Have You Lost the Spark That Lights the Darkest Hour?

This morning there was a lot of sadness in my office. My client “Dawn” has just miscarried after conceiving twins with IVF. She could barely drag herself in to see me—she has been literally hiding under the covers for the few days since her miscarriage. Now, in my office, doubled over with anguish, she was questioning her ability to go on. Two years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and now this pregnancy loss have broken her spirit and left her defeated and hopeless. “The future is empty for me” she said, “I will never be happy again”. Those words didn’t surprise me. After all, women trying to conceive often have clinical depression rates similar to women who have heart disease or cancer. Surprising,though, was the fact that the words were coming out of Dawn’s mouth. You see, Dawn has always described herself as “a real bad-ass.” She’s confronted a great deal of adversity in her life and has emerged from it as tough and as rugged as a street fighter. When she first started fertility treatment, her attitude was, “Bring it on!” True to form, in the following two years she’s fought for her dream family with tenaciousness and unfaltering optimism. But now, she feels like she can no longer bounce back. She feels broken beyond repair. Listening to my client today reminded me of three basic truths about resilience: 1) Most of us posses it. Like Dawn, many people have dealt with trouble or misfortune, and have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and went on with life, frequently strengthened by the challenge they’d faced. You too may have...

Slaying (the Myth) of the Green-Eyed Monster

“Anonymous” commented on my post about spring. She mentioned that “as jackets and bulky winter clothes are shed, fertile bellies are much more visible” and she’s right, of course. But what caught my attention was this: “it seems every other woman is pregnant. If I were a better person, I’d feel happy for them and less sorry for myself “. It made me think of infertility, envy and the one thing that I wish I could totally obliterate with my magic wand: women’s shame over their own invidiousness. Because what is envy, if not an inner cry of “she has something I desperately want”? It is like an emotional cramp that painfully reminds you of your own lack and deprivation. So, if you are trying to build your dream family, of course you are envious of the women who have achieved that dream; of course you are resentful of the pregnant-bellied; and of course you are feeling sad for yourself. In the many years I’ve worked with adoption, loss and infertility, I have not met a woman who, in her heart of hearts, didn’t harbor envy, rancor or bitterness. Many women don’t admit to these feelings easily. We are taught that envy is an ugly feeling, a shameful weakness, even a deadly sin. But let’s challenge this concept. After all, envy, like sadness, like surprise, is just an emotion. And it often descends upon us uninvited, just like sadness and surprise do. We can’t inoculate against it anymore than we can inoculate against feeling blue or startled. It’s there and it’s part of our wonderful human complexity. The green-eyed...

Spring into Resilience

Spring is here and some of my clients are having a hard time. The references to birth, rebirth, renewal and blooming are all hitting a bit too close to home. It is as if the air is infused with giddiness about the growth of new life, the birth of babies, and the flowering of new plants. The world is celebrating Fertility and those who struggle with procreation are feeling left out. But spring is also a celebration of strength and resilience. From the broken branches and the fallen leaves of autumn; from the frozen earth and the long nights of winter, nature is bouncing back. It is not only surviving the adversity and harshness of wintry weather but it is pressing forward vigorously, hardened by the long exposure to frost. And so it is with all of us. We too have the capacity to grow from loss and catastrophe, the ability to bounce back stronger after a crisis. I, like many other psychologists, believe that people can thrive and fulfill their potential despite, or even because, of life’s stressors. To paraphrase Englishman Frederick William Robertson (1816-1853), just as trees are strengthened by the compost of their own decaying leaves, so people are strengthened by their own broken hopes and blighted expectations. What makes one resilient? Here are a few characteristics: The ability to “bounce back” and recover from almost any crisis The attitude of “where there’s a will, there’s a way” The tendency to see problems as opportunities The ability to “hang tough” when things are difficult The capacity for spotting windows of opportunity and making the most of...