When it comes to inner strength and resilience, we often place conditions around our ability to handle the unexpected or challenges that we perceive as being enormous or insurmountable.

We tell ourselves that if x,y, z happened, we would never be able to cope and think it would be beyond our capabilities to do so. Yet we do cope, and generally, human beings cope with all sorts of adversity and hardship.

We are so much stronger than we may think we are. But what do you do exactly when that unthinkable thing has happened to you?

When I found out in November that my husband has an incurable cancer condition, my whole world fell apart. It felt like my world and my life, as I knew it, had ended and I could definitely not see a way forward.

Three months into this new reality and I can see how far I have come and I can also see what sorts of things I have put into practice and continue to put into practice to find strength and acceptance:

  1. Giving myself space to process my emotions – in the early days, I went for long walks and for drives in the car and just cried and cried. At times I thought I would never stop. Everything felt desperate and sad and every time I tried to tell someone the news, I would break down. In the end, I stopped going out and interacting with people, unless I had to, and just kept work to a minimum.
  2. Taking time to understand our new reality – in the beginning there is a whole new vocabulary and language of cancer that we needed to learn how to navigate. That meant being informed rather than just seeking out information. I found that Google and other people were the least reliable sources! This is a very rare form of bone marrow cancer and there are specific nuances and details that were important for us to get our heads round.
  3. Working and finding purpose – I am fortunate in that my work does give me tremendous purpose and fulfilment. I wondered if I would be able to focus but, if anything, I was able to focus more than ever before and it was a welcome distraction. I found myself more grateful than ever for my work and everything I have built up.
  4. Connecting with my body – they say that connecting with the body heals the mind and I have found this to be so. I have sought out grounding and strengthening practices in Qui Gung, yoga but also swimming, kickboxing and gym. It’s been a really important outlet for me.

When lawyer Sarah Donnelly was diagnosed with breast cancer, she turned to her friends and family for support — but she also found meaning, focus and stability in her work. In a personal talk about why and how she stayed on the job, she shares her insights on how workplaces can accommodate people going through major illnesses — because the benefits go both ways.

5. Connecting with others – I have discovered a big network of support in friends and colleagues. Every week I make it  a point to meet for coffee, a walk or for dinner. Even if I don’t always feel like it. Talking things through and especially not with my husband or immediate family has been a life-saver for me.

6. Mindfulness and meditation – of course I wake in the night and can feel anxiety and dread at times. What helps most, at times like these, is bringing myself back to the present moment through slowing my breath, noticing what is around me and through this, signal to my brain that I am safe but also, to live in the present and only meet things if and when they are actually happening.

These are all practices I have always advocated for strong mental health. I have found that they serve me just as much, during, possibly, the most challenging time of my life.


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