On Monday, I was taken on a rollercoaster of emotions listening to Annmarie Zehntner’s story of resilience. From laughter at her honesty and authenticity, to tears at the depth of her emotion, I felt it all deeply. It left me questioning who are we to judge resilience in others?
With Annmarie’s permission, I’m delighted to share my reflections, and a little of her story, here.
Early foundations of resilience
Annmarie’s story started with a summary of her life, and the beliefs and attitudes that she has carried forward. She described her 20s and 30s as her “Career Girl” phase, where she held 7 different jobs in 10 years.
Annmarie’s ‘career girl’ phase included redundancy, living abroad and relationship breakdowns (her own and her parents’). Perhaps your story contains different highs or lows, relating to health, family, career, education, relationships, friendships and more.
We have each walked different paths, but what Annmarie so beautifully articulated is the early foundations that we each build for resilience. She talked about her “work hard ethic”, about how she “always loved a challenge” and felt she was a “resilient character”.
Think back to your foundations. What messages of resilience do you carry forward? What stories are you trying to live up to?
When resilience gets tested
Annmarie then gave us a moving insight into three chapters of her story.
Post natal depression
After the birth of her first son, Annmarie had post-natal depression. She talked eloquently about feelings of overwhelm and despair, and not belonging in the world of babies and toddlers. She described powerfully the help she gained from a support group, where she could “say whatever I wanted to”. The group helped Annmarie to realise “I was not weak, I was ill” and “I was not alone”.
Yet in counterpoint, she also talked about how she couldn’t talk about what was happening at work, and the ever-present fear that mental health issues would become a ‘label’.
In this part of Annmarie’s story, what struck me was the power of community in building resilience. Annmarie found a space where she was able to “say whatever I wanted to”. What space and support do you have to do the same? Who listens to you?
Skipping forward a few years, past the birth of her second child and back into the workplace, Annmarie described a phase of her life where she was “playing with the big boys” in a “wow, I’ve made it” job.
Despite her outward ability to perform and achieve in role, Annmarie described her internal experiences of broken sleep, paranoia, loneliness, crying, feeling useless, and losing confidence.
I believe she made us all laugh when describing the boss who told her: “you just need to be more resilient”, and her (internal) responses of:
“what the **** are you talking about?” and “would you say that to a bloke”
Luckily, with medical support, Annmarie recognised the start of her menopause, and addressed her symptoms with HRT.
My key takeaway from this chapter of Annmarie’s story was the ease with which we dismiss other people’s experiences and call upon “resilience” like some clarion call to battle. How much do we truly attend to the experience of others? What are we afraid might happen if we accept their truth?
Self-harming in the family
Annmarie acknowledged that her latest chapter came “out of nowhere” and was her “biggest challenge”. I was moved to tears as she revealed that her son had struggled so much with his transition to secondary school that he had begun to self-harm.
The few details Annmarie shared (with her son’s permission) were harrowing, although the love she feels for him and the pride she has in him shone through even the darkest moments of the story.
But the power for me, was in Annmarie’s ability to recognise her own feelings and needs in this situation. She addressed her own sense of failure as a parent by joining a course to learn how to help him, and that group became another support network for her.
She read to us a quotation from a gift she had received while on the course:
“There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good enough one”
Whether you are a parent, caregiver, friend, manager or colleague, we are often trying to support others to be resilient. If there’s no perfect way to do that, what can you do that would be ‘good enough’? And how are you looking after yourself as you do that?
Reflections on resilience
As we reflected on the story that Annmarie had shared, we asked questions that had no easy or right answers:
- What drives women to try to achieve the top in everything we do?
- How do we help women to be brave enough to share these stories?
- How would men react to this story?
As we drew to a close, Annmarie shared that this is the first time she has told her story. And she chose to tell it out of her desire to help:
“I don’t feel brave at all, but I am an open person and I want to help people”
Despite her self-effacement, it is hard to reflect on Annmarie’s story without wanting to use words like bravery and courage. And yet it is merely the story of a woman – someone who might be your colleague, your friend, your neighbour. And, be honest, would your story be all that different? You may have different experiences to share, you may not think they “compare”, but as Annmarie said
“Everyone has got a story – its just life”
If you have been touched by any of the issues that Annmarie covered in her story, then you may find the following resources helpful:
Our Unjudged series creates opportunities to hear stories from the lives of other women. By having the courage to step into these stories we broaden our understanding of the breadth of human experience. Together, we will build our awareness, challenge our stereotypes and prejudices, and learn to step into the shoes of others.
If you have a story that you wish to tell, please do get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org.