People often ask how we came up with the idea of Cheer Box. Well to be honest, whilst our vision was simply to make people happy, the story is a lot more complex and one of a stark contrast.
Both Ash (My very patient and caring wife) and I (Scott) were ending 2020 as most double income families do, tired, exhausted and worn out. Ash was working in commercial banking and I, working as an Assistant Principal (welfare-based) at a large primary school.
We both had plenty of pressure and stress in our work, and for the good part of it, this is what drove us to try and excel in our respective fields. For Ash, this meant managing financial risk and supporting clients with millions of dollars at play. For me, it was consistent problem solving, taking the issues that I was dealing with home with me at the end of each day (just as many teachers who care about their community do each and every day) and navigating the fast-paced changes that COVID threw upon us.
While Ash was able to keep ticking along with her work in a gracious manner, taking solace in the fact that she was able to switch off at 5:30pm, unfortunately I could not. The toll of hearing about children suffering at the hands of others, working to circumvent what I see as a ‘broken’ child protection system, receiving various levels of abuse from parents and constantly being questioned by others as you try to make the ‘best decision’ you can in the interest of the children (whilst dealing with 100 other problems that day) eventually took hold of me.
As I began to change, I lost interest in the things that brought me joy, became a recluse from my friends and family and threw my heart and soul into ‘surviving the job’. It was simply like I was on a hamster wheel with no way of stopping and getting off. My mind was overrun with problem solving, preparing for what was coming next and taking on more and more water from the information that I had consumed. Whilst I always put on a brave face and ‘kept it together’, people, apart from Ash, would never have known how anxious I had become. So anxious in fact that I struggled to speak at assemblies, struggled to pick up the phone in fear of ‘the next problem’ or possible ‘attack’ and challenge of my values. There were even times where I was so anxious, I couldn’t bear to hold meetings with anyone for the day…
…And then there was a catalyst moment. A moment whereby everything stopped for a brief second and a different thought was born. I was at an event with some friends and one of the group asked a friend (also a leading teacher) what the difference between his job and mine was. My friend quite frankly said, “let’s put it this way… I can sit here knowing that I can relax and just be. Scott on the other hand, is most likely sitting here solving 3-4 problems that he has to deal with as soon as he walks in the door”. It was that moment that sparked a desire for change, a realisation of what I had become and how different of a person I was to the one I had desired to be.
So it had seemed that the years of constantly being switched on had caught up with me and something had to change or I was going to travel further down the spiral and not know if there was an up. So I decided to take leave from the school for mental health reasons to let my brain rest and try and get on top of my life. Of course, as men we don’t publicise this anywhere. We can’t say it too loud or others will think you’re ‘weak’, ‘soft’ and not a ‘real man’. And that’s just the point of this. At the end of the day, I want my little boy to know that it’s ok to feel weak at times and to acknowledge things aren’t working. Be emotional and learn how to manage those feelings with positive actions. Hopefully there will be some others out there that this may prompt some thinking too.
Moving on… As with many people dealing with a mental crisis, I was manic in my initial weeks, posing ideas about how we could make ends meet with me not working a mortgage on the house and Ash working 3 days a week. I think I started a news website, created a consulting company and thought full time stock trading would fill the gap! Thankfully Ash’s poise and patience kicked in and in her calmest manner, she said to me to “Stop. Calm yourself and do what you want to and don’t worry about what comes next, just be”’. For once, my mind started to slow and I began to ‘just be’.
After some weeks of ‘just being’, picking up the kids from school and daycare, cooking tea and being a stay-at-home dad, my mind was much more peaceful and I now had capacity to take on smaller tasks. A place where I initially hadn’t thought I would reach for some time. Slowly and steadily, we (Ash and I) spoke about doing good for ourselves, good for others, and creating something that would ignite our passions for food and business development.
From there… Maybe a wine or two later… The brand and idea of Cheer Box was born. For me, it was the vessel to change, the vessel to improve mental health, and provided us with a means to do good things for others. For Ash, it was the outlet to be creative and mindful and passionate about what she was doing. Now the brand is becoming more and more known across Ballarat and people have cherished our vessel to show gratitude, console and celebrate those various occasions in peoples’ lives. Whether a friend was struggling, a family was in isolation or a colleague was recently promoted, Cheer Box and our food was able to provide them with a means to say ‘I care about you’.
Whilst more complex than some startup ideas, that’s the story of how the idea of Cheer Box was created. We share this in hope that our story will bring hope and peace to those out there who may be in a similar situation. No matter who you are, anxiety and depression can creep up on anyone from any walk of life. Remember that you never truly know how someone’s day is going, so act in a way that can make it better. Inquire and check in, say hello, smile, and if you can, say something nice to them. You never know how much impact your words may make.
A special thank you Ash, Huddy and Addy for being the light during a dark period of time and to those (you know who you are) who checked in on me to see if I was ok. You truly are special people.