Anne Grady is a speaker, trainer and author. She provides professional development in resilience, communication, leadership and influence. She knew that she wanted to speak from an early age but it wasn’t until she had her son and started to experience an entire series of life events… that brought her to closer to resilience.
Her son Evan who is now 15 yrs old, is severely mentally ill. He first tried to kill her when he was three years old. He is very sick but has an amazing personality, he is funny and smart but basically if you say up he says down, if you say right he says left, if you say shower he says I am going to kill you and he means it. During Evan’s second hospitalization, Anne was diagnosed with a tumor in her salivary gland, which resulted in facial paralysis, which led to a scratched cornea. Whilst waiting for surgery on her eye, she managed to fall down the stairs and break her foot. All of this happened over a short period.
Resilience was not something that Anne had ever thought about until she realised that there were things that she was doing that allowed her to have the strength to get through. She did a lot of research and found a lot of things that she was doing right but there were also a lot of things that she wasn’t doing that she has since put into practice, that have really made a difference.
Anne has never been an athlete or really enjoyed exercise but about 5 years ago she was really struggling as Evan was in a bad place. She was depressed and exhausted, trying to run a business, maintain a marriage and family as she also has a daughter. She was trying to do everything and she just couldn’t seem to get it right. She started swimming and exercising regularly. She had no idea what that meant neurologically of physiologically and why it helped her so much. Know she understands that exercise helps us manage stress and provides chemicals to the brain that replicate those in anti depressants.
Humour was something that had an impact. She listened to the comedy channel and watched stand up comedians. She tried to laugh when ever humanly possible. She had no idea how powerful that was but scientist have recently found that smiling reduces cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine which we produce when we are in a state of threat or stresses. Simply smiling and putting yourself in a situation where you are exposed to humour actually tricks your brain to start thinking differently – it causes you to start looking for things that bring you joy rather then things that bring you pain and sorrow.
Anne had also surrounded herself with an incredible support system. Support from friends and great relationships help you do the things that you don’t want to do because you don’t feel good. If we are sad, upset or stressed we tend to alienate others and get comfortable being alone because it’s easier than having to communicate. Supportive friendships and taking care of yourself help you do those things you know you should do, but seem difficult when you are down to put into practice. Anne found support groups, classes and other parents who were dealing with the same challenges – none of these things are easy to do when you are exhausted. If you don’t have that level of support then your ability to navigate through those stressors is highly diminished.
When you find yourself in challenging situations you must always realise that you are not alone. It’s a very lovely place to be dealing with any type of challenge. But you must take care of yourself because you can’t be any good to anyone else if you are not well. If you are not rested, exercising or eating well, you can’t be a resource for others.
These were all things that Anne did by herself – but there were other things that she had to learn to improve.
One big thing that Anne swore she would never do…. was mindfulness and meditation. She was a skeptic but in her research she found that mindfulness was nothing more than paying attention on purpose, and the goal of meditation is to catch your mind wondering…. and it will wonder! Simply the fact that you know your mind is wondering and bringing it back to focusing on something like your breath, is the act of meditating. It makes your brain less prone to hitting the panic button. The army has started using it to guard against trauma as scientific studies have proven that it reduces stress, improves sleep and reduces pain. Mindfulness is the ability to strategically stop and calm your mind amidst whatever is going on around us.
Anne now has a pin board that collects beautiful moments. Every time she experiences a moment that brings her joy (a card from a friend or a good moment with family), she puts it on the board. Your brain begins to actively find what you are looking for. You start selectively attuning to certain things. If you start looking for beautiful moments that you want to savour rather than just a constant state of happiness (that nobody has), then you tend to filter out some of the negative without even realising it.
Everybody says that they want a work/life balance. Anne believes that that is impossible. The goal is to figure out what your priorities are and spend 80% of your time on them and stop apologising for it. It is about making time for what you think is most important. Anne finds it very difficult to be around Evan, but she schedules 30 minutes every day to perhaps play a card game, board game or do a puzzle. It trains your brain to shut off for a little while and creates a sense of peace focusing on what really matters.
Happiness is not a constant thing, you get it in little bits and pieces. It doesn’t mean that you are not going to have the bad times… you will. Resilience is your ability to stay down less and get back up quicker, to be able to use it as a way to get stronger, rather than get covered up by it. If you have the skillset then those bad times become bumps in the road and not mountains to climb.
Anne still has those moments where she cries, grieves or gets frustrated. You have to give yourself permission to feel that discomfort, to feel that pain because if you try to cover it up, it magnifies. When you are in that place and really sad, it’s about giving yourself permission to grieve. Instead of trying to run from that discomfort, embracing it. The only way for us to grow and be stronger is to be uncomfortable and vulnerable.
Why not read Anne Gray’s latest book, ‘Strong enough – choosing courage, resilience and triumph’. This and ’52 Strategies to Life, Love and Work’ are available on Amazon and on her website www.annegradygroup.com/books/ A proportion of all the book proceeds go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as our need to understand mental illness and reduce the stigma is so important.
The biggest life skill is learning how to recover from set backs. Not just to survive them but use them as a catalyst to get better.