Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #98 How to Bounce Back
About this episode

This week, Martha describes human life as a series of “bounces.” We fly high, we fall down, we hit bottom, and we rise. But it may not work the way you think it does. Have a listen! (Originally aired: October 2, 2022)


Martha Beck:

So, I haven’t seen y’all for like three weeks. Hang on, let do something here. Three weeks because, oh no, that was wrong, that was because we had some horrific power outage. Our power went out because someone cut through the cables in a field where Alexander Hamilton used to have his Revolutionary War headquarters. If you have to have a really bad power outage, that’s a really good way to have it, I would think. The ghost of Alexander Hamilton cut our power lines and we couldn’t meet with you. And then last week something else happened. I can’t remember. If you’re listening to this in the future, it’s all moot. I was really sick, though that wouldn’t have stopped me, because I’m still really sick. Haha, here I am. Not only am I sick, but a thing happened and I’m going to tell you about it.

And that is that I was taking Benadryl for cold symptoms. I don’t think I have COVID, but it’s bad. It’s a bad cold. When I think how bad a bad cold feels, I think of you guys who have COVID. My daughter and her partner have it right now. It’s inconceivable to me how much y’all have suffered and I’m sorry to hear it. Anyway, our two year old Lyla came into my room yesterday and we were playing around and she spilled this bottle of Benadryl. And I was worried that she would eat them because they’re bright pink and coated with sugary something. So, I was like, “Oh no, you’ve got to put them away. We’ve got to put them away.” So, we did. And there was a glass like this one by my bed, only it was empty. And just before I fell asleep last night, I realized that Lyla had put two Benadryl in the glass.

She was so good. She didn’t eat them. She put them in the glass. And I thought, “Oh, I’m going to have to just dip those back into the bottle and fill up my water.” But I forgot. Then this morning I woke up and I was like, “I don’t feel good.” So, I did I strategy and my strategy is this. I have little cups of cold brew coffee concentrate that live in my bedside drawer and I can just pour them into my water glass and knock it back. And then I lay down and 10 minutes later I’m like, “I don’t feel that bad. I feel great. I feel good. I want to do things.” And I’d pop out of bed.

So, today I was like, “Coffee.” Wait for it to … And I noticed that it was super duper bitter. And I looked at the bottom of the cuff and there was just the residue of these two tablets. And I was like … and I ran down, that woke me up, I ran down and said to the rest of the family, “I may be out cold in 20 minutes. I just want you to know I love you. I don’t think I’ll die from two Benadryl.” Anyway, I drank a whole bunch of other coffee, which really, really helped. And then I found out it was decaf. So, the whole thing was a placebo. And my point is, the reason I’m here is that it’s a bounce back day for me. I’ve had this awful cold. It was going away. It went out through my head. Now it’s going down into my lungs and I have to go get checked for pneumonia.

But I have bounced back so damn many times. There’s this line in a song by Ray LaMontagne, who is a really kind of dark but cool indie singer and part of a lyric for one of his songs goes, “I looked my demons in the eye, lay bare my chest said, do your best to destroy me. You see, I’ve been to Hell and back so many times, I must admit you kind of bore me.”

So, that’s the level I have gotten to. I’m like, “Okay, all right, this is happening. Oh, yes.” And then you bounce, then you bounce. You hit bottom and you bounce. People talk about it like it’s a one time thing. Yeah, I finally hit my bottom and bounce back into A. A, I’m great. This is awesome. For those of you who can bounce once and have it done with. Not me. My whole life is bouncing. Just the word bounce kind of implies that it’s going to happen more than once, right? If you throw a rubber ball and it bounces, it doesn’t just lie flat on the next bounce, it bounces a lot.

So, I realized lying there, having drunk a dose of cold medicine mixed with coffee and waiting to see how it would affect me, it’s all about relaxing into the fact that life is always bouncing back. You’re always hitting bottom and you’re always bouncing back because that is the nature of being human. And I thought, how does this happen? And of course you’ll never guess. You won’t believe this. I came up with an acronym. Oh, yes. Excuse me. Something I do hourly. My acronym for how to bounce back is SILO. And I’m going to throw it out there to y’all because here’s the deal. I know you’re bouncing back from something right now. If you’re not bouncing back from the pandemic or having been sick yourself, you’re bouncing back from a heartbreak or a loss or the rise in the cost of living. We’re all trying to deal with stuff and we’re all hitting bottom in one area or another often.

