How Resilient People Found Hope in 2020 — And How You Can, Too

Published on: 17 Dec 2020
Finding hope and resilience in 2020

Social justice activism made me believe, again, in God. It wasn’t necessarily the God of my childhood church, or the God of my grandmother — though this renewed belief comes with a greater affection for her Italian-American, Roman Catholic rosaries and prayer cards. Instead, it was the simple fact that, as I found myself returning again and again to situations that tested the limits of my strength, I craved a source of compassion greater than myself. 

From spirituality to social justice, from a belief in the power of medicine to a fierce love of family, we all search for ways to make meaning in crisis. As 2020 ends, I want to reflect on these inner reserves we have been calling on during the pandemic, and on the deep wellspring of community that produces resilience and hope. I wanted to examine what motivates activists and frontline workers to persist in the belief that the world can be made better, even when so much evidence indicates that it can’t. 

I touched base with some of the mental health workers and community organizers I interviewed this year for The Talkspace Voice. Here, you’ll find their meditations on hope and resilience interwoven with practical reflections on how you, too, can cultivate hope — this year and every year.


Obari Cartman

Featured in The State of Our Families

What do you do?

I listen as carefully as possible to the voice of my ancestors for instructors on how to heal myself, my family and community. My work is much more personal than professional. Most days I’m just trying to observe, interrogate, and revise myself as I strive towards the best version of me. When I’m able to invite others along I seek community through art, culture, and authentic connection. I especially love sharing what I’m learning with young Black men, using African drums and hip-hop to facilitate discussion. I also love writing, photography and the art of listening.

What keeps you resilient? 

Submitting to brief moments of freedom. Small bursts of respite. They remind me of what we’re working towards, without having to wait lifetimes. I’ve learned to appreciate these pockets of victory that I experience when I hug my children, listen to music, dance, sit by the lake, help someone, laugh with my whole body, eat something delicious. I put resilience down for a moment. Resilience is such toil. I can only be so proud for enduring an infinite storm. The assumption of perpetual attack is a burden by itself. So I seek joy by imagining an existence of pure peace, then I manifest it bit by bit. 

What gives you hope?

Children and elders. Possibility and proof.


The Coronavirus Pandemic Is A Worldwide Disaster

An old adage defines war as “long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Under this definition, the COVID-19 pandemic is reminiscent of a kind of global war. 

The virus is invisible, which means we feel it everywhere and nowhere. It has changed all of our lives, yet if you have been working from home, with enough money to get by, you may not feel its most acute effects. But if you’re a frontline worker, or have been ill, have lost loved ones, or are dealing with poverty related to the pandemic, the moments of horror are intense. 

Like all disasters, the pandemic has tugged at the threads of racial, economic, and gender inequality threatening to unwind our world’s social fabric. We have been presented with a world unraveled, filled with vast and aching economic inequality, a history of racist atrocity, and stunning gendered disparities in labor and care

Yet even now, mental health workers and activists see cause for hope, in the resilience of communities they work with and in the ways these communities continue to care for themselves. 


Marika Lindholm

Featured in The State of Our Families

What do you do?

I run the social platform ESME.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere) that honors, supports and connects women who parent on their own.

What keeps you resilient? 

I’ve always been fairly resilient but the pandemic has forced me to be very self-conscious about remaining strong and focused for: the women who come to ESME for support, my family and myself. I’ve made a conscious effort to focus on gratitude and exercise. Both keep me grounded and help me cope with the challenges and disappointments of the last year. Both are quite achievable and never fail to make me feel better. 

What gives you hope?

My daily practice of feeling grateful is inherently hopeful but my 5 children ranging from 15-25 also give me the gift of hope and optimism. Despite all the things that have been taken from them — graduations, sports teams, clubs, dating and much more — they’ve shown remarkable resilience. Sure, there are some tough days, but mostly there is a lot of laughter, passion for politics, willingness to share their feelings and goodwill — not what I would expect from teens! Their ability to digest this surreal situation and try to make the best of a devastating historical moment makes hopeful that there is a resilient generation that understands that their inheritance isn’t wonderful, but they will still go out and fight for a better, safer and cleaner world. 


