Building Resilience Through Reflection & Gratitude: A Motivational Speech

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I had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker for the Atlanta Black Nurses Association’s 10th Annual Prayer Breakfast. Below is a transcript of my speech about building resilience through reflection & gratitude from that day, I hope that you enjoy it.

- I won't dance. I promise. Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.

- [Audience] Good morning.

- I am so excited to be here and out of the house because during the pandemic, I've done a lot of speaking, but it's mostly been on video chat, on Zoom. And so it's nice to see real people face-to-face. This is a big day for me. Thank you for having me. And I thank you, Zora Reeve, for that introduction.

What If Our Introductions Told The Whole Story?

I love hearing my introductions. It really makes me smile because it just lists all of the positives. Right? It just sounds like win after win after win. But sometimes, I have to kind of laugh at myself because I think what would it be like if in my introductions, instead of it just having everything that I've won, everything that seems so impressive, if it gave the whole true story,  if it gave a background?

So instead of just saying that I've been president of my own medical practice, that I've been president of my junior class, I was president of the teens in Jack and Jill. I was president of the Kappa Epsilon chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority undergrad. Instead of just talking about the wins, wouldn't it be something if I had someone else to be able to do a co-introduction and to say, yes, Dr. Frita was president of those things, but she also ran for president of sixth grade and she lost.

She ran for president of her middle school, then she lost. She ran for president of student government in high school, and she lost. Wouldn't that be something if there was somebody up here because all of those things are true, but when we present ourselves, we just tell the positives, right, just the wins. And even with some of the certifications, I'm very thankful, very proud of them. And I liked how you said it. "She's a triple board-certified MD." I like to hear that. That sounds good. That makes me feel like a real winner. But what if you knew the real story?

If that other person told the behind the scenes, that on my journey, when I was in undergrad majoring in biology, when I was supposed to be getting my MD, during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I decided that having fun was a little more important than studying. What if I told y'all that?

What if you got that in my introduction? What if you found out that after spring, my sophomore year, I did not miss a party. I did not miss a dance. I was a step master, but I had not mastered one step in biochemistry, so I dropped it. And then, taking organic chemistry got in the way of my social life, so I dropped that too. And then they wanted me to take calculus. Who had time for calculus? I had to be at parties. So I dropped that as well. But you didn't mention that in my introduction, did you?

- [Woman]  I did not. I did not.

- Okay, good. Okay, don't tell anybody. But I think sometimes as we present, we put our best feet forward. What would it be like if you knew all of that? And if you knew that on this course to becoming a triple board-certified MD, right after my senior year, I had not prepared. I had not taken any entrance exam. And so I took a year off.

And back then, they didn't call it the gap year like the kids do now. In fact, my father, who's very strict when it comes to school, and he's a surgeon, had another name for the gap year. And when he called me- Oh, that call. He said, "So you don't know what you're gon' do after you graduate? I sent you up there to major in biology, and all you did was major in Delta." He wasn't wrong, but I tell you what, you can go on my website at any time, and you're not gonna hear that story.

You're just gonna see that she's a triple board-certified MD. Oh, you talked about my grades. Thank you. Because I didn't, again, I'm very thankful I got straight A's in medical school and I got all of those accolades. But what if there was someone else up here helping with the introduction to say she didn't always get straight As?

My Seventh Grade Latin Test

What if there was someone up here telling you that in seventh grade, there was a Latin test. And I don't know why Mr. McLaughlin gave us a Latin test of this day. He knew I had stuff to do. I was hanging out with Jeanette and Susan. I was doing my thing. But he gave us a Latin test and I was not prepared. And I got an F on it. I got a 33%.

So I had, of course, to take it home, to have it signed and returned. I took it to my mother because she tended to be more lenient, you know, more easygoing. She saw that grade, and she said, "Un, un, you gotta show this to your daddy." I was like, I do not want to deal with him again. So I took my grade. I took my F to show my dad. You know how kids try to be so slick. They try to kind of slip it to a parent when the parent is busy watching a game or doing something like that.

So I slipped that grade to him, that 33%, and he stopped. He probably made it sound like that. He looked at it, pulled it forward, back. He said, "It says you got a 33." Yes, yes, Daddy, I got a 33 on my test. "Now is that a 33 out of 100?" Yes, yes, Daddy. I got a 33%. He said, "33". He looked at me and he said, "I can't even think that low." Was that in my introduction?

