Amy Molloy has made it her mission to uncover the secret to overcoming adversity. The self-help author shares her resilience-boosting research – and why a global pandemic is good practice…
I am very resilient. That may come across as an arrogant thing to say, like calling yourself very pretty or very clever, but past experience proves it.
The first quarter of my life can best be described as eventful. I was raised in a family with a history of mental illness, and my father was paralysed from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was a teenager. This led to a spiral of eating disorders that I, mostly, overcame by moving from London to Sydney.
It was there that I fell in love with an Irishman – who was diagnosed with terminal cancer eight months later. At twenty-three, I walked down the aisle to a man who I knew would die shortly after our wedding. Three weeks later, he had a stroke as I lay in bed beside him and I became a widow.
This amalgam of traumas could be life-destroying. But I write this as a thirty-six-year-old, healthy, happy woman with a fulfilling career and a loving relationship with my parents and my partner. In June, our third child is due – in the middle of a global pandemic. Yet despite this mountain in our path, I’m okay. Resilience – an ability to adjust to misfortune – has turned events that could have been setbacks into springboards.
My past also inspired my career path. As a journalist, editor and self-help author, I’ve spent the past fifteen years tracking down amazing people who have faced amazing challenges: 9/11 rescue workers, survivors of plane crashes, tsunami escapees. I’ve also seen evidence of how ‘everyday’ events – particularly in our younger years – can help foster resilience that we just don’t learn if we never face heartbreak.
In a post-COVID society, it’s natural that we will be left with fears. We’ve seen, firsthand, how normal life can evaporate in an instance, and that’s unnerving. However, there is an upside to surviving trauma. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is an ‘ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps to accomplish’. So if your life has been a series of challenges, you’re #blessed – you’ve had practice!
Researching my memoir The World Is a Nice Place, I emailed everyone in my contact book, no matter how well I knew them, with the subject line, ‘Are you resilient?’ Within two hours, my inbox filled with stories of survivors: people who had been paralysed, lost parents and been made redundant from dream jobs. The common thread? Nobody believed they had been born resilient – they worked at it.
The same coping mechanisms came up time and again. Focus your energy on looking for solutions. Identify the problems you can solve rather than concentrating on elements that are beyond your control. Don’t compare yourself to other people. And, above all, practise gratitude for what you do have.
One of the most memorable emails came from Australian life coach Lisa Cox. At twenty-four, Lisa had a brain haemorrhage and spent a year in hospital. She ‘died’ twice as her organs shut down. Lisa underwent more than a dozen operations, including the amputation of one leg, all her toes and nine fingertips. Yet she managed to focus on the positives. After her fingertips were amputated, she focused on still having one thumb. And she wrote a tongue-in-cheek list of the benefits of having only one leg, including a fifty per cent discount on leg-waxing and half-price reflexology.
It’s not always easy, but a sense of humour is an important part of resilience, as is radical self-acceptance (just ask Oprah!) and surrounding yourself with positive people.
Personally, I believe we all signed a ‘soul contract’ before entering this life: to be a partner, carer, mother, teacher, storyteller, creative or any other role we are drawn to. One of my favourite mantras is, ‘You were created to cope with these circumstances.’
This reduces one of the side effects of trauma – feeling out of control – because I believe I made the choice to experience these situations. It’s how I’ve coped with being pregnant during a pandemic. If I’m tempted to dive into ‘what-if’s, I remind myself that this baby knew what she was getting herself into when we conceived her.
It might sound glass-half-full but, from my research, trust is a key component of resilience. The trust that one day we’ll be happier. The trust that tomorrow may be easier. The trust that we are capable of withstanding challenges even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. ‘There’s no such thing as ruining your life,’ novelist Sophie Kinsella observes. ‘Life is a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.’
Amy’s latest book The World Is a Nice Place: How to Overcome Adversity is available now.