either with envy or with emulation. Envy is the pain that you feel because others have good things; emulation is the pain that you feel because you yourself do not have them. This is a subtle but critical difference. Unlike envy, which is useless at best and self-defeating at worst, emulation is a good thing because it makes us take steps towards securing good things.
  • If you don’t appear to want something, you are far more likely to get it. More importantly, when you do want something, be sure that it is worthy of you. And remember: we are rich not only by what we have, but also and mostly by what we do not.
  • When you do find success or, better still, happiness, don’t expect anyone to be pleased for you. In fact, many people will actively resent you—even, sometimes, friends and family. Some people are small. Just accept it as collateral and move on.

Psychologist Scott Barry Kauffman, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke at last year’s commencement and said the following, among other things:

…Do not be scared of having your mind changed. Do not be scared of being wrong. Be aware of the fact that no one person has the truth. The truth requires multiple perspectives, and you can learn something from virtually anyone– even if you vehemently disagree with them. You will find that this way of having love for others– and even with yourself– will bring you many riches, and a much more fulfilling life…

…Trust yourself to abandon a goal or even distance yourself from people if they are no longer appropriate for your growth, and you are no longer appropriate for their growth. Constantly consult your deep values when making choices about which goals to adopt. You, and you alone, have the power to revise your goals as you learn more about yourself and your unique place in this world. Look: You will rarely regret moving in a direction that feels right to you, but you do risk living a life with a lot of regret if you constantly make choices that pull you way from who you really are. As the great humanistic psychotherapist Carl Rogers, who I have a great affinity for, once noted, ‘trust the totality of your experience. It’s often much wiser than your intellect’.

Finally, psychologist Adam Grant went against conventional wisdom in this year’s commencement speech at Utah State University (Business Insider). A few excerpted quotes:

Sometimes quitting is a virtue.

Grit doesn’t mean “keep doing the thing that’s failing.” It means “define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.”

Sometimes resilience comes from gritting your teeth and packing your bags. Other times it comes from having the courage to admit your flaws.