My Adventures in Healing


My Adventures in Healing

Attitude of Gratitude

Let’s talk about gratitude. Are you groaning? I get it. I know when someone tells you to be grateful while you’re suffering, you just want to throw something at them. I did, too. But I’ve learned gratitude is an essential key to healing.

Imagine your attention is a flashlight beam and then imagine where it would be best to shine that beam in your life. Is it helpful to shine it on the pain? Thoughts about the things you can’t do? The way you wish your life were different? I think we can agree it’s not. (I’m not saying ignore your feelings. Let yourself feel the anger at your situation, grieve for the things you can’t do anymore, don’t hold all those toxic emotions in.)

But what if, in between, you take that beam and shine it on things you can be grateful for? They don’t have to be big things. A few minutes of silence, a cup of tea, a rainfall, having enough energy that day to walk to the mailbox, someone smiling at you. Start a gratitude journal or make a game out of seeing how many things a day you can be grateful for. Not giving your symptoms attention will make you feel better mentally and also decrease the physical symptoms themselves.

The mind-body connection is real. Not only does our body react to our thoughts (ex: thinking you’re going to crash will trigger your nervous system and release fight or flight chemicals) but our brains also react to the state of our bodies. If you’re holding yourself in a tense posture, for example, your nervous system is going to react like there’s a threat and again, release fight or flight chemicals. (Cortisol and adrenaline are detrimental to healing nervous system disorders like fibro, CFS and POTS.)

Gratitude also opens our injured, contracted selves back up to the world. It creates space to hold opposing thoughts and feelings. Fear and grief are an inevitable part of the human experience. Gratitude expands our capacity to experience these hard emotions without losing hope. Think of it as expanding your attention into a spotlight instead of a contracted flashlight beam.

Four months ago, we lost our mastiff, Atlas, to bone cancer. Each time I’d come back from the hospital over the past four years, he was there, tail wagging, never leaving my side, comforting me with the weight of his body and attention. So, to say I was shattered when we lost him would be an understatement.

But because I’d been practicing feeling grateful (yes, it is a practice) for everything from still being alive to a morning visit from a dragonfly, because of this mindset–as we went through amputating his leg, chemo appointments and the devastation in the end that none of our efforts had mattered because it was spreading too quickly–I was okay. I didn’t fall into depression (which I’ve struggled with for 30 years), my nervous system didn’t dysregulate and undo all the progress I had made.

Of course, we grieved and spoiled him for nine weeks before we had to say goodbye, and it was truly one of the most heartbreaking times of my life. Yet, between the tears, between the moments of breath-stealing grief, I was aware of this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the time we did have with him, that we got to be his people. I was grateful for the memories we made, the moments he made us laugh with his goofy personality. I didn’t have to wait for time to heal the pain before I could smile. I could smile while experiencing the pain.

And that’s gratitude’s biggest gift of all.

4 Replies to “Attitude of Gratitude”

  • Hi Shannon! I totally understand where you’re coming from. I deal with multiple health issues including fibromyalgia, chronic myofascial pain, chronic neck and back pain, and a recently diagnosed movement disorder among other. In addition, I have an incomplete spinal cord injury meaning my spinal cord was damaged but not severed. That happened back in 1982 when I forced off a bridge causing my small truck to go down 15+ feet into a small creek which was, thankfully, pretty low since it was the end of July in central Texas. The pickup rolled several times and the bridge railing landed on the roof of the truck. Not wearing a seatbelt saved my life yet my injuries were critical. My mother was told that I probably wouldn’t survive then we were told I wouldn’t walk again. My mom was also told that I wouldn’t be able to have children. Despite everything, I was blessed because I not only survived, I did walk again and I have two children (a boy and a girl) despite very difficult pregnancies. I truly believe Someone was watching out for me. My pregnancies came despite being on birth control and earlier than I had planned. I had my second child, my daughter, when I’d planned on having my first and she was my most difficult pregnancy after which I was informed another pregnancy would not be advised. I took that to mean that I’d been given my children while my body was capable despite my plans. 🙂 I survived two abusive marriages, worked almost 18 years changing careers when my body insisted upon it, and became officially disabled shortly after marrying my current husband (our 21st anniversary is in May) and he is the best. He took on my kids, my pets, and accepted me as I am.

    So, I live with my medical issues but know things could have been so much worse. Like you, I deal with depression, and I have my days but I always attempt to look for the positive. I truly believe that if you allow things to get to you then your life will be that much worse. A positive attitude always goes far may be cliché but is true.

  • Wow, that’s some challenging life you’ve had, Darla! Thank you for sharing your story. I truly believe it helps others to know they’re not alone with their struggles. Someone told me that pain is inevitable but suffering is not. That’s really stuck with me & I think the suffering comes from our own minds. Cliché or not, a positive attitude is important.

  • Hi Shannon! You’re welcome for sharing. I also believe that it helps when you can connect with others. Yes, my life has been challenging but I have learned a lot throughout. I know that I can get through anything and that I don’t have to do it alone. I am a very positive person and I’ve never been one of those people who act like they’re alone in pain and no one can possibly understand. That is a great saying and I can see why it would stick with you. A positive attitude is absolutely important. I have known people in my life who focus on their misery and what they CAN’T do rather than what they CAN do.

  • Oh, Shannon, I meant to give you my condolences on the loss of your mastiff, Atlas. It is really hard when we lose our animal companions especially when they’re that important to us. I lost my rescue cat, Osiris, in January 2016 just shy of his being 16. He was my unofficial therapy cat and was always there for me. It still hots me hard sometimes.

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