Sickness & Gratitude (Can They Coexist?)Mar 30, 2022
Sometimes I kind of feel as if I’m not the right person to be writing about gratitude. Years ago when I was lying morosely in bed one morning before work—my body sick with prescription drug withdrawal, my optimism and most of my emotions mummified by whatever tweaks and damages years of antianxiety pills had wreaked upon my serotonin and GABA delivery systems—my wife asked me to tell her something good about my life (or just about life in general).
“Just tell me three things you’re looking forward to today,” she said. “Or three things you’re grateful for.”
I continued to stare at the bedroom ceiling, lost in my own misery and confused by my wife’s question; maybe even a little indignant.
“I can’t,” I pleaded. “I just can’t think of anything good.”
My wife slapped at my arm, signaling that my answer was unacceptable.
“Listen,” she said. “The people don’t always have a lot where I come from (an area of Argentina that isn’t too far from some extreme rural poverty). But they manage to find their little happiness in the day. It might only be because of a piece of candy or a soda that someone gives them, but they find their little happiness.”
Little happiness. That was a new one for me in some ways. I guess I was always looking for big happiness. Huge happiness. Extreme and ostentatious happiness. Bottom line: I guess I wasn’t too practiced at practicing gratitude.
Now, in my defense I was dealing with some pretty heavy stress and sickness at the time I gave my wife that lame answer. After nearly a decade and a half of daily SSRI and benzodiazepine use, I’d quit those “antianxiety” medications and had subsequently been consumed by the modern mystery illness known as prescription drug withdrawal. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or go to the bathroom properly for many months, and I would be afflicted by many strange physical and mental symptoms for years to come. My fatigue level was consistently that of an elderly man left in the midday sun without water or shade, and the world simply looked black to me because I was in a lot of pain.
So there; I thought I had a decent excuse for my answer. I thought I had a decent excuse for why I couldn’t make a gratitude list that day. However, I slowly realized that there is no decent excuse. Why? Because being thankful and recognizing blessings is a necessary part of well-being, both in health and in sickness. It is a part of enjoying the high times, and it is a part of healing during the down times.
That day of my wife’s question marked a certain shift in my attitude toward gratitude. I began to realize, little by little, that happiness didn’t have to be towering for us to find it and latch onto it. Our troubles didn’t have to be absent before we could be grateful and even content or joyful.
For example, if we are struggling with sickness, we don’t have to be 100 percent cleared of our symptoms before we can find a little satisfaction in the day. And if we can find five minutes of relaxation or satisfaction in the day, then perhaps tomorrow will bring five more and so on. And as we are finding little moments of positive distraction, we are healing.
And if we don’t like our jobs, we don’t have to wait until we are retired to “like” our life. Each day—even the most stressful—comes with an evening that can be used to cook or read or to have a drink on the porch. And while we are cooking or reading or having that drink, we will remember that each day brings moments to be grateful for, and just maybe we will find the inspiration we need to find a professional calling that truly fulfills us.
And if paying the bills is a month-to-month struggle for us, we don’t have to wait until we hit the lottery to have fun and a little laughter in life. Most of the best things in life truly are free (that isn’t just a cliché), and among those things are: friendship, love, physical fitness, God, and creativity.
The rich (and those is supposedly "perfect health") have no monopoly on contentment.
The bottom line is this: We all have so many things to be grateful for, even as we are dealing with whatever messes and dramas and sicknesses we are dealing with in this life. And the sooner we make it a weekly (and hopefully daily) habit to list our blessings, either on paper or in our minds or in prayer, then the sooner we will find our little pieces of happiness on a regular basis.
As country music icon Willie Nelson once said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
Today, even if you are dealing with sickness, stress, depression, confusion, poverty, or whatever ... take a moment to list your blessings.
And then do it again tomorrow. Make it a habit, and it will help you as you work to "turn things around" in your own life.
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