Funnily enough my gratitude comes about when I consider taking a mental health day. I’ll be the first person to sign off a medical certificate for someone who needs a mental health day. Honestly, if someone is going through hell, then I feel like that’s the least that I can do for them.
But when it comes to a mental health day for myself, I am the worst. At the end of every weekend, without fail, many versions of, “oh no I have to go to work tomorrow” reverberate through my mind.
And I think this happens to most people. It’s the trepidation of what’s to come, and the longing for a greater reprieve from work.
Some people are fortunate enough to have sick days that they can use when they just don’t feel like going to work. And I think that’s fair. Sometimes your mental battery is just so depleted that it needs more than a weekend to rest and recharge. Unfortunately for me though, I don’t have sick days. I work as a contractor (by choice) so if I don’t go to work, then I don’t get paid.
So personally, mental health days are harder for me to take because it means that I lose a day’s income. But I made the choice to be a contractor in the first place. So it’s pretty much my fault that I ended up in this predicament. But it’s really because I know myself: I know that if I do have paid sick days, I will take them. I’m lazy and I’m an introvert so I need to recharge more than the average person. And I don’t want to be regularly doing that because it means that I let my team down, I let my patients down, and everyone has to work a bit harder on my behalf- and they’ll end up needing a mental health day!
So it has become a sort of ritual for me, that at the end of every weekend when I consider taking a mental health day, I reflect on my privilege, and why I am here, in order to shift my mindset towards gratitude.
I think about my grandpa who came to New Zealand as a refugee with nothing– having lost his home, his country and two of his sons. I think about how he had to let go of everything he knew, only to wake up early every morning in a foreign country in order to bike to work a low paying job at a factory. I think about how he of all people deserved to take a mental health day but didn’t have the choice to because he had 5 children to feed.
I think about my dad’s sister who was a seamstress. She died in the Khmer Rouge. She, along with the rest of the family had everything taken away from her. She never got the chance to get married or have a family. I think about her and how much she would have loved to be able to work. But she never got the chance to.
I think about my parents and my aunty and uncle who never got the chance to be normal kids because they had to grow up quickly and endure and then flee a war-torn country. I think about how they had to wake up early every morning and get home late just to provide for us. I think about how mentally gruelling it would have been for them to work 7 days a week without a proper rest, all the while having to learn how to speak English, juggle a mortgage, and take care of their kids whose future they were uncertain of. They of all people deserved a mental health day, but could never take one because they couldn’t afford to.
Then I think about me. How all these people before me had to suffer so that I could be where I am. How they sacrificed themselves and their mental well-being just so that I could have a better life than they did. The fact that I can even contemplate taking a mental health day is testimony to the fact that I am privileged. And how they, along with many people in the world could only dream of being where I am right now.
So I turn up to work at the beginning of the week with gratitude in my soul. A real, genuine appreciation for the opportunity that I have to be able to do the work that I do, live in a safe country, and be able to be who I am without question.
And that’s the thing that I’ve learnt about gratitude: it requires practice. It’s actively noticing all of the good in your life by looking beyond yourself. When you are grateful, you appreciate all the little things which then become the big things. Gratitude brings an inner peace to our souls. It makes what we have feel like an abundance. Gratitude brings a sense of contentment to today, and a renewed hope for tomorrow.