Tuesday 28 June 2016

The Resilience Project: Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness

My smile hides a lot. It hides my fear, my sadness, my loneliness and my anxiety. It hides the fact that I still feel like my life has had little accomplishment and always wondering when my break will come. When will I feel accepted? When will I feel loved? When will I be happy?

A year ago, I wrote about my (self-diagnosis of) depression after having watched Bryony Kimmings's "Fake It Till You Make It", and it was about then I started seeing a psychologist. While Dr C determined I did not have depression, he did diagnose me with severe general anxiety disorder. Great I thought, I've been diagnosed now I can get fixed. I saw Dr C fortnightly - sometimes weekly - for a year, and we would discuss different techniques and exercises I could do to manage my anxiety and while I always walked out of the session determined to do them, I never did.

Ironically, what often helps with my anxiety is not being alone with my thoughts, so I go out a lot. Sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own, and as an avid theatregoer it's not that hard. But the idea of staying home, giving up the one thing that helps with my anxiety, to be alone with my thoughts was frightening, almost to the point where I would give myself a panic attack. In May this year, I cancelled my remaining appointments with Dr C and have not been back since, partly because I could sense a frustration from him because I wasn't trying anything to manage my anxiety and partly because my anxiety was not getting better. I accepted the fact that I will never be happy and the anxiety I feel is something I need to carry. I'm starting a new job, I'm about to start a Masters course and the Melbourne Film Festival is just around the corner, so I'll be too busy for anxiety anyway.

As chance would have it, Hugh van Cuylenburg founder of The Resilience Project, was speaking at ACMI on Happiness and Wellbeing last night, so I decided to book a ticket and go along, and what he said resonated with me so much, I was fighting back tears throughout. Van Cuylenburg spoke about the three keys to resilience: Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness. While I was aware of these tools, hearing him discuss these in relation to his experience teaching in a remote Indian village and meeting Stunzin Sherap (the happiest person he's ever met), I walked out with a renewed energy and hope of maintaining my anxiety that I haven't felt in months.

Van Cuylenburg states that in 21 days of using the gratitude, empathy and mindfulness exercises, you can "rewire your brain to retain a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative but for the positive". 42 days and you have lower levels of depression and anxiety and sleep better. I purchased his 21 Day Wellbeing Journal and have promised myself to work through it day by day, and the only way to make sure I commit to this and not get "too busy", is by telling everyone I am doing it! I am a little bit apprehensive about delving into this unknown place of positivity but I am also excited about what it could potentially lead to.
So while my smile hides a lot at the moment, I'm hopeful that the 90 minutes spent hearing van Cuylenburg speak will have a long lasting effect on my mental health and potentially make my smile be something it hasn't been for a long time.

If you weren't fortunate enough to hear Hugh van Cuylenburg speak, you can view the slides of his ACMI talk here.