Resilience in Life’s Challenges

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector


“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
― Nelson Mandela

I love the word resilience and have always been drawn to stories of survival and overcoming the odds. Adversity is sure to come to each of us in life. Will we be crippled by it or see an opportunity for growth? The answer lies in our ability to be resilient.  

Perhaps the best definition of resilience is: “the power or ability to return to original form or position after being bent, stretched, compressed; elasticity. The ability to recover from illness, depression, setback, or the like: buoyancy.” 

This pandemic has challenged us in many ways. Many of the stories I hear these days are framed as stories of loss. Whether it’s losing a loved one, employment, or just everyday routine. We have all experienced loss in some way. But, for many of us, this loss has led to opportunity. 

First, resilience takes a lot of self-discipline. It takes a lot of concentration to block out the noise and the clutter of all the negative voices trying to get through. It would take a lot of self-reliance to avoid blame and contempt. That self-reliance to know that in your heart and mind you have the skills, the talent, and the strength to overcome adversity. Cultivating a resilient character turns failure into success. Our history is riddled with these stories, from celebrities to everyday heroes. A resilient person doesn’t give up. A resilient person will, in spite of obstacles and setbacks, transform failure into success. Resilience is not always an easy practice. Unfortunately, it is built through challenging experiences. However, after some personal experience and research, I‘ve been able to see some common threads.

Resilience comes from within: Resilience requires personal initiative. As a resilient person, you have to count on yourself to bounce back. Although resilience is an independent practice, it’s also tied to others. The more people you are responsible for, the greater your motivation to begin again- the stronger the reason, the stronger the motivation!

Resilience has an element of creativity: Resilience is rarely scripted. With resilience, you are able to look at a situation, assess the landscape, and creatively take the best way out. You need to develop the ability to ask yourself tough questions and answer honestly. If you had something to do with your outcome, be honest and take responsibility for it.

Resilience requires an element of humor: It’s hard to see the humor in loss, and you may cry until you start laughing, but a sense of humor is so important when turning your life around. You’ve got to take your goals and strategy seriously, and you have to take yourself seriously. But when the time is right, it’s also important to be able to laugh at yourself and your situation.  

The funny thing about resilience is that it has a compound effect on our sense of self-awareness.  Survival can lead to confidence and an ability to see yourself differently. This pandemic is challenging us all in different ways, some more than others. But in the end, it will be those that have developed resilience who will bounce back with more insight and confidence. It starts with clarity, and you don’t get it through the news. I urge you to take the time to look deeply into yourself and the lessons learned daily. What can I do better? Who can I treat better? What do I need to add or subtract in my life to lighten the load and heaviness of this situation? Resilience requires initiative, and today is a great day to start!

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.

The Power of Words and Positivity

Written by: Roni Horak, RSI Clinical Director for Behavioral Health and Counseling Services


The language and the negative lens we sometimes use to view things have become increasingly bothersome to me. The words we use impact how we interpret the information that is coming to us. I worry that some of the terms I have been hearing more of recently could lead to increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. 


Social Distancing: In the context of health and safety, “social distancing” means to physically stay six feet or more from others to limit the spread of infection. Here, “distancing” is used to describe physical space. However, we know now more than ever that we can remain social without sharing a physical space. We could think of “social distancing”  as physical safety or our safety bubble.

Social Isolation: This is another term that is often used when talking about safety measures. However, we know that people are actually using social media like Facebook, video conferencing like Zoom and Skype, TikTok, YouTube and a variety of social tools to stay connected. There is no need to isolate completely. We do, however, have to find a way to connect differently. I’ve heard some people say that they actually feel closer to others now. People have reconnected, mended fences. I prefer to use the term “social reconnection.”



There are a variety of new words being used during this time. We may not always choose the best way to describe or influence during a crisis, but we can reframe our understanding of these words without losing their meaning and importance. At times of crisis, it is natural to experience a variety of emotions from one moment to the next. It is my hope that after the dust settles we see this experience for what it is and then put things into a healthy perspective. 