And they’re right about the bottom being a good place to be because it does mean you’re going up again. So, as you descend into something that feels yucky, there’s this process of surrendering and it feels horrible. Being sick is just not something I’m used to anymore. I didn’t like it. And it got worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and then I was really bad and I thought, I think I’m going to bounce now. And sure enough, it started to get better. You can kind of feel that point. If you’ve had someone be cruel to you, you could feel yourself sort of descending into the hurt of it. And then you can go through the whole grieving cycle. You go through, okay, now I’m a little angry, now I’m a little sad, now I’m a little scared. And then it’s like, okay, I really, really feel crap now.

Well, it’s time to bounce. And whenever you hit that in any area, here’s how you do it. The acronym is SILO. And the S stands for bouncing back Slowly. Because especially Americans, probably a lot of other cultures too, but Americans are get back up and get moving. It’s a very bouncy culture. But you know what? It’s actually pseudo bouncy because we don’t bounce like rubber balls or even puppies. We have a longer timeframe. So, a bounce is like, ooh, squish at the bottom and then goes slowly up again. I always tell people when they move to a different part of the country or a different part of the world, it’s going to take you a year. You’re going to go down for a year, you’re going to hit bottom at about a year and then you’re going to bounce and you’re going to start to feel better. It’s more like you go down for about nine months, then you start to slowly come up for three months and after a year you go, “Wait, wait. This isn’t as bad as it was.”

So, I had a friend who was moving and I told her this and then she got to her new place and she’s like, “This is cool. I’m not descending into anything. It’s fine.” And she cooked really well, but it’s been about a year. And she recently texted me and she said, “Huh, the lawn that took me four hours to mow the first time I mowed it just took me one hour.” She’s like, “I think I’m bouncing back.”


And I was very pleased with her. And I’m happy if you think you’re bouncing back faster, because that can be a soothing thought. But if you think you’re going too slowly, think again. It’s always slow. I really believe it’s all because it’s trying to create some kind of transmutation of our ego into perfection and wisdom. And that doesn’t happen fast. You hit bottom, you squish, and then you slowly go upward and just watch, oh look what’s happening.

So, the I in SILO stands for Involuntarily. You can try to bounce, you can try all you want. Try to bounce. It’s not going to work. It’s a physics thing. When a ball is thrown to the floor, it doesn’t decide to bounce. The physics of it make it bounce, right? So, when you say, okay, I’m going to pull myself together, I’m going to get over this divorce, I’m going to get over this job loss or whatever it is, it’s like a ball just lying on the ground going, I’m going to leap. I will leap to the stars. No. The forces that propel you downward are also meant to propel you upward. If you surrender to the falling down and even to being on the bottom, you may be at rock bottom for a while and it’s about breath to breath at that point. It is no one day at a time. It’s one breath at a time as I often say.

And if you just keep breathing, then the squish happens and the bounce begins and you rise up and it’s something you get to watch. You cannot make it happen. So, maybe don’t try. Maybe just write in a journal, sit on the couch, pet the cat, and go, “I wonder if it’s bouncing back yet?” And look at it.

And then you get to the L in SILO. L is for Lovingly. So you’re going to bounce back slowly. If you’ve lost anything, if you’ve hurt yourself, you’re going to bounce back slowly. You’re going to bounce back involuntarily, and you have to do it lovingly. That’s the way you keep it from being very traumatic. You say to yourself at every stage, “Oh, I’m still at rock bottom? That’s okay, that’s okay.”

I’ve been reading so much stuff about anxiety and we’ve also been reading some parenting books. There’s a woman named Dr. Becky Kennedy who was on Glennon Doyle’s podcast about parenting, and I’m reading her book and it’s amazing. And she talks about how we always try to do things. But in her value system, she says resilience is better than happiness and repair is better than perfection. If you sit down with love and talk about what’s gone wrong, “Okay, I’m crashing, hit bottom, oh, I was a mess, I have been a mess, and I think I’m involuntarily getting better. But maybe you’re still on the downfall. It’s involuntary both ways, right?”

So, the loving part is not saying that it’s not happening. It’s not trying to pull yourself together prematurely and fix it for other people. It literally takes two things, witnessing and empathy. You just say, “Oh, wow, yes, I am definitely at a low ebb. I think I’ve hit bottom. I think I’m going to bounce. But I just think that I’ve done quite well to keep breathing during this period.”

And you can talk to yourself in the second person. You have done very well, considering. You have let go more easily than you did before. Because of that, you didn’t suffer quite as much. You found something to interest you and your kids at the same time, so you were able to rest together. You are doing a very good job. And by the way, you get to feel like crap. You get to feel exactly as crappy as you do. Tell me everything.

