It’s a year since my web site was launched and, this week, six months since my first blog post. The message on my home page says ‘It’s about aspiring to achieve hopes and dreams in the face of trauma or adversity or emotional distress. And it’s about having the resilience to stay on track, no matter what.’
In a recent interview, I was asked what word would best describe what my writing is about. I said ‘resilience’. In my personal stories—reflections on my early years—it’s about hope and maintaining a belief in myself in the face of overwhelming odds. About the capacity I had, as a child, to hold onto dreams and use whatever creative means were available to achieve them.
While writing a memoir of the years following a train accident when I was eleven, I explored early experiences which helped me to believe in myself and refuse to relinquish faith in my future as I faced the perilous aftermath of the trauma.
I was determined my foot would survive and I’d walk again, but the medical prognoses were guarded. My unbudgable belief was simply the magical thinking of a child—but the magical thinking of a child can be powerful; it sustains hope against hope and without that we’re vulnerable to helplessness, despair and depression.
I needed all the magical thinking I could muster to counter the negative prognoses of the experts, whose opinions were well founded but, in those days, delivered without any buffering, without counselling, with nothing to emotionally catch a child confronting worst case scenarios. I remember those gloomy predictions. They lived on in me but I pushed them so far under they seemed to disappear, almost but not quite. Like a cankerous curse, some festered and struck when ripe.
For example, when I was fifteen an orthopaedic surgeon tried to convince me to have my leg amputated in order to improve the quality of my life. I refused. There were many reasons. For one, I was a fifteen year old girl (enough said). There was also a vow I made to my foot soon after the accident: if it didn’t get gangrene I promised to look after it. Always. I couldn’t break my pledge; the foot wasn’t killing me and the surgeon’s advice was based on lifestyle considerations like staying out of hospital and getting to school.
But the surgeon told me, in a way reminiscent of the wicked fairy who cast a spell on Sleeping Beauty, “You will lose your foot by the time you’re thirty. You’ll get osteomyelitis and you’ll have no choice.”
Now I know, this sat on me like lead as I reached the end of my twenties, a feeling of impending doom I could not name. Insight, realising the root of the fear, came after my thirtieth birthday when nothing terrible had happened.
Remembering how powerless I was at fifteen, and realising the corrosive impact of the negative opinions of experts, brought me closer to the experiences of children and adolescents meeting with me for counselling. Young people can’t counter professionals with equal expertise and knowledge but they win hands down when it comes to knowing themselves—their hopes, dreams and aspirations.
With what we now know of trauma, resilience and hope, including the importance of a community of support—family, friends, schools and counselling—I hope stories like mine are a thing of the past.