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What a Fall on the Sidewalk Taught Me About Resilience

Patience, asking for help and good humor can lead to a successful recovery

By Jan Zacharjasz

It was an unusually gorgeous fall morning, so my husband and I decided to take a walk in the neighborhood. We were deeply engrossed in our conversation when, a block from our house, I misstepped and fell flat on my face on the sidewalk. Splat!

The author, wearing a neck brace one week after her fall
The author, wearing a neck brace one week after her fall  |  Credit: Courtesy of Jan Zacharjasz

My first reaction was to simply get up and continue the walk. Then I saw the expression on my husband’s face.

Seven hours later, I returned home from the ER on concussion watch with a broken nose, a fractured neck, three stitches inside my upper lip and a one-inch crater in my knee.

I also had a new neck brace, which, along with my resilience, would be my new best friend for healing over the next eight weeks.

As a life coach who works with people through midlife changes and teaches resilience, I had the opportunity to “walk the talk,” adjusting to my injury and the dependent role in which it placed me.

Whining and complaining about the unfairness of the accident, given the commitments stacked on my calendar, would have been easy. So, too, would bemoaning the difficulty of getting around for two months as a suburbanite who was not allowed to drive.

Focused on Resilience Strengths

Instead, I flexed my resilience muscles.

Not only would they help me handle this unexpected ordeal, but I would learn from it.

Focusing on trying new things rather than on the discomfort and inconveniences made time pass much more quickly.

Here are a few of the resilience strengths I used and lessons learned:

Gratitude — First and foremost, I was eternally grateful that my vertebrae fracture was not on the spinal cord side, which could have had permanent life-altering implications. The seriousness of a fall is not to be taken lightly; one in four Americans aged 65+ falls every year and falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.

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I was grateful that I work from home so I didn’t have to worry about a daily commute.  And I was grateful to my loving husband who couldn’t do enough for me — from drying me when I got out of the shower (the only time I could take off my collar) to building a nest of pillows each night so I could sleep sitting up. I appreciated how lucky I was to be surrounded by guardian angels!

Shift in Mindset — Rather than focusing on not being able to drive for eight weeks, I decided this was my chance to learn what the whole Uber experience was like. My daughters gleefully set up an account on my cell phone.  I dove in using it, befriending and questioning each driver to learn how working for Uber linked with the rest of their lives.

I accepted help from friends (not something I do easily) and was tickled by the special “girl time” that resulted as friends drove me to appointments or errands. Focusing on trying new things rather than on the discomfort and inconveniences made time pass much more quickly. It also brought extra fun to my days as I recuperated.

Humor – While purple is my favorite color, I prefer not to wear it on my face. I had outdone myself with not just one black eye but two. If I ever wanted to know how I’d look after a Botox treatment, I now know. Puffed and smooth, I couldn’t wait for the return of the wrinkles in my upper lip once the swelling went down.

The plastic surgeon told me I was lucky that I had thick skin; if my nose developed a bump when the break healed, no one would notice. I always knew I had “thick skin” but did I really need to break my nose to prove it?  Looking at the humorous side of my appearance made it more bearable, not only for me but for my loved ones who were so worried about me.

Perseverance and Perspective — I’m a rule follower, a “good patient” and a queen when it comes to follow-through and patience. From keeping my neck immobilized 24/7 to MRIs to physical therapy in the months that followed, I stuck to it with a long-term focus rather than a short-term one.

Calling on my perspective, I reminded myself that this fall ultimately would be a “blip on the radar” of the many experiences of my life, and that I could handle this just as I handled other challenges that seemed unending at first blush.

We all have our moments in life when we are challenged beyond what we ever expected.  These are the times to call on your strengths, support systems, and personal resilience. Look for the opportunity, identify what you’re grateful for, accept support, find humor, persevere.

These are a few ways you can get up and keep going when you fall flat on your face — literally or figuratively.

Jan Zacharjasz Jan M. Zacharjasz, MS, ACC, CPC, founder of Coaching for Resilience, helps people over 50 gain confidence and resilience through significant work, health, and family changes so they can thrive moving forward. A Certified Professional Coach, Jan provides experiential skill-building workshops on resilience, successful aging, and care for caregivers, individual coaching, and life purpose and energy assessments. She can be reached at [email protected]     Read More
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