Last October, which feels like a million years ago, I started seeing a therapist.
Something had happened in my personal life that affected me deeply. I was angry and hurt. I just couldn’t stop ruminating on the situation.
But then, after about six months of sessions, something changed. I started looking at the situation differently.
While I was still unhappy about what had occurred, I started finding little silver linings in the experience.
In our sessions, my therapist had encouraged me to address unresolved issues that I had always hoped would just disappear. (But, as usual, they were just coming out sideways.) She made me reevaluate how hard I can be on myself and helped me develop self-compassion. Over time, these changes shifted how I viewed the original event that brought me to her.
When I told my therapist about this new perspective, she said it was a sign of growth.
It meant I was becoming more resilient. I was developing the skills I needed to continue on my path, despite the obstacles in my way.
A few weeks later, the federal government declared a national state of emergency.
Suddenly, resiliency became a skill the whole world would have to master.
A Time to Reflect
For a while there, life was much quieter.
I’m sure you can relate.
As my family and I sheltered in place and made face masks out of old T-shirts, I had a lot of time to think about the concept of resiliency.
Upon reflection, it’s a skill I’ve been honing my entire life.
A few days after my therapy revelation — again, while the world was still “normal” — a local magazine reached out to me. They were writing a feature on Orlando’s most influential women in law. Did I want to be included?
I’m normally a little wary of lists like these. But the fact that this one focused only on women struck me as intriguing. I agreed to play along.
They asked for a bio, which my husband Carlos volunteered to write.
But when I saw the final product, it was all I could do not to rip it up.
In the bio, Carlos had revealed something that many people in my professional circle didn’t know: I never made it past 10th grade.
When I saw this in writing, my first reaction was, “Oh no, this will blow my cover!” Now, the whole world would know that I had dropped out of school at age 16, a milestone that had always been a source of shame.
But then I remembered the conversation I had with my therapist.
Was there another way to look at this situation, too?
I could have become a statistic. Instead, I became a lawyer.
I’ve accomplished things that are not expected of high school dropouts.
Instead of hiding my story, I realized I could use it to show people that no matter what happens, you can still achieve your goals.
Again, it’s all a matter of resiliency.
“Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare”
My childhood was tough. When I was 9, my brother and I moved in with my grandmother.
A few years later, all of the anger and hurt I had pent up as a child exploded.
I became every parent’s worst nightmare. With all of the drinking, drugs and fighting, I was lucky to make it to 10th grade.
At 16, my luck ended. I moved to New York and then New Jersey, where I dropped out of school for good.
After a few years of working odd jobs, making just enough money to party with some pseudo-friends on the weekends, I came back to Florida to celebrate my cousins’ high school graduation.
As I watched them accept their diplomas, it hit me: I was a loser.
While they were working on their future, I was working at White Castle.
Something clicked. I decided it was time for the next phase. I needed to leave New Jersey and start over.
Growing up, people called me “Tita.” It was a childhood nickname that followed me through adolescence. In New York and New Jersey, people on the street called out, “Hey Tita!” when I walked by.
But when I moved back to Florida, everyone knew me by my given name: Bertha.
I decided to embrace my new identity, leaving “Tita” and all of her rage up north.
As “Bertha,” I finished my GED, applied to a state college and worked my way to law school, where I earned a full-ride scholarship, complete with an allowance for housing and food.
For almost 15 years, I kept Tita and her rage hidden. But in my 30s, she came back.
This time, she dragged me down even further than she had when I was a teenager.
I hit official rock bottom. But, as I’ve written in the past, there was a silver lining to that night I spent in the jail cell: I finally found my purpose.
Experiences like these were the last thing on my mind when the virus hit.
A Complete Change of Pace
Before COVID, our business was growing like mad.
I barely had time to wave at my kids and husband in between client meetings and networking events. I stopped making time to meditate and practice yoga, using my busy-ness as an excuse.
My stomach issues flared up again, a tell-tale sign that I was not taking good enough care of myself. But I soldiered on.
When it became clear that the virus would change the world forever, I went into survival mode. I became a robot, focusing only on what I needed to do to keep my family and business safe.
But, after stocking up on toilet paper and filling out my PPP application, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands.
Like so many people in the world, everything stopped.
Now, I had time to meditate and practice yoga. I was able to tackle a list of marketing and administrative tasks that had been on my business to-do list for years.
But even more important, I’ve had time to connect with my family in a way that was never possible before.
I never thought a pandemic could have a silver lining. But the other night, as my family and I were wrapping up a long dinner together, I realized I had found one.
To be fair, not everyone has had such a wonderful pandemic experience.
As of writing this, more than 115,000 Americans have died and millions are out of work.
For many, this is a time of pain, hurt and anger.
But, as I reflect on my own past feelings of pain, hurt and anger, I realize that every negative experience has left me stronger and more aligned with my true purpose.
Of course you have to live in the moment, grieve and feel your pain. But when the dust settles and the tears dry, you also have to keep moving forward.
If I hadn’t accepted this, I might still be Tita, working a dead-end job and hanging with people who didn’t always have my best interests in mind. I might still be ruminating on the negative experience that had sent me to therapy, letting it cloud over my life.
We’re all only starting to learn what this virus wants to teach us, but I hope that all of us — around the country and world — emerge from the experience stronger and more resilient than before.