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In the face of trauma, Cissy took back her power by actively ‘stalking’ joy

Cissy White had a horrific start to life. The American author and blogger at Heal Write Now was sexually and physically abused as a child and developed post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, she experienced flashbacks as an adult in which she felt “stalked by fear”.

Seven years ago, she was also stalked by an ex-boyfriend. Terrified, Cissy longed for a way to counter the fear that engulfed her. That’s when she was struck by an idea: she wanted to be as “ferocious and fierce” as her stalker – but in a quest for joy. So she became a self-proclaimed “joy stalker”.

Joy stalking combines elements of mindfulness and gratitude and can help people find happiness and meaning without having to splash cash on lavish experiences. Credit:Stocksy

“It was taking the power back out of that word stalking, which was a negative, and making it into something really positive,” she says.

It’s been a huge mental shift for the 54-year-old, who says that as a trauma survivor she used to see fear and danger everywhere. Negative feelings saturated her, while positive ones used to slide right off. Since becoming a joy stalker, Cissy not only appreciates the joy in her life, she allows it to permeate.

Cissy doesn’t do anything wildly out of the ordinary as a joy stalker. She’s not a thrill seeker, nor does she spend her days luxuriating by a pool. Instead, the mother of one stalks joy in her everyday life by making sure she notices “every good fortune, every type of beauty, every small and delicious delight”.

When she’s watering her flowers, for example, she takes a moment to soak in their beauty and appreciate their smell. She also spends an extra few minutes in the morning patting her dog and cat, listening to them breathe and purr.

For Cissy, joy stalking means spending more time switching on her five senses and slowing down to interact with the world in a more meaningful way. In the process, she’s deepened her relationships with loved ones.

Clinical psychologist Kirstin Bouse from Perth Psychology Collective loves the idea of joy stalking. She says it combines elements of mindfulness and gratitude and can help people find happiness and meaning without having to splash cash on lavish experiences. “It’s about extracting the juice from life,” she says.

But times are especially tough at the moment, Bouse says, with many bogged down by the fear and anxiety that surrounds the pandemic. She says stalking joy when you’re suffering from mental-health issues, or in the face of tragedy, might seem like trying to stop a dam with a band-aid. Instead of seeing joy stalking as a cure-all, she says it’s worth viewing it as a pursuit that can positively impact your life.

“It’s about extracting the juice from life.”

Bouse says focusing on life’s pleasures “certainly lifts your mood”. But stalking joy is likely to also positively impact your perspective and can even lead to a paradigm shift.

“If you had someone whose glass is half-empty consistently and they were to really turn their mind to this and put the effort in, you might be able to shift their way of being in the world.”

That is what Cissy has found. Since becoming a joy stalker, she spends more of her energy devoted to savouring joy, rather than dwelling on life’s pain. She has also leant on it heavily since being diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in August 2019.

Instead of crumbling in the face of such news, the diagnosis has added fuel to the fire, with Cissy becoming even more determined than ever to focus on stalking joy. “Especially now that I have an incurable illness,” she says, “I don’t want to miss any hug, any smile, any laughter.”

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 29. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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