I’ve spent 2 years finding the best stories of human resilience. With me are: - Explorer Ben Saunders, whose journey to the South Pole set a world record but made him question the meaning of success and happiness; - Author Lily Bailey who knows OC...
I left my business in London in 2016 to go around and ask people about their inner demons. To my absolute surprise, many responded and I became an accidental collector of important human experiences. I managed to convince some of the most original thinkers I met to share their struggles and lessons of resilience in the recently published book What Doesn’t Kill You: 15 Stories of Survival - more about it on Goodreads.
Today, I’ve got 2 of the authors with me. We’ll be around for 5 hours starting now and answer as many of your questions as we can.
Ben Saunders In 2013, Ben and his teammate Tarka set out on a 1,800-mile journey on foot from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back - an expedition that no polar explorer had finished alive before. Dragging a 400-pound sledge with supplies each, Ben and Tarka walked the equivalent of 69 marathons back to back, setting the record for the longest human-powered polar journey in history. But for Ben, achieving the impossible didn’t lead to a happy ending; in fact, it made him deeply question what ’success’ really means and how it relates to happiness.
Lily Bailey Lily is a well-known British writer, model and former journalist who suffered from severe obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) into her teens. She kept her illness private, until the many myths about the disorder compelled her to write ‘Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought’ - a funny, intimate record of the obsessions that ruled Lily’s life as a child and how she learned to fight back.
- Follow Ben on Twitter
- Follow Lily on Twitter
- Check out “What Doesn’t Kill You” on Amazon - US version or UK version
UPDATE: Everyone, it's been so much fun! Thank you for your deep curiosity, thought-provoking questions and thoughtful replies. It's getting close to bedtime at our end of the world but do keep posting if you want to and we may be able to respond tomorrow.
Finally, if you do give the book a chance and you don't find it valuable, DM me and I'll personally refund your purchase. As curator and editor, I feel an enormous responsibility to readers and I believe that the trust of the reader should never be taken lightly.
Sorry if that was directed towards Ben and Lily, but it's such a good question, I couldn't resist. In my science writing days, I actually looked into some of the factors contributing to resilience. Genes are definitely one, although it's not a simple matter of good genes vs bad genes. There's some compelling research that genes influence your sensitivity to the environment - so if you grow up in a harsh family climate and have sensitive genes, you are more prone to struggling with mental health if you hit rough road. The interesting bit is that there's some evidence that if you take those same sensitive genes but you also have a nurturing family environment, that could actually create a sort of protection against mental trouble. In a way, genes amplify the environment. David Dobbs wrote a fascinating article on the topic.
No, not at all. The question was meant for everyone. That is interesting indeed. I have another question for you if you don't mind: Why is it that nowadays, we have so many people suffering from mental illness such as depression, anxiety, addiction etc? Is it the current lifestyle that's eroding the mental health of our society, the abundance of everything which translates into instant gratification, or something else entirely? Could anything be done to make things better?
I think it's a combination of those. One's early environment seems especially important - and it's not just family environment but our social surroundings, too. Rising inequality, for example, has been shown to contribute to a large number of mental health problems. There's some compelling evidence that social exclusion, in fact, gets under the skin, so to say, leading to dangerously high levels of inflammation in the body. And I think that nowadays can be easier to feel excluded, less than and alone because social media constantly bombards us with images of others achieving more than us or having a much better time. Obviously, it's so much more complex but these are some of the interesting factors I've been thinking about. What do you think?
See this is something I am very interested in having more knowledge in. What books and/or articles and resources would you recommend getting or digging into to learn more about resilience and the science behind it?
It's funny, I approach this question by trying first to get to the root of the problem and then working backwards to the solution. Here are some articles that may be interesting for you as you begin to unpack the issue:
The Science of Success - Two gene types (Orchids and Dandelions) and their implications for mental health
The social lefe of genes - How our environment gets under the skin and impacts our biology
Rejection kills - An article I wrote about how rejection has far more serious implications than we think it does
Cradled by therapy - How the therapy relationship may work to "correct" suboptimal parenting
All of these articles have other resources that will point you to research across neuroscience, economics, biology, psychology, etc. Hope that helps!
My absolute pleasure!
How do you keep steady motivation? I tend to get very motivated for a time and then something or other drags me down and I lose all that muster and backslide.