- [Woman] No, it was not.

- No, okay. You just know I got straight As in medical school. But my point is, even though my father said that he couldn't think that low, I actually, sometimes when I reflect upon my life, I enjoy thinking about the lows.


In Order To Be A Good Winner, You Must First Learn How To Be A Good Loser

I enjoy remembering the times that I've had to face embarrassment, humiliation, shame, times where I was not the shining star.  Because if it weren't for those lows, and the understanding that surviving the lows is what gave me the strength to have the highs, I wouldn't be the same person. As I stand here today, I'm not really ashamed of the losses.

Right, I am ashamed of the 33, but other than that, I'm not really ashamed of the losses because I understand that in order to be a good winner, you must first learn how to be a good loser. You lose, you stop and you reflect upon the loss. You have gratitude for those lessons, and then you jump back. You become resilient. You build resilience through reflection and gratitude.


The definition of resilience is when something is able to regain its original form after being pulled and stretched and bent. I have a question. During this pandemic, how many of you have felt pulled and stretched and bent? Yeah, I didn't think I was alone. And when you think back to when the pandemic first started, didn't it seem kind of like just a fantasy or something over there?

It was that mystery pneumonia way over there, in another country. And then it got a little closer to home. It became something that happens to people on a cruise ship. But the cruise ship was way over there. But very soon, it became very real that it would hit home. And back in March 2020, when we were told that we had to shelter in place, I was like, well, is inconvenient.

And I was like, but you know what? I can last. I'll close down my practice, hang out with the kids in virtual school. I'll give it a few days. But then those days became weeks. Those weeks became months. Apparently, the months have become years, and we're still here. We're still here. But some of us did have the luxury of being able to shelter in place. And it became a luxury to a degree.

If you were a teacher, you were able to shelter in place. If you were a student, you were able to do school at home, you could shelter in place. Lawyers could work from home. They could shelter in place. Engineers could shelter in place. Even doctors. As a physician, I was able to close down my practice, do telemedicine, and shelter in place. And the reason I was able to maintain my practice was because, in order to see my dialysis patients, all I had to do was do video chats initially. And then I called in orders. But to whom did I call in those orders?

- [Audience Member] Nurse.

- Who?

- [Audience] Nurse.


building resilience


Gratitude For The Nurses

- I called in those orders to the one group of frontline healthcare providers that do not have that luxury of sheltering in place, my nurses. And so from now, until the end of my days, when I reflect upon this pandemic, I will always have gratitude for the nurses, the true backbone to the medical community. Absolutely.

And for my patients, and anyone, are there any dialysis nurses here? For anyone who's ever worked with dialysis patients, you know that that they're a special breed. They really are. I love my patients, but they also did not have the luxury of sheltering in place, did they? We were all told to socially distance, stay six feet apart.

But dialysis nurses, most of them had to go into public transportation, and be shoulder-to-shoulder. We were all told to wear our masks to make sure that we didn't breathe other people's air. But dialysis patients, when it's time for them to get their treatments, they usually have too much fluid, right? They have volume overload. They don't make much urine, and their lungs are filled. And so when you tell a dialysis patient to keep the mask on, it doesn't really happen, right? Those masks are usually pulled down to their knees. And that's just the reality. Plus, they're high risk. A lot of them live in nursing homes, communal living. But once they get to the dialysis units, who's there to take care of them?

- [Audience] Nurses.

- My nurses. If they sneeze without their masks, the nurse still has to be there. If they code, if they go unconscious, they have cardiopulmonary arrest, the nurses still selflessly have been there, even through the pandemic. And when we did not have enough PPE, enough masks, enough protective gear, who ended up getting sick first from COVID-19? The nurses. As I reflect on this pandemic, I will always have gratitude for my nurses. And then even after working, not just in dialysis, but in emergency rooms, on the medical floors, and the surgical centers, and the ICU is the nurses, the nurses, the nurses who have had to be there. And then when they go home, you know, when you go home, it's not over.

You take off your nursing scrubs, and you slip on that Superwoman cape because then you become the mother. You start having to teach new math. Who came up with the new math? See, I can't stand the math, but that's a talk for a different day.

