Strive for life

Amy Molloy shares how to continue creating a life you love after the worst has happened.

WHAT if you have gone through so many challenging times that it’s almost obvious that life is hard? How do you find the resilience, and the hope, to continue? Amy Molloy is the author of the recently published ‘The World is a Nice Place.’ And she is well-equipped to talk about this topic: she’s survived anorexia, was widowed at 23, divorced her second husband in her late 20s, married for the third time and had two babies. And she’s only in her early 30s. So, how does someone who’s been through so much have such faith and hope, and truly believe that the world is a nice place? Amy Taylor-Kabbaz spoke with Amy about life after tragedy, and what makes some of us thrive despite the hardest lessons.

You have been through so much; can you share the lessons and challenges life has given you?
Absolutely. I think it’s only in writing my book, and then speaking to people about it, when I list everything that I’ve been through in order, that I start to realise, ‘Wow, that was a lot for somebody who was so young.’ So, by the age of 30, really by the age of 23, I’d been through a series of really challenging tests and difficult situations that, I suppose on paper, you think someone that age shouldn’t have gone through. So, to go back to the beginning, I was a very dangerously premature baby that went on to become a child with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. As a teenager I developed an eating disorder. When I was 17, my father was paralysed from the waist down from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, where a tumour grew round his spine. He literally went to bed one night being able to walk, and woke up the next day unable to. So, then, as a family we endured eight years of cancer treatment before, incredibly, he went into remission. During that time, I was in my early twenties, and I fell in love with a wonderful man. Then, about six months after my dad went into remission, we found out that my partner had cancer. He survived and fought for about a year before he died, three weeks after we got married. And so, when you kind of list them back-to-back like that, it really sounds quite astonishing. I also come from a family with a long line of mental illness, particularly in the women. I always grew up being told that depression and anxiety runs in our family, and I was always very aware of that. From an extremely young age, I remember playing with packets of antidepressants that were stacked up next to our telephone in our house, and herbal remedies for treating anxiety. I knew that the black dog was roaming around our garden. So, I think I became, personally, and then professionally as well, very interested – almost obsessed – with the secret to emotional recovery and resilience and healing. And how to experience situations like that, and still emerge from them with grace, and love, and hope, and happiness.

What have you learnt about resilience and faith?
I think probably subconsciously, I began to gravitate as a journalist towards what I call ‘empowered survivors’: people who have faced far worse challenges than I have, and who are able to still have that optimistic mindset. Over the course of my career, I’ve interviewed tsunami survivors and 9/11 rescue workers, and just incredible people who’ve faced grief, loss, heartbreak, and breakdowns, and those everyday events and occurrences that can bring some of us to our knees. And what I discovered through meeting these people is that it is possible to make a choice to be more than an experience that you encounter. With the right emotional toolkit and rituals and strategies, you can thrive. But it’s something that you have to do every single day. The people I’ve met over the years – they work at it every single day. They use these tools to enable themselves to move forward. This is not a quick fix. No one is invincible and everyone that I spoke to was very honest about the crippling heartbreak that they had felt. But they were able to move forward, and look forward, and really practise resilience constantly. So, whether they’re going through a good patch or a bad patch, these people I meet consciously, constantly practise resilience, and that’s something that I started to do too. What I learned more than anything is that if you can gather these emotional tools, and rituals, and practices that support you, and then rely on them when you’re tested, then you really can overcome even the most unimaginable situations and move through them with hope. I’ve really only learnt that recently – that sometimes, it’s enough to have hope. I have an incredible life coach who I touch base with a lot, and she taught me recently that sometimes, it’s too hard in a situation to move from grief to joy. And a lot of people put pressure on themselves. They think, ‘I’m grieving, I’m grieving, I feel terrible. I want to be joyful.’ And actually, that’s too big a leap to make. If you can go from a place of grief to hope, and then from there, from hope to joy, eventually, then that can be a more realistic step for us to take.

