Catalyst Magazine

5 Questions with … Dr. Michelle Pearce, Author of ‘Night Bloomers’

Dr. Michelle Pearce
Michelle Pearce

What if there are people who, just like some flowers, require the dark to bloom? This question is at the heart of clinical psychologist Michelle Pearce’s new book Night Bloomers: 12 Principles for Thriving in Adversity, which provides practical tools and wisdom for transforming and thriving in adversity and loss.

Pearce, PhD, professor, University of Maryland Graduate School, writes that when we are plunged into the dark and difficult times in life, one of three things can happen next: The darkness can destroy us; it can leave us relatively unchanged; or it can help to transform us.

Pearce shares her clinical expertise, her own journey through the dark, and inspiring stories of other Night Bloomers to help individuals learn how to heal and transform their lives not in spite of their difficult times, but because of them.

CATALYST magazine asked Pearce to discuss her book as well as the feelings Americans might be experiencing about the pandemic, racial injustice, and the election.

Where did the inspiration for Night Bloomers come from?

Although I wear many professional hats — clinical psychologist, professor, researcher, health coach, author — my greatest personal growth has always come from spending a season in the darkness of pain, loss, and suffering. Who I’ve become and what I’ve learned through my own blooming processes is perhaps as important as my professional training and experience. My own dark times have given me a real passion to share this night blooming perspective with others who are facing times of adversity.

Essentially, I wrote the book I wish I had when I was going through dark times in my life. I wanted to offer readers the same process and tools I used, as have many of my psychotherapy clients, to help them experience wholeness and restoration, regardless of the type of loss or suffering they may be enduring.

I think there are a lot of us out there who can relate to this dark path to personal growth. I wrote Night Bloomers: 12 Principles for Thriving in Adversity to provide my fellow Night Bloomers with hope — hope that their heart-wrenching, faith-shaking adversity may provide the fertile covering of darkness that can produce beauty not possible in the light.

How did you learn you were a Night Bloomer?

Book cover: Night Bloomers: 12 Principles for Thriving in Adversity, by Michelle Pearce, PhD
Night Bloomers: 12 Principles for Thriving in Adversity, by Michelle Pearce, PhD

It turns out that I’ve been a Night Bloomer my whole life, but I didn’t have a name for it until 2013 when I was going through the end of my marriage. I was in clinic seeing clients one day, not long after my husband said he was leaving, when I received a text message from a friend. It was a picture of a vibrant pink flower with a message that read, “Night blooming cactus. I’ve cared for this cactus for years and it finally bloomed last night.” 

Those two sentences and that pink flower changed everything. My first thought: There are flowers that bloom in the dark? My second thought: That means there are flowers that require the dark to bloom. My third thought: There are people who need the dark to bloom, too, and I’m one of them. I’m a Night Bloomer.

I think there are a lot of us Night Bloomers out there — people who need trials and suffering and loss and life upheavals to experience growth and transformation, to come into the fullness of their beings and life purpose. And I’ve noticed that something interesting happens when we adopt the perspective of a Night Bloomer: We go from feeling fear and despair to feeling a sense of hope and becoming an active participant in our healing and growth.

What is the one thing you’d like readers to take away from the book?

I hope readers walk away with a different, more hopeful way of looking at pain and suffering — as an opportunity to bloom in the dark. And, when they find themselves in the dark, I hope they choose to be Night Bloomers and put into practice the principles that will help them to bloom in the dark.

Despite the adage that “time heals all wounds,” recent research shows that the real healer is “finding meaning.” The goal of Night Bloomers is to help readers make meaning out of their suffering, so that the darkness in which they find themselves can become a fruitful time of healing and personal growth. This new perspective doesn’t make what happened to bring about the pain and suffering good or right, but it does give it meaning and allows us to use our difficult experiences for our highest good rather than to be destroyed by them.

In essence, I hope readers use this night blooming perspective and empirically based tools to become active participants in their own growth and transformation. Or, in the words of Dr. Tim Keller, to not “waste their sorrows.”

How is the book’s message relevant to the current situation in the country, regarding the stress people feel about the pandemic, racial injustice, and political divisiveness?

I’m still amazed at the timing of this book. I had the idea for it seven years ago, but now I understand why it needed to be published in 2020. This has been a very dark year for many of us. I think the challenges we have faced this year have revealed to us that we have real work to do, not just in the government, but most importantly as the people of this country. I am hopeful that this period of darkness in our nation’s history will help to develop the characteristics we need to become the people we can and should be.

Blooming in the dark doesn’t happen automatically. The darkness is an opportunity to transform, not a guarantee. This is our opportunity to bloom in the dark — as individuals and as a nation. I hope we will put in the intentional and conscious work to become a nation of Night Bloomers. Because we have a unique opportunity right now that, if harnessed skillfully, can propel our lives and our country forward in ways that would not be possible if the darkness had never happened.

Let me leave the readers with a few questions that they can ask to set themselves up to bloom in the dark: Who do I want to be during this time? How do I want to show up in my life? Who do I want to become once we’re on the other side of this? Then, we need to act in purposeful ways to become that person. I hope the book helps people on this transformative journey.

What advice do you give people struggling with depression or other mental health issues caused by the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic?

First, I would say that feeling this way is normal. We aren’t meant to live like this. Struggling with depression, loneliness, and anxiety is a normal response to a prolonged period of stress and uncertainty. Next, I encourage people not to try to get through this time alone. We all need to be reaching out for support. That includes reaching out to family, friends, colleagues, support groups, clergy, and mental health professionals. Almost all therapists are offering therapy online now, so there is a safe and convenient way to get professional help.

I also encourage people to actively cultivate joy. Taking an active stance toward creating moments of uplift and joy each day can make a real difference. This might mean FaceTiming with a family member, watching something that makes you laugh, going for a walk during the middle of the day, jumping in the fall leaves, or baking your favorite dessert. We are more likely to experience joy if we are intentional about creating it.

We also need to prioritize self-care. I use the analogy of a cup. We can’t pour out into others’ lives unless our cup is full. Take time to fill your cup each day. This includes doing the “regular” things in life, like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and engaging in hobbies, rather than falling into the trap of endlessly checking the news and watching TV. Self-care also means being kind to ourselves, resting when we need to, reaching out to others, nourishing our spirits, asking for help, and feeding our hope.

You can contact Michelle Pearce via email at michelle.pearce@umaryland.edu, visit her webpage at www.DrMichellePearce.com, or follow her on Instagram @bloomwithdrmichelle.

Pearce also appeared recently on the CXMH Podcast episode “Thriving in Adversity: Blooming in the Dark” and The Marriage Life Coach Podcast with Maggie Reyes on the episode “How to be Married to Someone with a Mental Health Issue.” You also can learn more about her book on YouTube: Night Bloomers: 12 Principles for Thriving in Adversity with Dr. Michelle Pearce.

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