Rising Through Resilience: Dr Rikki Turner On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Affirmations and manifestations are POWERFUL. I have been known to write on my bathroom mirrors with a dry erase marker things like, “I am fierce. I am an internationally recognized Ted Talk speaker. I am intelligent and beautiful. I am kind, strong, and needed” Whatever you most seek to hear from others, say it to yourself! Often!
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rikki Turner.
Rikki Turner is a youth and young adult suicide intervention expert. She spent over 10 years in higher education administration, working directly with college students who lived on campus. Rikki has had to use resilience in her own life from a young age and inspires others to intervene with mental health issues because resilience takes a village.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Absolutely. When people see where I am in life now, they would never have guessed where I came from. I’m from a VERY small town and grew up poor. At the age of 11, I was sexually abused by a neighbor and then again at 13 by an uncle. Mixing this in with the emotional/verbal abuse from an alcoholic stepfather, there was a lot of trauma in my adolescent years. My greatest dream was to not get pregnant in high school and to become a clerk at a gas station (which there is no shame in, I just literally couldn’t see any other options). However, I’ve always been described as “resilient” and no matter what happened to kick me down, I found my way back up. When I got to college on a scholarship, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity to change my family tree. I continued on to get my Master’s degree and started my first professional job at a university working with college students who lived on campus. I was able to rise through the ranks quickly and always had a way with connecting to college students during their lowest times. I became known as the lady to call when someone was suicidal or struggling. I quickly realized this was my calling. I dedicated my dissertation research to helping students who were suicidal, and the findings were so interesting, I decided to branch out on my own and make it my life’s work.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Yes! This is the story that changed my career! I served on the behavior intervention team (a group of staff members who handle ‘students of concern’ reports and try to intervene to help them stay in school). One semester we had a dramatic increase in the number of suicidal ideations, attempts, and completions. This was way more than what we had experienced before by A LOT. We were all baffled and had no idea what was going on. As we investigated and handled the situations, when we talked to the faculty members’ of these students, overwhelmingly they all noticed the warning signs but didn’t report it! I was indignant! Why on earth would they not say anything!? That was a very judgmental stance on my part and thinking that faculty members didn’t want to help students didn’t set well with me. There had to be another reason! And that is how I came up with my dissertation topic. I took a question/situation that broke my heart and set out to find out why that was the case. The answer revolved around fear and ignorance. Fear of doing something wrong, fear of making a situation worse, fear of doing something illegal, fear of looking stupid, fear of being wrong. Ignorance of what they could and could not do. I also found that if faculty felt they knew how to express care to a student that they would! The answer was simply to empower them to express care for the student! Now that I could do.
The lesson I learned from this situation is THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO THE STORY! Things are almost never what they seem. And if something doesn’t add up, it is time to find out why. Sitting idly by and just accepting things as surface value are literally costing lives and people’s happiness. We have one life to live, and it is on us to be the change we want to see with what little time we have here.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most suicide intervention/prevention initiatives focus on knowing the warning signs and referring the person to emergency services immediately. And while these are great and proven tools, there are many other factors to consider that prevent someone from being able to get the emergency help they need. Suicide hotline numbers go unanswered or are so backed up there are sometimes HOURS of wait time. Emergency rooms sometimes triage and let them loose determining they are not a threat to themselves or others, yet the experience can leave the suicidal person traumatized and vulnerable. I’ve known so many people who got the help they needed through this process, so I don’t want to diminish it at all. I also know many that can’t get through the system, are left on a waiting list, or do not remotely have the financial means to go through this process. Yet someone else intervening for them, whether that be reaching out at the right moment, showing up for them, or what have you, has saved their life. My company is focused on demystifying intervention; making it accessible and practical for anyone to intervene and hopefully, addressing intervention for those who simply cannot be helped by the current standard operating procedures.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My dad. I resisted his help for so long when I was in a bad situation in my youth. I had already been abused by a neighbor and after my parent’s divorce, I went to live with my mom. She married a man who was abusive and alcoholic. I stayed for so long to protect my mom and keep an eye on her, but I was so miserable. The atmosphere was volatile and demeaning. Then, my step-uncle began giving me and a few others alcohol and then drugs (grooming behavior). He then, of course, began abusing us. I was so ashamed that this had happened now twice before I was 13 years old. I saw my life playing out before me and it wasn’t a good outlook. After a particularly bad day, in tears, I called my dad to see if he would come get me and let me live with him. He didn’t ask any questions. He just came, got me, and supported me every step of the way out. I started a new school and charted a new path for my life all because he was there for me. He allowed me to make mistakes and he loved me through it, offering me a hand to help me out of the mess.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I think resilience is best defined by a quote from Maya Angelou, “You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” In fact, I have “still I rise” tattooed on my ankle as a reminder to always get back up. Resilient people are stubborn, passionate, and have bravery they never knew existed until they have no other choice. I refuse to accept circumstances of my life as permanent fixtures. When life gets overwhelming, and sometimes it is cripplingly so, I will pause (which sometimes literally means lying down in the floor) and reassure myself that “this too shall pass.” It has never failed me to be true.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience? To have courage, you do not need to have resilience. But to be resilient, you must always have courage. I can be courageous and punch Mike Tyson in the face, but that doesn’t mean I’m resilient (it mostly just means I’m stupid). However, if life keeps pummeling me with lemon after lemon, it takes courage to respond with, “You know what? I was just thinking I was thirsty… now I’m gonna make some bussin’ lemonade with these yellow pucker bombs.”