I have felt that way. And anybody who had been through the same thing is going to feel the same way. I’ve noticed that people who were healthy and then get COVID and were really sick and now they’re on the other side of it, they’re like, “Whoa, sick is not fun.” They’re very respectful. And the fact that they can, when I talk to them, people like that, I’m like, “Oh, you get me. You have felt really crap in your life. You get me.”

And that’s the love part of the SILO. Just witnessing and empathy. And you get to feel whatever you’re feeling. And then the final thing is O for Opportunistically. So, this is what happens … Some of you may remember, I once had my foot operated on. I don’t remember how long ago. A year and a half now. I had no idea how tricky it is to get over hand or foot surgery. Now I know.

And the doctor said, “Yeah, eight weeks you’ll be recovering.” And some wonderful, I can’t remember who, but it was a wonderful, wonderful person from the gathering room who wrote to me and said, “That is a hilarious joke your doctors told you about the eight weeks to get better.” She’s like, “In 10 months you will have something vaguely resembling a foot on the end of your leg. In a year, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to bounce around on it a little bit.” And she was right, completely right.

So, I let it happen slowly. It was a bit of a shock at eight weeks when I realized I was nowhere close to healed. I did it involuntarily, just left it alone and let it heal. I did it lovingly. I’m old enough to know how to be loving to myself even when I can’t walk. And everybody around me was very loving to me. And then a thing happened, my shoulder started hurting and my doctor said, “Maybe you could get some physical therapy.” Because I was having a physical. And I was like, “Oh no, I’m just falling apart because I’m falling apart.”

And my doctor was like, “No, I’m going to send you to a physical therapist to get that shoulder back.” I was like, “Okay.”

So, I went to this physical therapist in New Hope, Pennsylvania who is a wizard. And she put my shoulder and she did it in a way that worked me really hard to the point where I was panting and almost vomiting. But it didn’t hurt. And then she said, “What else hurts?” Well, every part of me has been hurting forever. So, I was like, “Well, damn, if you can do that to my shoulder, try my foot, try my knee, try the muscles that have fallen into disuse because of my limping.” And it was like I saw in the first session that this was a person … You can feel an emotional, spiritual, I believe, connection. This is something that’s meant to help me balance higher. This is something being sent to help. I like this. Then you need to make an opportunistic grab for it.

You don’t just say, “Oh, I hope that happens again.” I said to this physical therapist, “Look, even after I’m not technically injured, would you just train me? Because my body is not easy to work with.” And she’s incredible and I go to her on a weekly basis and feel like she’s torturing me and I scream and vomit. Not really, but almost. And I’m getting much, much stronger. If I’d met this woman six months earlier, it wouldn’t have been time. Just when I met her, look opportunistically for the things that are trying to help you bounce back higher, become better than you thought you could be. And the weird thing is you can actually bounce higher after … This is how the physics breaks down. Because a ball when it bounces repeatedly, bounces less up every time, lower. But when we do this with our internal personal development, we bounce higher every time.

We end up in places that are better. It’s very strange to be feeling my body getting markedly stronger as I get older. It’s very cool. So, do those four things you guys. If you’re feeling like you’re falling, let it be slow, let it be involuntary, let it be loving and, let it be opportunistic. Yay.

So, let’s go to the questions for the day. So Dr. Donna says, “How do you handle those who surround you that say, get back up again now? Or they deny you’re on rock bottom.”

This is what you do. You look at them and you say, “I hear you. I hear you.” Because what they need is witnessing and empathy. I hear you. And then they go away and you think, “Not in a million years.” You don’t try to convince them. If you’re already so low, you’re bouncing, you don’t have the energy to convince anyone. Just allow it to happen and they think what they think.

As [inaudible 00:17:59] says, care about other people’s opinions and you become their prisoner. So, just say thank you, thank you so much. I hear you. I hear your concern. I hear your recommendation. Thank you. And then just say in your head, “That’s not right. That’s just not true.” Done. That’s love to the self.

Anne says, “Is it possible to never get out of a low?” Yes, I have seen this happen in clients. And the reason is that they were fighting so hard not to go low. They were fighting the whole concept of bouncing. They wanted their whole lives to be one great surge of joy. This is why I loved when Becky Kennedy says, “Resiliency is better than happiness.” Because we have a sort of happiness worshiping culture.

And she talks about how some kids are raised by parents who just keep saying, “I just want you to be happy. I just want you to be happy.” We are not an organism that can always be happy. So if you can, instead of saying, “I want to be always happy.” Say, “I want to bounce higher every time. Every time I break and hit bottom, I’m going to be so accepting of the process that I’m going to come back higher and stronger.”