All my motivation problems seemed to magically go away when I found something that deeply mattered to me. I believe that lack of motivation is caused by two things generally:
- lack of purpose or meaning
- fear of failure -> procrastination
The trick, I think, is to find something that so compels you that failure doesn't matter any more, becomes irrelevant even.
Have you found any stories about finding resilience overcoming substance abuse? Can I read about one of your favorite ones?
Oh yes! One of my favourite ones is by Ed Mitchell, a successful broadcast journalist who lost everything to alcohol addiction and ended up homeless. It was fascinating to see his journey out of that hole and his philosophy of hugging life and keeping going that's helped him over the past few decades. His story is in "What doesn't kill you" and an excerpt was also published in the Daily Mail here
Serious question though and a very difficult one. For you, what do you feel you would say to a fresh uni graduate is the key to being happy?
A sense of meaning. Finding your own purpose, your own driving force. Sadly, no one else can do that work for you; it can take a lot of dead ends and the temerity to stand out for yourself. I love the way poet David Whyte put it:
anything or anyone that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
I noticed that the vast majority of the authors seem to be white (Is it 14 out of 15? I admit that it is hard to know for sure based just on names and google searches).
How did you go about selecting the stories to tell in this book? If you were to write a sequel, what steps might you take to ensure more cultural diversity?
Thanks for asking. Well, we've got me, an Eastern European and Irenosen Okojie, a Nigerian-British author of short stories. When I started the project 2 years ago, I couldn't find more culturally diverse authors who were speaking openly about their struggles and were willing to go that deep into them. I asked an Iranian novelist and a Kenyan poet to join but they didn't. Today, it's probably different, and if I were to write a sequel, I'd absolutely spend more time looking for stories that illuminate the specific struggles faced by authors and thinkers from non-dominant cultures.
In a world where validation, success, progress, and goals, are all null and cosmically pointless, what do you do to maintain color in your life? When things fade and you feel life has become grey, cold, and numb... What do you do to find the feelings in life? Please don't say love... Just anything?
I've personally struggled with depression in the form of lack of meaning and purpose. I know exactly what you mean by things being "grey, cold and numb". When I'm in that state, I do whatever I need to do to cling on and keep going, and sometimes that has meant leaving a job, spending a month in the mountains to get unstuck inside my own mind, or accepting that the life that brings me joy and curiosity may not be the life that brings me recognition or prestige, and that's okay. When I find something - and it could be the tiniest thing - that keeps me engaged in the world, I hold on to that fiercely because in the end the goal that trumps all other goals is to stay alive.
This brings some peace to my mind... And gives me a sense of how to deal with the loss... Thank you Ellie
Thank you for asking the question.
This really resonates with me as I struggle with most of what you have described in several of your replies. Thank you for sharing.
You are most welcome!
Have you talked to Marcus Lutrell?
No I haven't, actually. But I'd love to hear about him. Feel free to tell me more!
He is a former Navy Seal and the lone survivor of a failed mission. He was with a 4 man crew who got into a firefight with the Taliban. He lost 3 of his closest friends on this mission. He was found near death by a tribesmen who sheltered him from the taliban until U.S. forces could rescue him. He wrote a book that spawned a movie, Lone Survivor
Oh yes, I know the movie. Fascinating story!
I’m more interested in how you just went into the street and asked people about their stories and they responded. How was that process?
Oh I didn't just go on the streets and ambush people to talk to me. That'd be...odd and disrespectful. It was a combination of reaching out to those who were already openly sharing their stories, plus people knowing about my project and connecting me to others, and it just grew like that.
Do you have a background in positive psychology/ the work of Seligmann?
I don't. I find his work interesting and valuable but I've always been more of an existentialist myself. Probably the only one alive, though I hope not :-)
Would you be willing to give some of my stories a read?
I was injured during training while in the Army and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. I developed Depression as a result, and have spent many years overcoming the adversities that followed suit.
I usually write and post my stories on Instagram. Here’s an example of my most recent post:
Hey - Thanks for reaching out. I'm sorry to hear about the struggles you've been through, yet inspired by your openness about them and what you've been doing to fight back. Keep it up!
Do you think that everybody has different degree of resilience? What are the factors contributing to it?
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