This isn’t a Pollyanna special and I have no intention of getting #soblessed whilst talking about topics that are typically A Bad Thing. No-one enjoys depression or burnout. It’s not a happy happy fun time with the Scooby Gang. So why am I grateful?
The first reason is simple science. Gratitude is scientifically proven to link to increased happiness. Sounds simple, right? Getting fully into gratitude is about more than paying lip-service to the concept and requires you to truly feel the emotion. Remember the last time someone brought you a coffee completely unexpected or told you how lovely you were? That feeling of warmth is a complex neurochemical and hormone response. You’re welcome.
The second reason is neuroplasticity. Neuro-huh? For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the brain (shout out to all my former Court of Protection colleagues who are way ahead of me here), neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and adapt throughout our lives. If you have ever learned a musical instrument, to ride a bicycle or to speak a foreign language then you have experienced neuroplasticity at play. The first time you try to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the recorder your fingers are clumsy, your timing off and you can’t remember which fingers go where. You keep trying and over time it gets quicker and easier. Fast forward five years and you can pick that sucker up and play it whilst still mentally composing a shopping list in your head. Why? Neuroplasticity.
Your brain is like an information superhighway and it loves being as efficient as possible, so as you learn a new skill it creates new, superfast pathways to transmit the information. That is your brain (neuro) adapting and growing (plasticity).
What does this have to do with gratitude? Well, when you practise gratitude, you’re creating new neural pathways, accessing stored memories, using critical thinking. The newly created pathway involved a good memory or positive thinking pathway. As you practice gratitude that pathway deepens and widens (metaphorically speaking at least!) to become a well maintained four lane motorway. It becomes easier and easier to travel along that path and to experience the thoughts and feeling associated with it. For that reason, the more you practice gratitude and impact your happiness, the easier it becomes to experience gratitude and happiness.
Finally, the reason why I’m sitting here listing out reasons to be grateful for experiences that can somewhat suck is simply, I choose to believe that everything works out in my favour. I choose to belief that every rain cloud has some kind of silver lining for me. I choose to believe that the experiences I have encountered in my life have, in some way, shaped me into a better, kinder or more understanding person.
I know from experience that, for example, having a dysfunctional home life made me a better contentious probate lawyer. I was not the person who would sit there wide-eyed whilst clients talked about their awful family dynamics or how their family member had put cow manure over their car or even about the deep and dark abuse topics. They weren’t shocking to me because, well, my own family history isn’t exactly The Waltons and so I understood that appearances can be deceiving. I also knew, deep down to my bones, that even with the most dark and dysfunctional family background, even with truly awful stories and experiences, it did not define my clients. They were not to be pitied or looked down upon. It didn’t change the way I spoke to anyone. (It also didn’t get them preferential treatment which sometimes came as a shock!).
I choose to believe that we are more than the labels applied to us. I am more than a former-lawyer, more than my depression and anxiety, I am more than the product of a so-called broken home or any of the other myriad (and trust me, there are many) labels that have been applied to me along the way.
That doesn’t mean that it is always easy. I’ve shared my experiences of being told I was ‘crossing socio-economic boundaries’ to aim as high as I did in my career, I’ve been challenged as to why I thought my father dying was a good enough excuse to sit a postgraduate degree exam. I have been told never to admit to depression or anxiety or to allow those diagnoses on my medical records for fear I would never work again in law.
Some of those things hurt. Many of them stick. Like rocks in a backpack, weighing us down as we try to progress along our path.
The act of gratitude helps us to remove some of those rocks from the backpack and set them down, to lighten the load in the knowledge and belief that we no longer need those stories, those outcomes, those opinions from other people or those worries and fears, in order to be safe and whole and good.
So here goes my list
1 – my experiences have helped me to be more empathetic and to read people very quickly.
2 – they have allowed me to develop a wider vocabulary and communication abilities in order to compensate for the feeling of disconnect (ever felt like I read your mind in a blogpost? This is why.)
3 – I am more creative around health and wellbeing as a result of my own experiences.
4 – I am also far less dogmatic. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean it will work for everybody, but when it doesn’t see 3 above and apply it to my clients instead.
