So this summer we hit a rough patch. A rough patch that saw my kid struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, that saw her lovely spark go out. I knew the day would come eventually, I had always known it was around the corner but perhaps naively I thought that corner was a little further down the line.
During one of the panic attacks she was struggling with her breathing and was crying at me that she was going to die. I was trying to calm her down but she was inconsolable. I told her she was not going to die and she responded:
“you don’t know that everyone in our family dies young.”
And right there it had come.
It is a question people often ask me “how does she cope/deal/manage with her Dad not being here, with never having met him?” I always responded that she didn’t cope/deal/manage because it simply didn’t affect her, she was a happy kid, she was loved and had lots of people around her – she had never known him and so you can’t miss what you haven’t had, or something along those lines. But this summer it did start affecting her, she was beginning to process what it meant for her.
Watching your kid struggle is hard, whatever it is they are struggling with, but when it is your biggest struggle too – it took me out, it knocked me flat and took me low, my long time wrestles and struggles came to pay another visit. It took me back to those hard places, like it was only yesterday.
Then one morning on my drive to work I was listening to a Sheryl Sandberg podcast – she is an amazing lady and for me she is up there with Brene! Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and two years ago she lost her husband suddenly leaving her a single mum to two small children. I cried as she cried for all she had lost, all we had lost and the pain it had brought. But she ended that podcast talking about joy and how struggle, loss, disappointment should always be a catalyst to learn and appreciate joy more. It hit me again that I had a choice in this.
Only a few weeks earlier I had found myself one Saturday evening in St Pancras with some time to kill before my train and as anyone who knows St Pancras will tell you it is probably the best station to have time to kill because the shops are pretty special. I had walked into an overpriced stationary shop coming out £30 lighter in the purse. One of my purchases was a small, thick, pale blue note pad with the numbers “365” on the front in gold and on each page a number from 1 to 365. I had no purposes for buying it except that I thought it was pretty – I wasn’t really sure what I was going to use it for.
Fast forward a few weeks to that morning in the car listening to that podcast and that book came to mind and I knew exactly what I was going to use it for. And so was born our “Book of Joy” and so a new ritual was started. Each night at bedtime we sit together and talk about our days and the things that we have been grateful for in that day, the things and people who have bought us joy, that have made us laugh. We have to include at least 3 things each, but some days it is more. Those things range from ice cream, to a conversation that touches our heart, to a situation that turned around, to answered prayers for people we care about, to Netflix.
On that podcast Sheryl talked about how joy is a discipline. I guess sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed by the stuff that is hard, to allow that to take hold and that is ok, its ok to struggle and to voice that but for me in those hard moments of this summer, watching my child in pain I needed to hear that I needed to bring joy into the situation, that I needed to be intentional in doing that.
And you know we are 5 weeks into our Book of Joy and it has been such a positive exercise. In those moments where the struggle was looming we would say to each other “Joy” and there and then we would talk about the things we were grateful for in those moments and so shifting the focus from dark to light.
For me personally it has helped me recognise throughout the day things I am thankful for, something will happen and I will think “that will make the Book of Joy today.” I have been surprised at recognising how it is the small things that lift my soul, the simple things, and for me it has been nature – it has been my amazing beautiful journey to and from work, my beautiful passion fruit plant and its flowers, the clouds in the sky. It is those moments that bring me peace, that have helped me start to settle the wrestles in my heart.
For my kid well the spark is back, the panic attacks have lessoned, I am not sure we are out of the woods totally, and the processing will maybe continue for a lifetime but I am convinced that our little book has helped.
Sheryl Sandberg talks about second derivatives, so if you get angry you get angry that you got angry and so the anger becomes anger becomes anger. Likewise with joy – learning to find joy and gratitude in the small things of life multiplies the positives because joy becomes joy becomes joy – I love that! I love that so much! It is such a life-giving concept.
For us that Book of Joy is here to stay, because I know the negatives, the hard stuff of life is part of the deal but I don’t want it to take me out, I don’t want it to take my child out – I want us to be people marked by love and by gratitude because the more we go along with this new discipline the more I see the fruit of gratitude, the challenge it brings to bad attitudes, to self-focus – it has helped me see again how small I am, it has humbled me because yes I hate that my child was ever put in this place but the minute I start to think not about what we don’t have but rather all that we do have (which is an amazing amount of amazing things) the battle, the ego, the “poor me” mind-set gets kicked back down.
And something tells me learning to walk more and more in the ways of thankfulness and gratitude still have an awful lot left to teach me!