How do you not live in a state of fear that something bad will happen again now?
I now have a husband and two beautiful healthy babies – after everything I’ve been through, I have learned to show up every day and be hopeful that things are going to be good. I think that’s something I learned when I was very young. I remember when we were waiting for my partner’s biopsy to come back, to see if it was cancer or not, and a lot of people, knowing what I’d been through with my father, said, ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, because after everything you went through with your Dad, it’s not possibly going to happen again.’ But the world isn’t like that, you know. Sometimes people are dealt a series of really challenging situations back-to-back with no respite in between. For me, I did in fact go from eight years of cancer treatment with my Dad into another series of cancer treatments with the man who became my husband. I think because of that, when I met – I think it was six or seven years later, when I finally fell in love again with my current husband and the father of my children – it was very tempting to fall down that rabbit hole of fear, and to think, ‘When is this going to go wrong? When is the other shoe going to drop? Because this just seems too good to be true.’ And it’s something I’ve had to really consciously work on, so that I didn’t selfsabotage my own happiness. I think this is something that we all tend to do when we’ve faced fear or heartbreak in the past. It might just be that you’ve been through a break-up, and then you go into a new relationship, and you start to self-sabotage through fear. I have a few tools that I use in specific situations when I start to act from a place of fear instead of love. And that, even in itself, is a mantra that I use literally every day. I say to myself, ‘Help me to act from a place of love, not fear.’ And sometimes, that’s all I need to ground myself, and bring myself back from going into a fear-based mindset. The other tool I use is asking myself the question, ‘What is more likely to be true?’ For instance, I used to have a real fear, if my husband was driving home from work and I was expecting him to call at 5:00 pm, and 5:10 pm came and I hadn’t heard anything, and 5:15 pm came and I still hadn’t heard, and then I tried to call him, and there would be no phone reception and it’d just go straight to voice-mail…in the past, my mind would just go straight to the worst-case scenario, it would be like, ‘He’s gone, there’s been a car crash, it’s over. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I knew it. I knew this was going to happen.’ I’ve honestly had it in the past where, within half an hour, I’ve planned his funeral! I’ve worked through my coping mechanisms, I’ve figured out my next steps. I’ve worked out whether or not to sell the house and move back to England, or stay in Australia. Like, I can take those steps very quickly if I allow myself to. So now, instead, I’ve learned to stop and ask, ‘What is more likely to be true? Is it more likely that this car crash has actually happened?’ That might be likely, we can’t ignore the fact that these things happen – but it’s more likely that he’s stuck in traffic. Or that he hasn’t charged his phone. Or that he’s going through a rubbish area of reception. And I just stop, and take a moment to be still and be calm, and to be logical, rather than acting from a place of fear. And thank goodness, on every occasion like that, half an hour later, I’ve had a phone call from him saying, ‘Sorry, stuck in traffic, no phone reception. I’m on my way home.’ I think that this question ‘What is more likely to be true?’ can apply to a lot of situations. If someone doesn’t reply to an email straight away, or your husband’s in a bad mood because he’s had a bad day at work, and your mind automatically thinks, ‘Uh-oh, I’ve done something wrong, this is the end of our relationship, catastrophise, catastrophise, catastrophise.’ Bring yourself back and ask, what is more likely to be true? You know, the world is a nice place. I called my book that for a reason. Bad things do happen, but the likelihood is that it’s all OK. And even if something bad has happened, it can still be OK on the other side.

What about the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’. Do you believe that?
The phrase ‘everything happens for a reason’ has never really resonated with me. Instead I choose to think ‘you were created to cope with these circumstances’. Some people might think this is the same thing but, to me, it’s very different. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ pins all your hopes on the future – on the magical day when everything will make sense. However, ‘you were created to cope with these circumstances’ keeps me anchored in the now. It reminds me that, even in the middle of a crisis, I will only ever be pushed to my edge and no further. I can feel proud of myself in that moment, instead of having to wait until the future to understand how it’s made me stronger. I also believe we all signed a contract before entering this life – to be a partner, carer, mother, teacher, storyteller, creative or whatever other role we are drawn to. I believe that, before our energy chose our body, we committed to a life purpose and to a contract embracing it. This belief has helped me to face and accept every struggle in my life, without feeling like a victim or wondering why it is happening to me. I chose this life path. I signed my soul contract. This is why I’m here.

Worrying is something all parents do! How have you applied your experiences to your parenting?
I think resilience is something, as mothers and as parents, that we need more than ever on a daily, minute-per-minute basis. I think there’s this misconception about resilience – people seem to think it’s about being strong and pushing through. That is true in some situations, but what I’ve learned, particularly as a mother, is that resilience is about softening. In the past, in my twenties and early thirties, I thought I was coping by not needing anyone and being independent, and pushing through every situation that I encountered. I was really fighting for my life every day, I thought I needed to be a warrior. That approach doesn’t gel with motherhood – well, not for me, anyway. I found it too opposing for me to be a nurturing, loving mother who is also fighting and battling, and pushing through every challenge that comes at me. That’s what I tried to do initially when I had a baby. I worked all the way through my pregnancy, I went straight back to work very quickly with a newborn. I pushed through every day, ticking everything on my to-do list. So, for the last six months, I have had the word ‘soften’ written on a piece of paper and stuck above my desk. It reminds me that my new form of resilience is softening into the situation that I’m in. Which again, comes back to acting from a place of love, and not fear. That involves asking for help, and expecting to receive help. Being still when I want to run away. Slowing down when I feel like I need to speed up. Resilience now has taken on a new form of selflove and self-care, for me to be able to be a good partner, and be a good mother, and be a good writer, and in every area of my life. Another really powerful exercise which I share in the book and use almost daily is: ‘What do I need to do to feel good right now?’ And you literally ask yourself that on a daily, minute-perminute, hour-per-hour basis. ‘What do I need to do to feel good right now?’ It’s an amazing tool because it moves you into the present moment, but it also gives you permission to really honour the answer. It’s sometimes just too hard to project your coping mechanisms for the future. I learned that through the years of grief and supporting my Dad and then my husband. You can’t predict what you might need, and what might work. Instead, I’ll wait until I wake up on that day, and that’s when I’ll think, ‘What do I need to do to feel good today? What do I need to do to feel supported? What do I need to do to feel peaceful?’ And then I’ll honour that. So, it might be that this morning I went to the gym at 5:00 am to fit in a hard gym session, because that’s what I felt I needed to. Other days, it might be sitting on our balcony and watching the sun rise, or Skyping my mum in England to have a conversation with her. It’s then that you’re being really honest about what you need, and honouring yourself in the present moment.