Monday, November 14, 2011

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

"Enjoy what you can, endure what you must." 
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Living in chronic pain and dealing with chronic fatigue are not fun.  Quite frankly, these symptoms inspire a lot of beastly feelings in me.  Gratitude is far removed from how pain and fatigue make me feel.

When Life Becomes Painful

The first few months, or rather the first few years, of my new life with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain disorders were pretty miserable ones.  All I wanted to do is just get better.  All I wanted was to leave the pain and fatigue behind...and I felt frustrated when all my attempts to do just that were fruitless and unsuccessful.

Getting to the point where I accepted that for now pain and fatigue were part of my life was an emotional, difficult process.

Finding a Better Way

But I got there because I just couldn't live in pain all the time.  It was killing me, my mind and spirit, to be focused on it all the time.  I saw the writing on the wall and knew that if I got fixated on my pain, I was heading down a path to a truly miserable place.  A place I didn't want to go...

So as much as it went against everything I was feeling and experiencing in the moment, I started seeking out pleasant moments.

Driven to Distraction

At first my aim was to distract myself from my pain.  So I put together a list of things that I liked doing and could still do despite my pain.  The list was small at first and focused a lot on watching TV, reading books and listening to music.

After a short time these escapes from reality started to work and emotionally I started to feel some relief.  Distraction began to ease my burden.

Then a funny thing happened.  I got to a place where I wanted to do more than just escape.

Distraction was good, don't get me wrong, but I also wanted to figure out how to get more engaged in life again.  I wanted to feel like I was alive and really living my life, not just trying to hide from it.  Not sure how to do this, I stumbled upon a simple way to get me moving forward: I went outside into my backyard.

Reconnecting Through Nature

There truly is something magical about Mother Nature.  There is also something quintessentially life affirming about sunshine, cool breezes, clouds, birds chirping and green plants surrounding you.  Being out in nature really does nourishes the body and soul.

It's also amazing how much goes on in my backyard that I simply wasn't aware of until I started spending some quality time there:
  • I made friends with the birds that visited my yard and discovered so many different species, regulars and migrants, who visited all year long.
  • I was captivated by the clouds floating above and started identifying different shapes and patterns. 
  • I started noticing the moon and its phases, especially on the days when it rose during the daylight hours. 
  • Then I was inspired to start taking pictures of all three, which lead to learning about how to take better digital photographs.
Above all else, there was one thing that really got me engaged with life again.  It was when I learned to reinvent gardening to become fibro-friendly through container gardening.  There is nothing quite like the abundant satisfaction of getting your hands dirty, planting some seeds and watching the miracle of life unfold in front of your very eyes.

Feeling More Grateful

So you see, I have been able to regain a sense of gratitude in my life by focusing on what I like to do, what I can do and those things that bring me pleasure.  Since my humble beginning with distraction, I have gone on to discover many more activities I can participate in that leave me feeling good despite my circumstances and my chronic illness filled life.

Today it is easy to keep a gratitude journal.  With so many small but pleasurable activities and moments in my life, I can honestly write down five things at the end of the day for which I am thankful.

Beating Back the Gratitude Deficit

Most of all, I firmly believe that if you live with chronic anything, you must focus a good portion of your time and energy on things that you enjoy.  This practice is essential to balancing out all the things that chronic illness takes away from you each day.  Chronic illness creates a gratitude deficit that can only be remedied by redoubling your efforts to bring happiness into your life.

You simply can't feel thankful if you don't actively nourish and pamper your mind, body and spirit in ways that can sustain and fulfill you.

Some people might call what I am advocating hedonism, indulgence or luxury, but make no mistake; reconnecting with pleasure when you have chronic illness is purely about survival.  It is a key tool in my chronic pain toolkit that helps me live my best life despite chronic illness.  

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Ross said...

Found your site for the first time tonight. I'm glad I met someone who can share in the same life! I've suffered from CRPS for the past 6 yrs. Like your site and will be following it now.

Defy Gravity said...

Thank you so much for this post, Selena!!! I can definitely relate! We all need a subtle reminder to try to enjoy life and focus what little energies we do have on the things that we enjoy! :) You're right, it is a survival mechanism. I have definitely acquired a 'gratitude deficit,' since getting sick and need to try my best to change that. Very well said. Love your blog!

Helen said...

My mum not so recently announced that she was taking up a new hobby: Hedonism. I'm not sure that what she's been up to would be the average person's definition of the word - but it's definately helped her be herself and remember what's good about the world whilst under a very heavy burden of her own health problems and also caring for others with theirs. You're so right about doing things you enjoy allowing you to remain connected to the "real world" rather than being sucked into a bit of a rabbit hole of yucky feelings. :)

Rachel said...

I think connecting with the outdoors is something everyone should do, chronic illness or not.

Pleasure is definitely allowed with CI (again, everyone deserves pleasure) - and your finding the outdoors again, awesome :)