Spotlight on MSL team: reflections about resilience

From the Winter edition of InTouch Magazine.

Jodi Haartsen and Natalie Francis have both recently joined MSL as executive managers and bring to the organisation a wealth of clinical knowledge and understanding about people living with MS, both having extensive careers in the health sector. We asked Natalie and Jodi about their experiences with resilience and their views on how resilience relates to people living with MS. 

Jodi HaartsenJodi Haartsen
Executive Manager Client Engagement & Wellbeing, MSL

Before joining the team at MSL, Jodi worked as MS Nurse practitioner and manager of the Eastern Health MS service.

What does resilience mean to you?

I think we can choose to live life with faith or fear - faith in yourself, in humanity, in the universe - there are many things we have faith in. Resilience for me is the choice to live with faith and not be in fear when I face uncertainty or times when things don’t go my way. There are the moments where there is a pause where I can choose the response I have to the situation.  I can choose to not be fearful, that’s where I can find resilience.  And resilience enables me to have optimism and hope.  Resilience to me is then when I’m facing change and uncertainty, I have a sense of ‘I’ve got this’.   
What was your experience in seeing resilience in the people or clients you worked with? 

As an MS nurse, I have been privileged to see remarkable resilience in people who have MS.  It’s quite extraordinary how people and families find resilience to cope with the diagnosis. Many people turn their lives around and adjust to a new normal and a new definition of self.  What has inspired me the most is the day-to-day resilience. People with MS will often share with me how each day is different and requires an adjustment of what they do and, sometimes who they will need to be on that day.  With MS, getting on with each day and making the best of it requires remarkable resilience. The stories I have also seen of people’s courage and optimism as they face disability, adjust, and keep going, made me very aware of the capacity we have as humans to have resilience. I think in my career I have been fortunate to have witnessed the true and absolute definition of resilience.  
What are the things you saw that helped them build resilience? 

The things I think made a real difference was personal hope and optimism. The team of people you have around you and your community also really strengthen personal resilience. My kids go to a school where the primary school motto is “strong heart, strong minds and strong body,” and this often comes to me when I think of building resilience. I add “strong community” as well. It’s very personal how you build these strengths, and worth getting some help for a strong positive heart and mind when you need it. I think exercise, in any form, is a big winner. Having a sense of some strength in your body is much harder with MS, but it helps inner strength to have some outer strength. Oh, and never underestimate the value of a sense of humour! 

How and why is it important for people with MS to be resilient?

MS throws so much at people, often at a time in life when there is a lot going on.  I think being diagnosed with MS shatters people’s sense of self and what they thought life would look like, so it requires remarkable courage and resilience to reframe that perception of self and the future you were mapping out. There is day-to-day resilience required but also when decisions need to be made such as treatment changes, new relapses, and adapting to new medical advances or situations, like a pandemic!  There are many times of adjustments and uncertainty on the MS journey, and those times will be less frightening and overwhelming and if a person has resilience strategies. 

Natalie FrancisNatalie Francis
Executive Manager Consumer Directed Care, MSL

Prior to joining MSL, Natalie worked as National Client Solutions Manager at Vivir Healthcare. The role was focussed on new services that would meet client needs. Her background is as a physiotherapist, specifically in neurological conditions, in both acute and community settings. 

What does resilience mean to you?

Resilience is the ability to move through challenges or events that impact upon you at any point in time. These events can be small or large. I think it’s also about your capacity to deal with these events at any one time. There are times when a small event may create elevated distress if your capacity to deal with them is low. Capacity can be impacted by fatigue, mental load in general, and even hunger, yes, I believe hangry is a real thing.

What do you think are the qualities that would help someone be resilient?

A lot of it is about perception.  When we are presented with an event or issue, we first appraise the issue through the following: Attribution: why did this happen? Meaning: what does this mean for me?
Understanding where you see attribution and meaning, impacts on your ability to cope. In understanding why this happened, we have to look at where we see the blame: If it’s fully external, then we don’t acknowledge our part in it and what we can control. If we fully blame ourselves, then we aren’t having a realistic view because nothing is fully in our control. Somewhere in the middle is best so that we can accept what is out of our control and amend or act on the things that are within our control.

How we perceive the meaning of the event will also impact our response: do we see it as a threat in which harm will be done, and we react in a fight or flight response? Or do we see it as a challenge and allow opportunity for growth and learning?

Everyone has their own coping strategies; these are often broken down into either emotional strategies or problem solving. Personally, I deal with events through activity, such as walking down the beach. This is a huge stress reliever for me, whereas others might feel better finding a quiet place to sit. Walking helps me both emotionally and in problem solving as I take the opportunity to think about how I am going to tackle the issue. I then get back to work or home and write my list of outcomes that I need in order to overcome the issue. Again, take some time to understand what works best for you - it’s not one size fits all.

Do you see resilience as being a quality that can be learnt? If so, how? 

Yes, absolutely. It’s about taking the time to stop and listen to what your head is telling you and sanity-checking it. Talk to others about their perception of events to broaden your view. Ensure you are talking to people from different backgrounds to you. Often, we seek out the people who support us or think alike, but it’s a good idea to make sure you seek those who have differing views and be open to these. 

What steps do you think people with MS can take toward becoming more resilient?

Seek diversity in your learnings, look at different channels, read different messages from others on forums, don’t just search for the ones that support your view. This is called a conformational bias and is very common. Become aware of your reactions to situations and how you perceive them.

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