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
MY MOM! Omg. Teen mother, father died of leukemia when she was in her twenties, children went through abuse at the hands of a trusted neighbor, she married a man who turned out to be abusive and alcoholic, he threatened to kill her multiple times and put her through hell for years, her children were abused again by her new husband’s family, she finally gets out of that marriage (hello resilience!), then she is diagnosed with leukemia. She beat it. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She beat it. And then her leukemia came back. She beat it again. She is the definition of resilience and is tough as nails.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Ha! Which time? I’ve been told I’m white trash and that would never amount to anything. I have been told I couldn’t get my Master’s degree or a Doctoral degree. I did both before the age of 40 and without an ounce of debt. I was told I couldn’t make it in my career (and when I did it was because I must have slept my way to the top). Growing up with terrible asthma and then being diagnosed with a heart problem, I was told I could never run a mile. I have run a half-marathon and completed multiple century bike rides. I’m not one to be underestimated LOL.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
When I was trying to complete my doctoral degree, it was a comedy of errors with things that could go wrong in life to deter me (and most people who start a doctoral program do not finish, without all the life events that are thrown your way). I had a major career change. Then I had a heart issue from my youth reappear, necessitating heart surgery (unexpected). Then, you know, there was a pandemic that delayed everything! It got to the point it was funny. I literally laughed. But I was too stubborn to quit. After every setback, I just picked it up again and kept moving forward. Even today it doesn’t seem real that I completed the process and have my doctorate. It is like I just ran out of steps to complete!
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I’ve never allowed life’s trials and tribulations to define me. When people say, “those events made you stronger.” No, they did not. I was strong, so I made it through those events. Bad things do not get to define me. People who insist on causing harm to others do not get credit for my life turning out great. I do. I worked hard for this outcome. The experiences I have detailed already are a prime example of not letting those things define me.
I remember being on the witness stand at 12 years old, testifying against my neighbor — the pedophile, who was sat directly across from me, staring a hole through me the entire time. The prosecuting attorney was vicious, painting me and my sister as trouble making temptresses. She tried to corner me into admitting that I didn’t see what I saw, and I didn’t experience what I experienced. In a room full of enemies, strangers, family, school teachers and officials, and family friends, I had to recount in excruciating detail my experience. I was sobbing so hard I could barely speak and considered not participating further, but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. I knew if I didn’t power through it, he wouldn’t be held accountable, and others may suffer at his hand. So, through the tears, embarrassment, and character assassination, I trudged through knowing it would end eventually, and he was found guilty.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Practice gratitude daily. Even when at rock bottom, take a moment at the beginning of each day or whenever you catch yourself in a depressive state, name 5 things for which you are grateful. This shifts your focus and brings things that make you happy to the forefront of your mind. Think about how these things make you feel and keep your focus on them. Even today I struggle with bouts of depression and PTSD. I have a beautiful friend who will text me, “what are your five things?” when she knows I’m down. It is just what I need to lift my spirits and refocus out of the pity party and into positivity. Try to start and end the day with gratitude.
- Words have power, especially the ones we say to ourselves. Give that mean inner voice of yours a name. Not just any name, and definitely not your own name. Give it a name of someone you would never respect. Let’s say you picked Karen (sorry Karen’s of the world, blame pop culture, not me). When you start ragging on yourself, saying things like “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m so fat,” or “I can’t do this,” flip that and say, “Karen, do not talk to me like that. Karen, I’m not here for your BS today. Karen, knock it off before I punch you in the snot box.” Again, this is a tactic that puts a comedic spin on things and reframes your mindset. Sometimes I use this tactic and take it as a challenge to come up with ridiculous things to threaten her with, which always ends in me laughing.
- Implement a code word to use with someone that makes it easier to ask for help. It takes a lot of courage, humility, and vulnerability to reach out to someone to let them know you are overwhelmed, depressed, or need help. But it is way easier to text a friend “rainbow flaps” and they know that means they need to come over with a bottle of wine and a funny movie (purely an example, not at all rooted in reality). Maybe your code words means you need to go on a walk, or an uninterrupted nap, or just someone to listen for a bit while you vent.
- Self-care is paramount. Every day there needs to be at least one thing you do that feeds your soul. Is that a walk-in nature? Is that journaling? Is that spending time with your plants? Whatever it is, make time for it every day. We hear all the time “you can’t pour from an empty pitcher,” but it is so true! Mine changes every day, but my go-to activities are: full face of makeup and hair done (even when I won’t see anyone), creating suicide intervention content on TikTok, solo dance party to music that would get me banned from the PTO, or listening to a podcast while going on a walk.
- Affirmations and manifestations are POWERFUL. I have been known to write on my bathroom mirrors with a dry erase marker things like, “I am fierce. I am an internationally recognized Ted Talk speaker. I am intelligent and beautiful. I am kind, strong, and needed” Whatever you most seek to hear from others, say it to yourself! Often!
- BONUS: Get a therapist. Just do it. You can do it through your phone for affordable rates now. I resisted for YEARS and finally got one in the last year. It is a game changer and I wish I would have started sooner!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
OMG. Tell everyone you love that you love them. All the time. Make it weird. It starts out a little bit awkward (think the ending hug in Stepbrothers) but then it becomes second nature. You never know the last time you will see someone so always leave it with an “I love you.” I tell my friends and my family all the time. I tell strangers on the internet who comment on my videos. And I mean it. Love people! It is literally lifesaving and life affirming. There is no downside.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Whitney Cummings. She fierce, hilarious, and embodies the meaning of resilience. Her vulnerability with codependency changed my life (turns out trauma and codependency go hand in hand). She is such an inspiration to me and I’d be honored to make her laugh over breakfast ☺
How can our readers further follow your work online? My web address is www.stillyourise.com and my social handles on all the major outlets is @stillyouriseinc. My goal is to empower as many people as possible to intervene with suicidal individuals. Let’s spread love and laugh while doing it!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!