sunthrutreesMost of us can think of phrases to describe what it means to be resilient—overcoming obstacles, having a positive attitude, bouncing back, surviving and thriving in the face of adversity. As a former patient who struggled with chronic illness in my life, I would consider myself a resilient individual. Recently though, I have wondered, am I resilient because of my attitude from the start, during, or after my health challenges?

It is my belief that resilience is not just inherited, but that it is something that develops over time, as we are going through a stressful or traumatic event. The majority of the time I was able to have a positive attitude and tackle my health problems head-on, but there were also many moments when I felt so defeated and hopeless that I could no longer fight the battle on my own. It was during those times that I truly came to understand the importance of social support—my need to have others hold me up when my spirit was broken, to be my light, and to remind me that there is hope. I am fortunate enough to have wonderful parents who have continuously supported and strengthened me, a brother who inspires me with his own strength and courage, and countless other family members and friends who have been my rock. Along with my faith, they have all been my light.

My own experience in both having illness and experiencing illness in my close family members has strengthened any resilience characteristics that I may have started this journey with—from the amount of social support I received growing up, to my temperament, to the coping skills I was taught, and last but certainly not least, the unstoppable courage I saw from those around me, who overcame adversities far more challenging than anything I have had to face.

I do not believe that resilience means being positive all the time, or never having glimpses of hopelessness, but instead resilience means being able to “bounce back” from those darker moments.

As a graduate student in Health Psychology at Santa Clara University, I have had an opportunity to look back on my own personal health experience as I reviewed resilience in the literature. What I have come to realize is that the themes defining resilience in the literature, were in fact the very themes present in my life:

– Social support from friends, family, teachers, and feeling of community
– Positive coping, personal strength, and defining meaning in challenge
– Open, honest, and effective communication between health care providers, the family, and the patient

As a society, we almost expect adults to be resilient when faced with challenges in their lives, but are surprised and impressed when we see children showing the same characteristic. I think we should both believe in the resilience of young people, and help them build on this resilience.

Being sick is not easy, and is not fun. Young people should be allowed to cry, be angry, and to be scared—if that is what they are feeling. For me, resilience means being able to experience those feelings, and then move forward from them. Yes I needed to be resilient to get through my health challenges, but these challenges also provided me the opportunity to become stronger and even more resilient.

– Anna Kozas

Anna Kozas
Anna Kozas earned her Master’s in Counseling with an emphasis in Health Psychology from the School of Education and Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University (SCU) and is currently the Bioethics Program Coordinator at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at SCU. In her role at the Ethics Center, Anna coordinates the Center’s bioethics activities and research projects. She also administers the Health Care Ethics Internship, a unique program in which undergraduates shadow a variety of health care professionals in hospitals and other health care settings. In addition to serving as a liaison between the hospitals and the university, Anna works with students as they learn about medical and ethical issues in health care; she directs the Center's Honzel Fellow who serves as a peer educator to the Interns.
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