Remember that these words are used out of necessity, to be sure we share a common understanding of the world around us at this moment in time.  However, there are ways we can take these ideas and look at them more positively without losing the importance of their meaning and our shared mission for safety.

Learn more about Roni’s work at RSI on our Outpatient Counseling page.

Practicing Gratitude During COVID-19

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

I’ll be honest, this “social distancing, shelter at home” era hasn’t been getting any easier for me. In a world that has been turned upside down almost overnight, I find myself fluctuating between fear, compliance, and sometimes frustration. I imagine many feel this way, but we soldier on and remain committed to trusting the process. I find myself more on edge, more impatient with people whose opinions differ from mine, and then I find myself completely heartbroken when I hear a story of a person who cannot connect with their family in their last moments. I’m all over the place.

The important thing to realize is we will all experience a range of emotions during this time, sometimes from one minute to the next. I’m so focused on my own struggle and managing my own conflicts that it’s hard to imagine taking on the care of others and their needs. Does this make me a bad person? No. It makes me human.    

Shifting my perspective has required more discipline and focus than I have had to summon in a long time. Have you found this to be true? I’ve dug deep into mindfulness, meditation, routine, prayer, and journaling, but nothing compares to the practice of gratitude. If you’re struggling like I am right now, or maybe just looking for more ways to practice self-care, I would highly recommend this simple act to bring your perspective back to a place of peace. Oprah Winfrey got me started on this practice so many years ago, and it has changed my life. Here are but a few of my suggestions on this subject, and I hope they can be of use to others at this time:

    1. Time. Like any self-care practice, set aside some time to quietly reflect. We live in a very fast world, changes are happening every moment. Gratitude can serve to effectively slow your world down. Whether you devote that time to your morning ritual, or your evening shut down, time is intentional and precious.
    2. Thought. Give careful thought to the many blessings you have, and resist the comparison trap.  Living in a consumer culture, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have rather on what we already have. Make this the next step in your reflection time, and if you are so inclined, write it down. Taking the time to write down your gratitude list is powerful. The key here is to look deeply into the actual blessings you have right here, right now. 
    3. Don’t force it. You shouldn’t have to dig too deep to find your well of gratitude. The important thing is to acknowledge and make space for your thoughts and emotions. You don’t have to rush right into enlightenment, it takes some time. Unconditional self-acceptance is more important than ever. Go at your own pace.
    4. Keep it simple. No need to make it too complicated, it might be just taking note of some of the more pleasant things that might have crossed your mind during the day. Your list might look different every day, and it should look different every day. Perhaps it’s the fact that you experienced some sunshine today. Or the fact that you have a favorite warm blanket you’re wrapped up in tonight. It might be that you’re grateful for the love of your family, even if you have to use some wonky video chat to stay in touch these days! 

Gratitude is about taking the time to be gentle and compassionate to yourself. This is so important during this stressful time. Allowing yourself to feel all of your feelings is the greatest gift you can offer yourself right now. And when it comes down to it, you deserve as much gratitude for yourself as you give everything else in your life.

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.

Building Your Toolbox

Written by: Roni Horak, RSI Clinical Director for Behavioral Health and Counseling Services


Building your personal toolbox during this time can be incredibly helpful to help deal with anxious or helpless feelings. All of us have different tools that help us and keep us moving forward during difficult times. Mine is a literal toolbox that currently sits on my desk in my little “happy space” at home. Items in my box include headphones, a stress ball, earplugs, essential oils, hard candy, and more. Earplugs drown out other sounds, help me center myself and listen to my breathing. It quiets down my space. The hard candy reminds me to concentrate on the taste, feel, smell, and my senses. This helps me stay mindful of the moment and distracts me from excessive thoughts or worry.


Learn more about Roni’s work at RSI on our Outpatient Counseling page.