We All Cope Differently

During times of extended, collective trauma, it’s normal to have a whole host of reactions: grief, mourning, disbelief, numbness, exhaustion, and more. 

In the midst of disaster, we may not be able to fully process what’s happening. If we’re frontline workers of any kind — medical workers, for example, or racial justice activists — we may find ourselves too busy to fully engage with the reality of our grief in the moment. Busyness, too, can be a coping mechanism, but a healthy one as long as we know the signs of burnout and moral injury, and recognize when we need to pause and give ourselves time and space to process. 

The mental health workers and activists I interviewed for this article all stressed the importance of self-care. From yoga to good food to connecting with family or listening to music, find that moment or activity that makes you feel, even for a moment, safe and whole. 


Amber Akemi Piatt

Featured in Investing in Community Well-Being on World Mental Health Day

What do you do? 

I’m a public health worker who organizes for police, prison, and ICE abolition. My comrades and I are building collective power for a world where all people can be healthy and free.

What keeps you resilient? 

I semi-religiously do all the things that self-care guides tell me I’m supposed to do: I see a therapist weekly, exercise, drink water, stretch, keep a gratitude journal, and sleep 8+ hours every night. But let’s be honest: much of my resilience boils down to community care and the systems I benefit from. I have a good job, access to nutritious food, low-cost health insurance, robust green space nearby, and affordable housing (despite living in the Bay Area). Having my basic human needs met frees up a lot of space for me to meet and bounce back from life’s challenges.

What gives you hope? 

Mariame Kaba reminds us: “hope is a discipline.” I’ve cultivated a practice of feeling hope in the possibilities of our unknown future — and of knowing that we’re writing it, together.


Hope Is A Discipline

The quote from abolitionist scholar and activist Mariame Kaba reminds us that hope isn’t something we have — it’s something we do. Hope is a daily practice, a muscle we can grow. We practice hope like we practice the piano: deliberately, persistently, until it is second nature. This practice is so powerful, researchers have found that cultivating hope can actually help us live longer, happier lives

Psychologists recommend finding a “hero of hope,” a role model who demonstrates the hope and resilience you wish to have. That person could be a famous Civil Rights activist or your next door neighbor; whoever they are, remembering them can provide a positive example of the qualities you, too, can display. 

Psychologists also suggest that a core facet of hope is practicing forgiveness. That doesn’t mean letting others violate your boundaries or even necessarily letting harmful people back into your life. Rather, it means practicing compassion toward yourself and others, and nurturing an enduring belief in the human capacity for growth. 

Learning to express, and then reframe, difficult situations can also help you see hope. Psychologists recommend practicing expressive writing to process and reframe difficult situations. Give yourself ten or twenty minutes to write down everything you feel about a situation, stream-of-consciousness style. When you’ve let it all out, let your writing sit for a few minutes, an hour, or a couple days. Then return to it. What comments, situations, or emotions do you see in your own writing that you can interpret in a more positive way? What lessons do you find? What can you appreciate about yourself?


Dylesia Hampton Barner

Featured in Why This Election is Not ‘Just’ Politics

What do you do? 

I’m a licensed therapist, a clinical social worker. I own Radical Change Therapy, a multi-state virtual private practice specializing in helping Black generational-curse-breaking women thrive after interpersonal trauma. I’m also the CEO of Trap Therapist, a collective of mental health professionals from urban, low income backgrounds who offer counseling and community mental health programming to individuals from marginalized communities, and MESH (Mental, Emotional, & Spiritual Health), Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that prepares elementary, middle, high school, and college students from underserved communities to enter careers in wellness and mental health.

What keeps you resilient? 

Like many people from low-income communities, the fear of life looking, feeling, or being how it once was keeps me striving for more. I aim not only for my life to be barely recognizable when compared to how it started but to inspire others to believe that they too can master their fate.

What gives you hope? 

Hope for me is being creative — establishing platforms and programs that increase opportunities for people from low-income areas and increase visibility for Black women living with the heartbreak of interpersonal traumas such as mother-daughter dysfunction, toxic friendships, and spiritual abuse. I was once in the shoes of each person I now serve — being in a position to blaze escape routes for them assures me that I am fully free, and that is hopeful beyond articulation.


