Resilience Spotlight: Angela Wheelock, Blogger

Posted on: October 8, 2012
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Interview with Angela Wheelock


WMB (Watch Me Bounce): Please tell us a little about your blog.
AW (Angela Wheelock): My blog was originally called, Sitting With Sorrow, but I’ve recently changed the name to Life After Trauma because I think it reflects more what I’m writing about. There definitely is life after trauma. I write about all aspects of trauma. Much of what I write deals with resilience, even if I don’t always call it that. I am especially drawn to trauma survivors speaking out and ideas for traveling the healing path.
WMB: How does your work relate to helping people be resilient to adversity and/or trauma?
AW: I tell my own story about how I’ve survived trauma, share the stories of other trauma survivors, and cover topics that relate to healing from grief and trauma. I really love stories that get to the heart of survival and show both the tenderness and the resilience that survival requires. Trauma and grief can soften our hearts and that’s what I always try to convey. We don’t have to become, or remain, angry and bitter.
WMB: Do you work with a specific population?
AW: I do, but it’s a pretty broad population: people who have experienced/survived trauma and those who are processing grief. I tend to write more about women, because I’m a woman, but I’ve also covered combat trauma and plan to talk more about childhood traumas and less-gender specific subjects in the future.
WMB: What got you interested in resilience?
AW: My own life. I went through very hard times in my life beginning when I was 17 and experienced periodic traumatic experiences on a fairly regular basis until I was 38. Sounds horrible, but there were many wonderful times in between. And, then, once I truly began to heal, I began to think about why I hadn’t become bitter, a drug addict, etc. And then I realized that, gee, I must be pretty resilient after all and it kind of surprised me. And then I started wondering why I was so resilient and realized that I had to credit the many people who loved me in my childhood, music – which plays a huge role in my life – and my wonderful family. And also I’m very grateful for the wonderful First Nations (Native American) communities I’ve lived in. Native people have survived deep sorrow and anger related to displacement, racism, and alcohol abuse. It was an eye opener to me that so many, especially elders, often show deep resilience and have such strong spirits. I think that living in our consumer-oriented “soft” culture doesn’t foster resilience. You definitely can’t buy it in a store!
WMB: What does ‘resilience’ mean to you? What makes someone resilient?
AW: To me, resilience means feeling the pain or the grief or whatever you feel and getting on with life anyway. Because, as so many people who have written on the subject of trauma and PTSD say, you have to experience grief in order to heal. That doesn’t mean you have to only experience grief and that’s why resilience is so important. As people, we can be sad, etc. and then rebound from that and reach out to the world again. I think Hafiz said it best, “He who sits in the house of grief will eventually sit in the garden.” So, in my opinion, resilience isn’t about being happy, happy, happy all the time; it’s about facing the reality of what’s happened to us in our lives, learning from that, moving on, and, hopefully, reaching out with compassion to those who are still trapped in the house of grief.

Do you think social support and/or validation help? If so, how?
AW: Absolutely. I could never have succeeded without my many wonderful friends, my therapist, my doctor, my son, my husband, and more. I am often grateful to the wonderful people in my life. They give me so much support and validation. Also, people I’ve met through writing my blog also give me support and validation. I especially wanted to mention the blog [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum; it’s helped me so many times when I’ve felt despair about the grief I still carry from the loss of my daughter to adoption. Also, I think that the more that I am able to speak out, the stronger I feel.
WMB: Why, in your opinion and experience, is resilience important?
AW: Without resilience, what would there be? Most things in the natural world are resilient. Flowers may be bent down after a heavy rain, but they usually bounce back. People can do that too. But, we can’t force it. My doctor told me once that “healing is a process, not a race,” and the more I keep that in mind and the kinder I am to myself, the more resilient I am. Resilience takes time. It’s not an instant quality and it has its limits. Trees can’t bounce back after a tornado. People need a great deal of help to “bounce back,” from genocide, sexual violence, war, etc. I think resilience doesn’t mean we will be “the same” as we were. In a way, we’re better, because we’ve gained strength in order to go on with our lives. Sorrow will always be a part of my life. Not necessarily on a day-to-day basis, but there in the background. And I’m coming to terms with that. I think for me that is such an important part of resilience: to love ourselves as we are. Not to expect or want to be perfect. Perfection is the enemy of resilience.
WMB: Do you think your personal experience gives you a unique perspective/angle on the topic? How?
AW: Yes. I experienced things no child/teen should have to experience when I relinquished my daughter to adoption. I was treated as though I was no longer human. I was absolutely silenced. And, then, at one point in my life, I realized that I didn’t have to believe that. I saw that I have value, that I can speak out, and that I can reach out to others. So, I guess that my own experiences give me a different angle. I don’t say unique, because many people around the world experience that sort of brutality and cruelty every day. I work with African refugees, teaching them writing, and I often find that they have the most beautiful spirits. They are so resilient. They’ve survived horrific conditions and now they’re going on with their lives here in Canada. Of course, they have things to work through and, sadly, those “ghosts” may surface later in life, as we’re seeing with the last Holocaust survivors. But, for now, they’re young and beautiful and going forward with their lives.
WMB: Do you encounter adversity on your job? From what? What can/should be done to try and prevent this?

