Moving from Adversity to Resilience
Some of you reading this may already know about my experience with Transverse Myelitis (TM) 20 years ago. TM is a debilitating neurological disorder that interrupts the messages the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. It can cause pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, sensory problems, and/or bladder and bowel dysfunction. The outlook for people with TM varies. About a third of people with TM recover completely. Another third recover with moderate disabilities, such as nerve spasticity and trouble walking. The last third have permanent disability, such as partial or complete paralysis, and need help with daily activities. Although I was paralyzed in the early days of my illness, I now fall into the “moderate” category, as I still have some residual physical issues from my bought with TM. My experience with TM was, and still is, quite profound. As you can imagine, there was heartbreak, fear, anger and despair during my initial recovery, and at various points since. But there have also been so many life lessons. Gratitude, tolerance, and resilience to name just a few. I simply wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have to navigate through that terrible time in my life. Through the lens of my life experience, I have developed a new motivational keynote talk about the three essential steps you can take to improve resilience in your personal and professional life. You don’t have to wait for a debilitating illness to embrace a resilient mindset. Below I have shared an excerpt from my talk. If you are looking to foster greater resilience in your life, or you want to support resilient behaviors within your organization, please contact me to learn more. Once you accept your circumstances, you must take ownership and work to resolve your issue relentlessly. We need to take responsibility for our own reactions and our own wellbeing. This can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that we are in control of our future. Accountability is the next step to resilience. After I had been in the hospital for about a week, the doctors started to discuss my next steps (no pun intended). Everyone agreed that I needed to go to an intensive in-patient program. Everyone that is, except my insurance company. They wanted me to go to a nursing home and have someone “work with me” to help me walk again. Remember, I was a healthy 30-year-old woman when this happened. So, two wonderful women who worked at the hospital stepped in to offer a solution – Judy a physical therapist and Gita, an occupational therapist, offered to work with me 1:1, four days per week at the hospital. They told me they believed I could make significant progress and that they had become personally invested in my success during the course of working with me at the hospital. My family and I were elated. Instead of being shuffled off to a nursing home hoping for help, here were two women who were willing to provide dedicated therapy to me so I could recover as much function in my legs as possible. But before they would fully commit, they sat me down (ok, I was already sitting...) and said they needed me to guarantee I would show up, every day, as scheduled. They said if they were going to put in the extra effort, they needed me to do the same. I looked at them for a minute because what they were saying just didn’t register with me. Why in the hell wouldn’t I show up? Was I missing something? I looked down at my legs and looked at them and asked just that, “Why wouldn’t I show up? I can’t walk.” They smiled a bit at my astonishment and sarcasm and said, “Well Shannon, you see, often people in similar circumstances just give up. They get discouraged and become depressed. They don’t want to get better.” I said, “Well you don’t have to worry about that with me! I will be here. I want to walk again.” Listen, I didn’t know if I would ever walk properly again. I didn’t know if I would regain control over certain bodily functions ever again, but I knew I could at least be accountable for myself and go to physical and occupational every day and make plans to get better.
Shannon Clark Johnston