If you have spouses, you have to be that listening ear to how bad spouse's day was, knowing good and well that your day was probably worse. If you have parents, you may be the caretakers. You go through all of these things. Talk about being pulled, stretched, and bent. But then when you show up to work that next day, no one's asking you how you feel as a nurse. They expect you to bounce back, to have that original form despite being pulled. That is resilience, that's resilience.


The Importance of Self-Care

But one thing I would like for all of my nurses to remember, that when you are in the process of being that caregiver, when you're always having to put other people first, you always have to think about other people's needs. I want you to pause, and make sure that you remember your self-care. Because no matter how strong you are, no matter how resilient you are, any person can only be pulled, bent, and stretched to a certain degree before you break. And so please, please take some time for self-care.

The American Heart Association says that self-care contributes to 40% of your health. And honestly, I have so many nurses who have worked double shifts, triple shifts, they have given up their time off, and have been selfless. But you have to remember that self-care is not selfless. And one part of self-care is learning how to tell people no.

If you're on every committee, if you're leading everything all of the time, if you're making sure things are perfect and you're trying to run them all the time, you have to make sure that you don't overextend yourself filling other people's cups. Am I talking to anybody in this room? Okay. And I just wanted to put that in while I'm there because while I love and admire the beauty and the resilience of my nurses, I also want you, as you reflect on your lives, to have gratitude for yourself sometimes, okay? I definitely want you to do that as you build your resilience.

A pastor of mine once said, "For people who have trials and tribulations," he said, "When the Lord puts things on you, then you should actually look at it as a compliment." That's what he said. He said, "Because if He didn't trust that you had the faith in Him and the strength to persevere, then He wouldn't put it on you." That same pastor was also probably reading my mind because he then said, "I know some of you are sitting here thinking, 'I wish I could get complimented a little less sometimes.'" Just a little bit less. But the truth of the matter is it really is a compliment, it really is a compliment when you have these trials, these tribulations, these lows, especially when you're able to reflect on them and to learn from them, even in the pandemic.




Gratitude For Your Growth: Reflecting On The Trials and Tribulations

And so, as we reflect on life, the things that are going on, even as we sit here, we know that there've been over 700,000 deaths. Even as we're sitting here, we know that over 6.4 million children have been infected. And even as we live in multiple pandemics at the same time, not just the pandemic of coronavirus, but also the pandemic of systemic racism, of inequality, of voter suppression, of social injustice. As we live through these times, I want us to pay attention to the silver linings because as we reflect, even when going through trials and tribulations, there's always something to learn, always something to build.

You know, be it a small trial or big one, but even coming here in Atlanta, it's Saturday, but this is Atlanta. You know, folks like to drive like it's a NASCAR race, right? But if you drove and somebody cut you off, or fish tailed you, and instead of using choice words, like maybe you did some time ago, or choice sign language, if you just let it go, you breathed in and breathed out, then you need to reflect and be proud that you're no longer that person you used to be.

You reflect, you have gratitude for your growth. And then you move forward. You build your resilience. And then for more serious situations, if you're a person who's gone through health problems, if you've been diagnosed with cancer, if you have a family member or a loved one with cancer, or if you have a chronic illness such as kidney failure, or if you're someone who used to have 2020 vision, and now all of a sudden, you find that you can't see well, and it's impairing your life, you could wallow in self-pity, or you could reflect on what positive things have come from it.

For example, if you have cancer, now, all of a sudden, loved ones have come to support you in ways that you never thought that they could. Or if you're faced now with the disability, if it's forced you to pay attention to some of your abilities that you never really stopped to nurture, you should reflect and have gratitude.


We Don't Stand Alone In Resilience

In everything, give thanks, for it is the will of God and Christ concerning you. We also have to remember that we don't stand alone in resilience. We have strength. When you've got to just put on that strength. You have to put on the armor of God. And so that we're able to stand firm against the devil's strategies.

You have to remember that as we build our resilience. And so, my wonderful Atlanta Black Nurses Association, again, I certainly thank you for having me. I certainly appreciate you. And even in times when you're not at your highest, even in times when you're low, even in times when you can't think that low, I want you to always remember to hold your head up and build your resilience through your reflections and gratitude. Thank you.

Dr. Frita - Frita McRae Fisher, M.D.
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