Paige Winter, the phenomenally upbeat 17-year-old girl who recently survived losing a leg and 2 fingers in a brutal shark attack was interviewed by journalist Robin Roberts. She portrayed the most positive outlook on life that have ever heard coming from any 17-year-old girl; even those who are in the most positive of circumstances in life. Despite not being in the most positive circumstances, this young girl (I should say “woman”) is hopelessly happy. She is radiantly looking forward to all the things she can do with her life (which even includes shark conservation). Talk about resilience! This young woman takes resilience and coping with significant loss to a whole new level! Since I have grown accustomed to being around the types of people who have good health, comfortable wealth, and a beautiful home who get seriously stressed out because their spouse insisted on the trip to Maui instead of Bora Bora, I was truly amazed by Paige Winter.

After the journalist’s interview there was some discussion on the news program of this young woman’s attitude after surviving a shark attack, and losing a leg and 2 fingers. I believe it was Robin Roberts who said that Paige is not really a survivor, but is instead a “Thriver.” Of course, everyone (I’m sure including Paige) agreed.

That turn of the term that we so often use to describe ourselves as “survivors” of severe chronic illness really grabbed me. It suddenly gave me a whole new perspective on myself and of life in general. 

I have always felt that the term “survivor” was just wrong for me, despite the fact that I did survive many life-threatening conditions even after medical professionals were no longer even trying to save my life. Survivor sounded weak to me. Like I was saying, “Well, at least I’m still hanging on to life somehow.” Which paints a picture of a person who is beat down and bedraggled but managing to still schlep through life.

The term “Thriver” when applied to myself felt really right. Like Thriver really fits who I perceive myself to be, and how I see life. It felt very empowering. I do indeed see myself thriving in life, and know that there are no limits on what is possible for me; even though I am certainly not one of those people who puts any pressure on myself to always be “more.” (More on that some other time.) I see myself as thriving in my current state of being and achievement. From now on I am referring to myself as a Thriver (at least to myself).

I urge any of you who are surviving a chronic illness, or any other significant challenge in your life, to try thinking of yourself as a Thriver. See how your perspective on yourself and your life changes.

                                                         Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.         June 20, 2019

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