If you fight the fall, you never get up. Because you’re locked in the fight now. But nature will not put you into that fight. Nature puts you down and puts you up. You fall and you bounce. But your mind, your ego, will fight nature and say, “I must have it different. This is not an acceptable way for the world to work.” And because of the fight against reality, you can suffer your entire life and I’ve seen many people do it.

But nobody who comes to the Gathering Room. We’re all here together. It’s great. Okay, Amy says, “How do you energetically make space for a beloved mid bounce in healthy ways?”

First of all, you realize that having a beloved who’s going through something is also you going through something. You don’t say that your situation is worse than theirs, but you’re still going through something. If your child is in the hospital, you’re going through something. If your partner got fired, you’re going through something. So, how do you be present for them? You really, really, really take time to SILO yourself, to deal with it. So if something bad befalls your whole family or your whole state, hi Florida, we love you, you need to silo off for a short time as often as possible and just breathe through it and say, “This is happening. I’m on the down bounce because something’s happening to another person. I got to let this happen slowly. It’s involuntary, so I’m not going to try to control it. I’m going to be as loving to myself as I possibly can and I’m going to look for opportunities to find my own joy.”

And look around the room. What here could bring me joy? Be really opportunistic. They talk about opportunistic hunters, animals who are opportunistic hunters like raccoons who find a lot of opportunities in my bird feeders. They will go anywhere. Trash, trees. They don’t care. Opportunistic feeders. We are opportunistic consumers of spiritual buoyancy. Anything that can bounce you up, you grab that, you internalize it, and then when you’re there with your loved one, remember that love is not changing someone’s condition or needing them to be happy because resiliency is better than happiness and repair is better than never having been broken.

So, all you have to do is say to them, “Tell me everything. How does it feel? Oh, wow. I can imagine how that feels. Ugh. Yeah, yeah, you definitely deserve those feelings.” When a child has a tantrum and you wave a clown in front of their face and say, “Be happy, be happy, everything’s great, everybody loves you.” The kid is in there going, “Okay, number one, I’ll be afraid of clowns for the rest of my life. And number two, it’s not okay to feel what I’m feeling. Everybody’s pretending it’s not happening. They’re jumping around like clown faces themselves and it’s giving me the creeps.”

So, don’t try to cheer your people up. Sit with them and say, “You get to feel exactly as crappy as you feel because you’re on a slow bounce. You’re going down.” And the one thing I know from my own experience is that if you surrender to it, you will involuntarily reach a point where you hit bottom, and then you’ll say to yourself one day, “Oh my gosh, I’m feeling better. It only takes me a quarter of the time it used to take me to mow the lawn.” It’ll happen.

Linda Gribko regarding foot surgery. Hi, Linda. Linda was the one who told me. She said eight weeks and you might maybe sort of glance at your shoe and think it might be nice to one day wear it again. No, eight weeks I think is when I started hurling my shoes out of second story window going, “Don’t hurt me.” Yeah, Linda is probably a lot tougher than I am. I got a slow bounce on me. That’s what I am. I was never a sprinter. I was always a distance runner because I am slow but I never stop. Until I foot surgery, and then I stopped for a long time. So, thanks Linda.

Sue says, “How can you encourage a tween to believe in their ability to bounce? To know it will happen as they haven’t been broken and bounced as much as we have as adults?” Yes, this is why adolescence is so crappy because we’ve never been through it before. The first time you fall in love and then get your heart broken, it’s like someone turned the sun off. This is horrifying that this can happen in the world. If your parents split up, if your grandma dies. These poor kids. They’ve just come fresh and unbroken into the world and then the world hits them.

So, the thing to do, I think, then is you really have to SILO yourself. That’s the other thing about the word silo because if we do it for ourselves in a sort of separate space, then we can go integrate with other people who are going through it and our calm about the situation is what helps them. Not our cooing, not our giving them things, not our, “I’m so sad.” No, our calm is what helps people, especially when they’re young, get through it. Our two year old sometimes goes into something that they now call dysregulation, wish I had that word growing up because I was dysregulated almost my whole childhood, and, well, until I was about 40.

But sometimes they’re just overwhelmed and so they just burst into tears. And it’s a big mistake, I have learned, to anxiously try to make them happy. Sorry, older kids, that’s what I did with you. But now we’ve got this two year old that we can just hold, and she has the most genius thing she says. Every time something is terribly upsetting to her, she finds out that there is in the world something like tripping on a rock and bashing her face or whatever. The first thing she says is, “Big hug. Big hug.”