The Power of Reconnection

Written by: Jean French


It had been nearly twenty years since my mom had decided to stop talking to me. It was the hardest and most depressing time of my life. I wanted to end my life, as I felt that I had nothing to live for. I lost everything when I lost her. She was my world, and when she left me, it broke my heart.

I was harming myself nearly every day because that was the only way I could cope with the possibility of never seeing her again. I didn’t care as much for my other family members, but I missed the connection with my mom so much. I thought that she might hate me, and at the time, I believed that she did. Every time I went out in public, I would look for her. When I didn’t find her, I would come back to the home and self-harm. I would hurt myself, and somehow it made me feel better.

On August 30, 2018, I decided to send her a note on her 80th birthday. I sent her a text message, as I had done so many times before, but she answered me this time. She thanked me for my wishes, and we exchanged a series of texts back and forth. Before finishing our conversation, I asked her if she would give me a call when she got home. I gave her my phone number and was more hopeful than ever that we could rekindle our love and connection.

The next Monday, she called me and we talked for a while. Before we hung up, I asked her if she might like to meet sometime for lunch. She said yes, and for the very first time in a long time, I had a smile on my face that lasted days. I couldn’t stop smiling and crying tears of joy. We chose to meet at Sammy’s Pizza in the West Duluth neighborhood. When we saw each other, we immediately ran (with our walkers) to each other and exchanged a much-needed embrace. I couldn’t hold back the tears, as we were now mother and daughter again.

When other family members told her not to become involved with me again, she didn’t listen. I was just so happy that she wanted to be back in my life again. Since we reunited, I would spend every weekend with her at her assisted living facility. I couldn’t be more happy, and I have stopped hurting myself. In fact, it has been over a year since I have harmed myself. I love my mom and I now know that she loves me back.  

In this time of crisis, we can’t see each other. But I call her at least once a day, and she is happy to hear from me. I call her to start each day and say good morning, and in the afternoon to see how she is doing.  I finish each day by saying good night. This journey has given me a new perspective on the power of patience and forgiveness. Perhaps the one thing I wasn’t prepared for is the power to forgive myself. It’s made such a difference in how I interact with people. Life is just too short!

Update on RSI’s Face Mask Project

Written by: Claire Farmer-Lies, Marketing Communications Specialist

About a week ago, we reached out to our community, our teams, and others who support our mission to request donations of cloth and paper face masks for our caregivers, nurses, and the people living in our homes. Due to high demand, it has been a challenge for us to procure all of the masks that may be needed to keep our homes safe during this time.

We would like to take a moment to thank every person and organization who has responded to our donation request. Communities across Minnesota and the country have rallied around our essential front-line healthcare workers, and we are so grateful to be included in that response as we see donations coming in.

Our heartfelt thanks to the following donors:

  • Carlene Nelson
  • Riki McRickard
  • Kim Hanson
  • Mary Hallsten
  • Kathy Sluka
  • Anne Pardus
  • Sharon Kompelien
  • Cindy Lind
  • Faith Palmer
  • Sarah Gulan
  • Kitty Hutchins
  • Michelle Lynn
  • Nancy Boll
  • Mary Gregg
  • Janet Tupa
  • Laurie Berner
  • Vicky Zimmerman
  • Sharon Ek
  • Gigi Toman
  • Jackie Vavrosky
  • Tara Golden
  • Duluth Fire Station Mask Drive
  • Masked Up
  • Hannah Johnson Fabrics

Our goal is to reach 1,000 masks, which would ensure one for each of our front-line employees and the people we provide services to. We are still working to reach that goal and will continue to accept mask donations.


To get in touch with us regarding mask donation, please reach out to us at [email protected] or by phone at (218) 727-2696.

