IN THE past two weeks I’ve learnt a lot about gratitude.
It has been well documented that my husband was stretchered off a rugby field while I watched from a box just 20m away. Luckily, although the image of Sam in a neck brace will stay with me, he is OK. And for this, I will be forever grateful.
But that moment wasn’t where my road to expressing gratitude began.
About a week before our Sunday ambulance trip from the Sydney Cricket Ground to St Vincent’s Emergency, I had embarked upon a unique personal project. Inspired by an NRL initiative, for 21 days I resolved to write down three things I was grateful for each day.
Why? In simple terms, I was inspired to get happier.
On what turned out to be day one of the project I was dragged along to a Rabbitohs team presentation under false promises of “It’ll be quick” and “there’s free food.” I was, along with all the other unknowing partners, expecting another inspirational “footy memoir” to inspire and rally the boys around a common goal: winning (think:Remember The Titans meets 300: intense).
Instead, after giving Sam a few filthy looks over my missed My Kitchen Rulesepisodes, two minutes into Hugh van Cuyclenburg’s Resilience Project talk I was completely engaged. And I was being schooled on a topic most of us tend to shelve.
One in four adults have a mental illness.
In a room of 30 men, plus at least 15 partners and maybe 12 staff, around 14 of us will suffer from a mental condition. From anxiety to depression, anorexia nervosa to bipolar. It’s as possible as pulling a muscle. This statistic not only surprised me, it scared me.
The presentation was aimed primarily at a group of men whose profession leads them to go through extreme highs and lows on a weekly basis.
Sport is ups and downs, yes. But more importantly, life is ups and downs.
As I sat there surrounded by talented, gifted athletes listening to anecdotes of schoolchildren in India finding joy in the simplest of things like; shelter and toys made out of discarded wire, I thought about how often I am pissed off in traffic. I reflected on my eye rolls at phone bills. I was embarrassed that I get cranky when my email downloads take too long or that I complained when my mother called at the worst times.
I wondered what my mindset would be in the face of true adversity … What would yours be?
The Resilience Project encourages you to write down small, abstract things you’re grateful for that featured heavily in your mood on a particular day. This is opposed to the big three (i.e. the givens); husband/wife, family and friends. The majority of us would write these everyday. So, before I share my gratitude lists I’ll preface them by saying I am grateful for; my amazing husband, loving family and beautiful friends. Tick.
As a novice when it comes to controlling my often spiralling brain, simply setting the challenge opened my eyes to the smallest moments in my day. Moments which inadvertently triggered a smile or pulled me out of a mental funk. Moments like; meeting a deadline, scoring a park the day before Easter or even a KIDS FM In Da Club throwback.
On Day three, I was having my fifth set of cortisone injections in my struggling back. Instead of succumbing to the irritation of being a chronic pain sufferer I wrote my gratitude list in the waiting room.
I am grateful for my doctor who doubles as my therapist.
I am grateful my parents forced me into paying for private health care when I was younger because health is expensive. On that note I am grateful for our access to healthcare.
I am grateful that my condition is manageable.
(PS. am also grateful for trashy magazines in the waiting room.)
On days four and five I became more creative and started being grateful for the Sydney sunshine after three days of rain, for pre-packaged chicken from About Life cafe that I tell Sam I’ve marinated all day. I was grateful for creativity, debate and opinions which challenge my own (note: that was on a day I lost a heated argument).
My grateful project has now become as much a part of my daily routine as my full-fat-weak-cappuccino. In the same way I use pilates techniques to train my core for physical strength, exercising my brain to channel positivity will, in time, lead to or maintain good mental health.
It’s a given there will be off days. Human moments. And PMS. But I now place value on being mentally healthy and can successfully identify a negative thought instead of letting it dominate my mood.
Gratitude is just the first step in the project, there is still Mindfulness and Empathy to conquer in the list of techniques for coping with the peaks and troughs of everyday life.
On day six of The Project, I experienced a true trough. As my world lay on a hospital bed surrounded by ER doctors and his family, I thought how lucky we were his eyes were open and his legs were moving.
In six days, I changed my perspective.