Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gratitude, Tempered

The symbol is a start,
but it's not enough
 My thoughts are with Paris 
... and with Nigeria
... and with Baghdad
... and with Lebanon
... and Israel
... and Camaroon
... and Chad
... and Egypt
... and Somalia
... and all the other areas that have been attacked recently, and continue to be targeted and live in fear.

Now's the time, leading up to Thanksgiving, when we usually think (and write) about all the things that make us feel grateful.  That's a little harder now, when the news - and our social media news feeds - are filled with so much negativity:
  • Horrific terrorist attacks all around the world (listed above are just those countries that have had incidents in November, and the month isn't even over yet)
  • Bigoted and hateful speech, both by politicians (and political hopefuls), and by the general public
  • Complaints about a fabricated "War on Christmas/Christians" because the United States government and private companies are NOT basing their decisions on selective and archaic evangelical Christian values
  • Calls to refuse help, deny freedom, and shut down houses of worship for entire cultures, religions, or nationalities
  • Inequality & injustice based on skin color, gender (identity), or sexual orientation, made even worse by the minimization of these struggles by those who do not experience them. (Yes, AllLivesMatter, but not all lives have the same struggles.  Each struggle, and each movement to combat that injustice, has the right to its own voice!)
And closer to home ... 
  • So much suffering among the wonderful people I've met in the chronic illness community.  While it is helpful to know you're not alone and to "meet" others who can truly relate, it is heartbreaking (and scary) to read about their struggles, both with their diseases and with the way those diseases affect the rest of their lives.
  • Personally, the past month or two have been the worst I've ever experienced, both physically and emotionally (for more on that, see my recent post When Bad News is Good News).
With all that pain and suffering surrounding us and screaming louder day by day, gratitude isn't the first thing that comes to mind.  My heart hurts for the world right now, and for all the people in it who deserve better.

Yet I think back to a few years ago, when a friend suggested that this is the time when it's most important.  When times are hardest, when we feel at our lowest, we must remind ourselves that there still are good things.  We must not allow ourselves to be buried by all the hurt.  We must do our best to lift ourselves up, by reminding ourselves of the good that still exists in our lives and in the world, the things that still make us feel grateful.  It may not be easy, but we can always start with something small: I am (still) grateful for my Keurig, because coffee is one of my greatest Simple Pleasures.

Despite everything (or perhaps more so because of it), I can actually start with some big ones:
  • I am grateful for my incredible husband, who has been there for me every day, in every way.  He has given me my medication injections when I couldn't hold the needles myself, worked extra hard (and extra long hours) when I could no longer hold a full time job, taken over the household duties I am unable to do, made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry, and most of all, he has always made sure I know how much he loves me, even when I find it hard to love myself.  Thank you, baby ... I love you so much!
  • I am grateful for my mom, who has put  her retirement relaxation on hold to come over and take care of me every day when I couldn't take care of myself.  She has brought me to medical appointments, picked up my prescriptions and set up my daily/weekly pill organizers (and with 20 pills/day split into 4 medication times per day, that's no small task!), and hung around until hubby got home from work just in case I needed anything else.  She's been a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and even offered a bunch of helpful ideas.  Though she takes no credit for this, saying only "of course - I'm your mom," I know that she's a rare breed.  Thank you, Mom, for everything.
  • I'm grateful for my latest results, for what resulted from them, and for the results of that.  When things got as bad as they did, I got my first definitive positive (lab, radiology, and pathology) test results.  That led to a new diagnosis (see When Bad News is Good News for more on that) and new treatments, which made a huge difference in my pain, swelling, rashes, and ability to move.  I'm still not out of the woods, but at least I'm not bed-bound anymore.
  • On a related note, I'm grateful for my primary doctor, my rheumatologist, my dermatologist, and my pulmonologist, who each acted quickly to get me in, get me tested, and get me answers.  It's ironic to say quickly, as we've been working at this for so long ... but things changed recently, and a lot has happened in a short time - and they made it happen.
  • I'm grateful to see that there are people all over the world who still speak up against injustice and help those in need, whether for their own cause or that of another person or group.  These are the voices that will win the fights against oppression, illness, and terrorism.  These are the voices that will make tomorrow a better day. These are the voices that give us hope.
  • I am grateful for the handful of friends and family members who continue to check in on me, to show they care, to be there for me in spirit (and by phone or computer) when they cannot be with me physically.  It can get lonely when you're chronically ill, too disabled to work outside the home, too sick to go out for social reasons most of the time ... but there are a select few (and you know who you are) who make sure I know that I am not in this alone.
What's important to note, though is that it's not as simple as just 
This is especially true - and I need you to understand this - when it comes to my health.  I am incredibly grateful for the progress we've made over the past few weeks, and there has been a world of difference in that short time ... but that does not mean that I am all better, or even that I am well.  I'm "not the worst I've ever been, but I'm still in bad shape.  I'm still in pain 24/7, in a variety of parts of my body.  I still have difficulty doing some things with my hands, and I cannot walk more than a few yards without the support of a cane.  I had to get a handicapped parking permit, but haven't even been able to drive in weeks.  I have a (growing) number of chronic illnesses that have no cure, so I will have to live with this (and the fear/knowledge that it will get worse) for the rest of my life.

I say all this not to negate my expression of gratitude, but to temper it with reality.  I make it a point to focus on the positives in my life - it's the only way I know to survive.  During this season of gratitude, togetherness, and joy - and throughout the rest of the year, too - I hope you are all able to acknowledge the struggles, but focus on the things (and people) that help get us through those hard times.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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