AW: Well, I’m self-employed, so the type of adversity I experience is balancing making money with my own healing. My therapist and doctor, for example, can’t see me working in a normal full-time job, not now, maybe never, because I have so much trauma to process. They think I need to finish the memoir I’m working on and make some money on that. However, they’re not writers, so I don’t have great hopes of getting rich off writing. That’s not why I do it.
WMB: Can you give example(s) of your training and/or personal experience (personal or a friend’s-in training or dealing with adversity)?
AW: Wow, this is a huge question. I don’t think I could possibly find enough space to answer here. I survived relinquishing a child to adoption, tremendous grief from that, sexual assaults at a time when I was young and very vulnerable, three pregnancy losses, a major medical trauma. So, yes, I’ve experienced a great deal of adversity. And, it took me many, many years to even understand that I was a trauma survivor with PTSD. I was only diagnosed once I arrived in Vancouver. A label doesn’t cure things, but it allowed me greater understanding into what was going on in my life and started me down the healing path. Also, many years ago, I had Hospice training to work with terminally ill people and people struggling with grief. I’d like to get back into working in that area because I love working with people one-on-one and there is almost nothing that frightens me about the thought of people dying or the emotions experience.

WMB: What do you love most about what you do?
AW: Sharing what I’ve learned with others and sharing the wonderful stories and resources I’ve discovered.

WMB: What are your (other) passions?
AW: Singing, music, reading, my family, my friends, spending time in nature, qigong, kindness, life.


WMB: Can resilience be inspired?
AW: Absolutely! I think that people who haven’t seen resilience in their own lives or have difficulties seeing beyond their own pain need examples and a helping hand. I hope your site and mine and others like it can be that helping hand/role model.
WMB: Have you ever read a story(ies) that inspired you to fight against adversity? Can you recommend any stories, books or films that inspired you and may inspire others?
AW: Wow, I’ve read so many. I know one that always sticks in my mind is Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Such a compassionate, loving book. I also love poetry and keep a book of my favorite poems. Other books I read recently that inspired me are The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow and After Silence: Rape & My Journey Back by Nancy Raine. A movie that I love is War Dance, which tells the story of young refugees in Uganda, many of whom were child soldiers, and how they used music to heal their lives and regain a sense of value.

WMB: Do you have any stories of your resilience you would like to share?
AW: It’s hard to find just one story. But I know that about a year ago, I was going through a very difficult time. And around the same time, I took A Singing Boot camp with two wonderful women here in Vancouver, The “camp” was held in a tiny church with no air conditioning and we (about 30 of us) got together in the evenings for about 3 hours and sang our hearts out. I remember taking off my shoes and at one point we all stood up and were dancing and singing and I could feel the wood of the floor under my feet and the sweat running down my back, and it was like my heart was breaking open, like seeds do a sprout comes out. That was a real turning point for me. Keeping my blog has also helped me with resilience. No matter how sad I may feel about something from my past or in my life today, writing my blog always makes me feel better.
WMB: Are you familiar or at least acquainted with the empirical literature on resilience? (resilience/stress/trauma)? What do you think are some of the most important points that can be gleaned from this literature toward practically building resilience?

AW: Well, I have to admit that I haven’t read enough about it. But I think having social supports and allowing yourself to feel what you feel and not being ashamed of normal feelings after difficult times are very important. I know in my own life, that when I look back, I realize how much my earlier experiences, especially at my grandparents helped me develop a base of strength for later in life. I don’t know if I would be resilient without those earlier gifts. So, being able to remember the good things about your life are so important. Using modalities like music, yoga, tai chi, etc. are also very important. And my therapist has helped me so much. And, obviously, reaching out to help people who need support in this process, is essential. Many people need guidance to recognize the good in themselves and in their lives.
WMB: Is there anything else we have not covered that you would like to talk about?
I think I’ve already said a lot! I guess that the key to my own resilience is self-kindness. The more I practice self-kindness, and kindness to others, the more resilient I am. Thankfulness and gratitude is essential too. I try to be as thankful as I can about the many gifts that life brings. Sure, I feel terrible sometimes, I’m human, but I also see so much good in life. In fact, doing this interview, has inspired me to do a future post on the gifts of trauma. Yes, even trauma has gifts. Not that I’d wish anyone to have to experience what I have so they could gain such gifts.
WMB: What do you think of Watch Me Bounce? What do you think of using story to inspire resilience? How can stories help survivors of adversity? How can they help the writers? And how can they help the people who read them?

AW: I enjoy reading Watch Me Bounce and I absolutely believe in the power of story! I think that it’s been proven that writing stories helps us heal and can also inspire others. So, it’s a win-win for everyone. In order for that to happen, however, we have to be honest with ourselves and others, to tell what really happened and not pretty it up. People are looking for authenticity in stories, stories that ring true. I wish Watch Me Bounce all the best.


WMB: Thank you for your time, and for sharing your story.


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