5 – I have a whole business created out of thin air and burnout experience. I’m basically a witch.
6 – I know that it made me a better lawyer because I had experienced similar emotions and struggles to those my clients and their families were going through.
7 – I kind of like that I’m not 100% normal all the time. It makes my life more interesting as much as it makes it challenging.
8 – There is an amazing community in the online space centred around burnout, around depression and around speaking the truth even when we feel rubbed all over with sandpaper, doused in salt and lime juice and someone forgot to give us the tequila
9 – By experiencing burnout and depression and then talking about it, it has made me braver. I remember doing my first livestream two years ago when I talked about my experiences with panic attacks and taking antidepressants as I qualified as a solicitor (should have been the high point of my life, right?) and feeling so scared but so damned relieved all at once.
10 – I live in 2019 when we, finally, thank fuck, are talking about these issues. And I love that I get to observe, be involved, be a spokesperson or switch the internet off and lie on the floor with my dog depending on how I feel.
11 - Damn this is getting a big challenging now. Time for a little side-note about gratitude. It’s like working a muscle – you must keep going until the fatigue point. Go beyond your comfort zone. And thanks to my experiences I know this. Point to me!
12 – Every time I experience a flare up I get to dive deeper into my toolkit and try on new tools and techniques. It’s like continuing professional development mixed with dress up for grown-ups.
13 – I don’t think I would even have experienced my legal career had it not been for depression, as I experienced it from a very young age. I can’t not be grateful for that.
14 – I have met such amazing community members, clients and colleagues as a result of my experiences and talking about them. I couldn’t imagine my life without any of you.
15 – It makes me work harder, even the burnout. Because I know what it’s like to feel out of control, when I suffer a setback, I end up coming back stronger, feeling inspired and motivated. Can’t see the light without the shadows after all.
16 – I am so grateful for the support network I have and the people who reach out to me when I admit I’m struggling. I don’t know if I would ever do that without burnout and depression (and you really, really should reach out and tell people even if you’re just having a wobbly couple of days).
17 – It’s never been about the labels. I’m grateful that, as a result of my experiences, I have enough knowledge about the brain, emotions, stress and so on that I don’t feel defined by a single label. I am not depression. It is not me. It is simply something that has happened and sometimes still does happen to me.
18 – I don’t think I would be nearly as diligent about research if I hadn’t had these experiences. A win for knowledge!
19 – These experiences have also grounded me in the responsibility that comes with talking, sharing, guiding, mentoring and training through these experiences. I’m not someone who sits back and says other people are triggered or not my responsibility or walks away. I clearly see the impact we have on each other and the responsibility that comes with a platform, because we are not all the same and we don’t all perceive things the same way. That’s why I try to be patient and kind and engage with people when they react (even when it then goes horribly sideways as it did a few months back).
20 Ok this really is getting tough now. I’m grateful that I know what depression and burnout are, because if I didn’t, I would probably think I was a total mess.
21 I’m grateful for my experiences and understanding of burnout and depression because without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, with the knowledge and understanding I have and the ability to help mentor, train and support others. I don’t know what I would have been like without the darker, more difficult times in my life, but I know I’m happier and healthier now, today, even with a few clouds lingering, than I was 5 or 10 years ago. How many people can say that?
PS We are now in the final few days for you to get your ticket to October’s Serenity Social live workshop in central Birmingham. The focus of this workshop is happiness and resilience - we will be talking about how the two are linked, how one increases the other, why you need both and we will be going over practical tools and techniques that you can implement every day.
This is training, but not the usual bland, shove as many in a room as possible and serve them over-roasted coffee event.
We will be in a private room at a gorgeous location a 3 minute walk from Birmingham New Street station. All food and drink is included - once we have all our super early bird members locked in I will be sharing the location details and menu, we will decide whether to order lunch off the menu or a beautiful full afternoon tea (the mainstay of my events so far!).
We start as midday on the Sunday and finish at 5, so you can nip in and out of Birmingham on the train without needing to book a day off work or make up time.
The event is limited to a maximum of 15 attendees so I have time to speak directly with everyone attending and give you all each plenty of support.
Book your early bird ticket and save 50% - but prices rise on 1st September.