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Staying resilient in the face of chronic illness

When we are faced with the unexpected in our lives, what do we do to keep some form of balance when everything around us no longer feels the same?

Every day I meet with people who are faced with trying to make meaning out of the unforeseen circumstances they are experiencing. Life is full of unanticipated situations that have us adapting and transitioning to new positions; it is rare to go through life without any ‘bruising’.

Many of the children and families I meet are adjusting to a life changing event. There is a common aspect that I witness while supporting families; and that is resiliency. Finding a way ‘forward’ in the midst of change is a real skill. How we respond to what is happening to us is important to how we are going to cope with the adjustments needed. This does not happen immediately, when a life altering situation occurs, we are often numb and in shock. But once we move out of the shock phase our natural tendency is to try to adjust and make meaning.

Norman Garmezy, 1993, stated, “Resiliency is what happens when one regains functioning after an adversity”. I am constantly amazed at the strength and courage that children and families have in finding the ability to ‘bounce back’ and keep going adjusting to the ongoing stresses and crisis’s that occur due to complexity of health issues and grief and loss.

Our values, philosophies, culture, traditions and past life experiences help to shape our ability to adjust to different situations. Our experiences of life and our interpretation of those experiences give meaning to our experiences of the world – making sense gives meaning to the experience (White, 2003). It can often be difficult to make sense when life as you know it has been changed forever.

A lot has been written on building resilience, Patterson, 1991, has identified nine aspects of resilient families living with a child with a chronic illness. 

These are:

  1. Balancing the illness with other family needs
  2. Maintaining clear family boundaries
  3. Developing communication competence
  4. Attributing positive meanings to the situation
  5. Maintaining family flexibility
  6. Maintaining a commitment to the family as a unit,
  7. Engaging in active coping efforts
  8. Maintaining social integration
  9. Developing collaborative relationships with professionals (Patterson, 1991).

Support from family, friends, community groups and health professionals can help with the transitions of change. As individuals it is important to remember the basics of what will keep us healthy, such as eating well, drinking fluids, exercising and maintaining relationships with people who add value to our lives.

To ‘keep standing’ in the face of adversity is something that will take all of our strength, courage, ability and perseverance. Life will continue to throw up challenges, and what I have learnt from the children and families I support, is, it is important to not ‘give up’, that resiliency grows and develops, and a strength of character is born – this is not asked for, but is in fact the outcome of the adjustments and transitions that come with grief and loss and health issues.

Ehara taku toa I te toa takitahi engari he toa takimanoe

My strength is not mine alone but that of many.


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