Driven to Distraction

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

I knew that staying home would be a real paradigm shift; adopting new technology, applying new routines and rituals, and most challenging of all, the lack of social connection. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the devils of distraction and shiny objects that can take me away with a moment’s notice. For example, sitting in my office and gazing out at the diminishing glacier that used to be my yard, I notice something. The lawn is starting to show, and with it comes the stark reality of the amount of dog waste that has accumulated over the winter. Inevitably, I choose to react before the little piles begin to thaw, and hopefully before my neighbor sees me! It’s dirty business, but it’s done and I’m back on track…until the next thing.

Maybe it’s the constantly changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, maybe it’s because I suddenly have more time than projects, or maybe it’s just that I’m not used to wearing pajamas until noon. Either way, it’s been a tough two weeks of adjustment. My mind tends to wander and then focuses on things like survival, stock market alerts, and public health announcements that are delivered daily by the local news. Behavioral economists refer to “uncertainty aversion” when we’re drawn to things we know and understand, a preference toward known risks versus the unknown. And that’s why, when faced with the radical uncertainty of a spreading virus, we naturally feel such extreme discomfort. Mind-wandering leaves us mentally time traveling into an imaginary future throughout the day. However, I’m here to offer hope and support, as I am now running out of distractions. Here are some of my newfound tactics:

Implement a self-care morning routine. Avoid the distraction of rushing to check on emails or stock reports, they will be there! I’m not typically a morning person, but it’s important to begin each day with positivity, it’s crucial to your productivity. My wife likes to run at 5:30 every morning, but that’s a little too much for me. I’ll settle for a walking meditation with the dog and then dive slowly into reading positive affirmations….the key being to move slowly. If you can carve out an exercise routine, that’s great! You now have your heart rate up, and blood flow brings all sorts of physical and mental benefits.

1) Create a schedule that includes two or three achievable goals. I like goals, but now that I have a more open schedule, it’s easy to cram a lot of content into the schedule. Or worse, get so overwhelmed, that other inane activities (like cleaning up after the dog) seem more achievable. Setting achievable goals sets you up for success, and nothing is worse than having an open landscape and with nothing to show for it. Achieving goals is also a springboard to other productive habits.

2) Avoid television and household chores during the day. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way. You’ve heard my story about my dog’s lawn ornaments, but I seem to have left out reorganizing the garage, raking the snow mold off the lawn, and rearranging the spice cabinet. As for television, I began the first week of shutdown by serving my lunch during the pandemic team’s daily conference. I just wanted to stay informed, but it ultimately led to little wanderings to ESPN or The Ellen Show. One thing always seems to lead to another. Research shows that quickly switching gears from one area to the next is a huge productivity killer. Same goes with multi-tasking, something always suffers.

3) Avoiding distraction requires a special kind of discipline. This is a really chaotic time, and I’ve often said to myself and others, “it’s okay to not be okay.” And for those of us interested in maximizing focus and productivity, this will mean employing radical and innovative measures to ensure that we stay focused on what matters most, our highest priorities. Right here, right now. May the focus be with you.

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.

Coping with Adversity

By: Roni Horak, RSI Clinical Director for Behavioral Health and Counseling Services

During times of adversity, I look back on my past. I have found a pattern in the skills I’ve used to get through. I would like to share some of the tools in my toolbox that I think could be helpful to others during this challenging time.

1) Work with what you CAN control. For example, I can try to limit my exposure to things I know cause me stress.

2) Focus on what I CAN do versus what I CAN’T do. This is a healthier form of thinking. I can eat healthy, sleep well, and I can use self-care skills. I can control my social distancing. I can use this time as an opportunity to grow within myself and discover new things about myself.

3) Try to stay away from the possibilities and work with the probability. I work with what I know. So many thoughts go through my mind, but I refocus and work on what I am doing to eliminate possibilities and strengthen my sense of safety. I am eating nutritious foods, staying home, cleaning my environment, washing my hands, exercising, staying busy, taking deep breaths, taking vitamins, reducing contact, and praying.

What tools have you been using to cope?

Learn more about Roni’s work at RSI on our Outpatient Counseling page.