I recently had a very scary experience of literally being knocked off my feet in the park by an overly exuberant dog who hurtled straight at me, and I fell flat on my back. Although I had some physical bruising, the main impact was emotional. At some level, it got me in touch with my acute vulnerability and how, in a moment, things could change so irrevocably. What if it had been on concrete or ice not on soft grass? What if I had been alone, and not with friends? I even reflected on how the very enthusiastic dog running too fast was actually a manifestation of my own high energy, which can sometimes leave me (and others close to me!) exhausted. It made me feel that nothing around me was stable or entirely to be trusted, even though at a rational level, I knew this was not the case.
This personal experience also felt like a metaphor for the world during and post pandemic, where we have all been knocked for six and we cannot somehow predict what might throw us down next.
What helped me find my resilience in this situation?
- A good cry – it felt that this had been building up for a while and the ‘event’ of the fall gave permission for the flood gates to open
- Linked to the above, but distinct, was giving myself permission to feel vulnerable and not to try and ‘soldier on’
- Time to reflect on why the fall was bringing up so much strong emotion
- Friends to talk about what these reflections meant for how I was feeling about my life and the things that maybe needed to change to restore a sense of balance (again interesting that a fall literally throws you off balance)
There are many old sayings which talk about ‘falling’ with a similar theme:
‘Falling down is not failure. Failure comes when you stay where you have fallen.’ Socrates
‘For this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down but the staying down.’ Mary Pickford
‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’ Nelson Mandela
‘Falling down is an accident. Staying down is a choice.’ Anon
Whilst at first glance, I agree with all the sentiments of these quotes, there is still an underlying message that we ‘ought to’ and ‘should’ pick ourselves up after a fall. For some people this just isn’t that simple.
Many older adults who end up in hospital or a care home have had an unexpected fall and this one event can precipitate a series of other events, and even a major life change. My own grandmother had a relatively small fall, but this completely shook her confidence when walking, and this resulted in her losing her mobility very fast, and ultimately going into a care home much earlier than was really needed.
How deeply should we consider the psychological impact of being knocked off your feet and left feeling helpless, stupid, scared or even ashamed? I can take painkillers and apply heat patches to my sore back and shoulders, but the experience of ‘being floored’ has left me with feelings which may take longer to heal. My resilience is shaken, but thanks to feeling loved and cared for, I will find it again. How well do we do in offering real understanding and support to others who have fallen, and can’t find a way to rise again?