She accidentally got some chili pepper in her mouth. “Big hug, big hug.” She knows instinctively that humans need to be held tightly and steadily to go through the experience of something. So, we couldn’t take the burn off her tongue, couldn’t make the bump on her head go down any faster, but we could hold on and give her a big hug while she got over it. And the miracle is that we get over things. That’s what we know now, because we’re all grown up, that maybe still a tweenager or a teenager or even a young adult doesn’t quite know yet that you bounce back from almost anything and that the bouncing, the motion of bouncing itself, is the feeling of being human. And once you’ve learned to enjoy the bounce, well, enjoy is a very strong word. Once you’ve learned to watch the bounce with a kind of awe and curiosity, then you still get your heart broken, but part of you is watching it and going, “Oh yeah, I’ve been to Hell and back so many times that frankly now you kind of bore me.”

And you sit there with your kid or with your grandchild or whoever and go, “I know what it’s like. Oh
yeah, that is bad. No, don’t let them tell you a 12 year old crush or being bashed on by your friends is not bad. It’s bad. It’s really bad. You get to feel as bad as you want. And I’m right here. It’ll end, but it’s bad.”

People love that. When I started writing for Oprah Magazine, that was my standard trick. Nobody ever picked up on it. Instead of saying, like another self help author might, “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better.” I’d say, “Yeah you’re going to feel like crap, but it will end.” This is horrible. No, no getting around it, and there are things to be gained from it. So, that, “This is horrible and you get to feel that way.” It’s the key to the bounce.

Rose says, “What are some key signs you’re bouncing back to look out for?” Such a good point. For those of you who are Wayfinder coaches or in training or who have a coach, we like to look for these signs that a new identity is forming and typically three things happen. You change your hairstyle, you change the style of clothing you wear, and you move your furniture, or buy new furniture even. And it’s very interesting because, I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, you can’t change things around internally without shifting them around externally and vice versa. Our psyches extend beyond our bodies. And when we start to present differently, I was talking to a friend the other day and she had these clothes that had been packed away in mothballs and she went to give them all to goodwill.

And she was throwing them away because she thought, “Oh, they’re too fancy. I don’t want to be a fancy person. I want to be a plain home spun person who’s just one of the people.” And she said, “I was going to throw these clothes away and I was like, I like that. That’s kind of pretty.” And so she started trying on her own clothes. And for the first time as a person who had bounced back from bottom, she was like, “I actually like this kind of clothes now.” So, right there in her own life, she’d shifted identities once, twice, and three times. And it showed up in the way she selected what she put on her body. So, those are really key things.

And then the other thing is a sense, and this is what I mean by involuntarily, you get up one day and you know that, for example, with my foot surgery, it’s not going to hurt to go down the stairs. You just know. The body knows so deeply and the psyche knows in that same physiological, evolutionary way what it’s capable of doing. And one day you will just know you can do a little bit more than you could the day before. And then the next day it’ll go away. But then it’ll come back. And there are these mini bounces as you’re getting out of a big bounce.

And all of those, just opportunistically say, “Oh, it’s a good moment. I’m going to really enjoy this.” Yesterday, Roe, we’ve all been sick, she hadn’t slept at all. And the baby was sick and she was lying there and she was just sitting in this chair and she said, “Ugh.” And I was like, “Oh my God, what’s wrong?” She’s like, “No, I am just so grateful for this moment. I’m just in a chair and nobody’s bothering me and I’m not in pain. This is wonderful.” She opportunistically grabbed a very ordinary moment and really turned it into something sweet. So I would highly recommend that method.

And finally, Ray says, “Do you think people have been misdiagnosed with depression based on their resistance to feeling sad or their family’s resistance to their level of emotion?” Yeah, I think often depression is the feeling that comes from fighting any kind of suffering. So, Jung famously said every mental illness, every disease is a substitute for legitimate suffering. So, in the many years I spent in clinical depression, what I was really doing was fighting things like the anger I felt at my family culture and religious culture. It was suppressing a lot of feelings of wanting to be free, just trying to stay in that social mode and ignoring the fact that it was wrong for me and I knew it at a deep level.

So yeah, I’m not saying that’s all depression is. There are biochemical elements and everything. But I was depressed for almost 30 years. And it was when I stopped fighting the reality of my own pain, that I got better and the pain was extreme and excruciating, and I bounced. I went down, I SILOed. It was slow, it was involuntary. It finally turned out to be loving. And from then on, I have opportunistically grabbed every single opportunity that presents itself to bounce higher, bounce further, bounce with more fun and bounce with more company. We’re all bouncing, we’re all bouncers. We could get jobs as bouncers. It would be amazing. We’re spiritual bouncers. Put that on your resume.

So, that is my spiel for today. I’m so glad to be back here with you and I can’t wait to see you again. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. Back to the Gathering Room. Bye.

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