Connect With a Cause 

There are times when, no matter how hard we try, we cannot seem to find hope. This can happen if we are experiencing a trauma that is ongoing — if we are unhoused, or have lost family members to the coronavirus — or if we are experiencing a mental illness like depression. During these times, it can help to draw on a value system beyond ourselves.

This can look like religion, spirituality, or a secular value system — a belief in a social cause, for example, or a deep commitment to your local community. These values can sustain you with something Jamie Aten, psychologist and co-founder of the Christian faith-based Humanitarian Disaster Institute — which researches the role of religious faith in disasters — calls “spiritual fortitude.” 

We often think of resilience as “bouncing back” after trauma, said Aten. For people exposed to chronic trauma, however — such as medical workers during a pandemic — resilience is actually “like a slow reinflation.” “Resilience allows us to bounce back and get to life; fortitude allows us to still live life during suffering,” said Aten.

Some studies suggest that spirituality or religion have a positive relationship to mental health during disasters, increasing hopefulness and our ability to cope with adversity. This benefit doesn’t come from a specific religion or how conventionally devout a person is. It is, instead, about having a belief system that provides comfort, meaning, and a reason to persist. “It’s not about ‘How devout are you?’” said Aten. “It’s about, ‘How can I engage with something bigger than myself?’”


Yolo Akili Robinson

Featured in Therapy Is Political. It’s High Time Therapists Acknowledge This.

What do you do?   

I am the Executive Director and co-founder of BEAM, The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective. My job is to facilitate, build, and manage our container as we hold healing justice, wellness, and joy for Black communities. For me, this means supporting the cultivation of economic, emotional, and funding resources for BEAM and our landscape of community partners. It means managing and building an institution that is as healing-centered as possible, through pay equity, work comfort, and access. It means working with my team to refine and uplift our communities’ healing practices, while also developing tools that encourage our communities to expand our understanding of what healing is. It means challenging the mental health industrial complex and creators of the DSM to grow beyond colonial and ableist thinking. It means defunding the police and funding the community. It means listening. And, most days, cupcakes if I’m lucky. 

What keeps you resilient?  

I don’t know if I am resilient. I don’t know if that’s something one is but something one practices or cultivates within oneself. I am made resilient by my inner circle of friends and family. I practice resilience every day by nurturing myself through yoga, meditation, therapy. By praying at my altar. By recognizing the work is about more than me. I practice resilience by working hard to embody my beliefs in healing and restorative justice — even when I am hurt, even when people are unfair and mean-spirited, and especially when my choices are not in integrity. I think those things help me practice resilience and cultivate it within me.

What gives you hope

My team, and the hundreds of organizers, healers, therapists, wellness practitioners, and leaders in this country who are working actively to transform our world. Being able to be in community with them, learn from them, grow with them gives me hope. My nephew and niece, Marley and Myles, and their curiosity (and cuteness) also gives me hope. Lastly, my plants and flowers — because they almost always grow back, and often come back greener, more in bloom. That gives me hope that even when it’s hard and I have to go underground to rejuvenate, I can come back and bloom, too. 


Community is Healing

Reaching beyond yourself — whether that be a set of political values, spirituality, or devotion to your loved ones — is fundamental in maintaining hope. So, too, is connecting with others. 

When we are experiencing the effects of collective, current, and historical trauma, it can be difficult to access group support. Pain can make our dynamics dysfunctional. It’s a challenge to work through one’s own baggage, let alone one another’s. Yet at best, community heals — and we know from decades of psychological study that social connectedness is one of the best predictors of happiness. Learning to live in community is a lifelong process, but it is also a lifelong source of strength. 

Holding gentleness toward others makes us closer to our communities. It also makes us closer to ourselves. Healing is not a linear path; with disaster ongoing, we’re all likely to experience a roller coaster of intense reactions. That’s okay. Hope doesn’t mean the absence of pain or inner turmoil; it means choosing, every day, to believe in the inherent human capacity for collective growth.

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