Photo of a waterfall seen through ferns and leaves.

Six Months of Practicing Daily Gratitude

Six months ago, Wednesday, January 11, at this very moment, I was writhing in pain on a gurney in the emergency room at St. Peter’s Hospital waiting for the results of my x-rays. I was trying not to snap at my sister Sandy, alternating between bursts of crying followed by deep breathing. Every fifteen minutes or so, when she would try to tell me to calm down and not think too far ahead, I tried to ground myself with a gratitude list.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

They finally got an IV started.

The orthopedic intern is cute. Cocky and arrogant, but cute.

I am not in a coma.

They brought me a warm blanket.

I can feel my feet.

That was the list. I kept repeating variations of it throughout the evening as we received confirmation of my broken femur and I was admitted to a bed on the orthopedic unit. The list grew throughout the night. I was grateful for surviving the transfer from the gurney to a hospital bed, a roll on and off the bed pan, and the manipulation of my leg into an immobilizing splint. I doubt I adequately conveyed the depth of my gratitude to Sandy for her willingness to spend that first night with me and adjust my bed every 15 minutes. The hospital was unable to locate bed controls I could operate independently, so Sandy pushed the buttons on command as I begged her to raise and lower my head and feet, adjusting pillows along the way.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

My feet are warm.

The pain meds are working.

I am not in a coma.

I only broke one leg. Can you imagine if they were both broken?!

Over the next 2 days while I waited for surgery, the list changed. I was grateful to several nurses, but after four failed attempts I was especially appreciative of the fifth nurse who tried to insert a catheter into my bladder around 10:30 PM Thursday – the one who FINALLY got it. I was grateful for my boss, who stopped by to tell me not to worry about work. I was grateful to my friends who came to relieve Sandy so she could get some rest.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

They are going to be able to do surgery.

I can drink all I want without having to worry about transferring to the bed pan since they finally got the catheter in. Did you ever think I would be grateful for a catheter? Thank God I have a sense of humor.

Thank God I went to Australia last year!

I’ve written about my experience with rehab, and the transition home. I’ve shared my triumphs publicly along the way through my blog and social media- transferring in and out of my van, driving, and returning to work. My updates have been some of my “most liked” posts, garnering many comments along the lines of “Atta girl!” and “Good on ya!” Throughout it all, I kept finding ways to be grateful. Even when I was in the middle of a “this-sucks-and-I-HATE-that-everything-has-changed” self-pity cry fest.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

I have heat.

There is food in my fridge.

I can binge-watch ‘The Doctor Blake Mysteries’ all afternoon if I want and find out if the good doctor ever finally ends up with Jane.

My job allows me to work from home, for the most part.

Thank God I have an understanding employer.

Six months after the latest event which completely changed everything about my life, I recognize my significant progress. I am thrilled to be driving – yet still remain dependent on others because I cannot independently transfer from my driver’s seat to my wheelchair. I am grateful to have new Personal Assistant staff – but remain distrustful due to recent burglaries at my home. I am excited to see improvements in my knee strength and range of motion – but the chronic pain is exhausting. I realized last week that I no longer complain about pain in any other part of my body. I don’t even notice pain anywhere else anymore because it doesn’t compare to the pain in my knee. That’s not because I’m taking pain medications. I mentioned the burglaries, right? Guess what was stolen?

The biggest hurdle is my inability to access a toilet outside my home. Since I am still not weight-bearing on my broken leg, I cannot perform a stand-pivot transfer from my wheelchair. I use a slide board to transfer on and off the toilet. The board I use, combined with my limited trunk control, requires me to transfer on/off a platform seat. I wrote about this when I described transitioning home from the rehab hospital in this post. Since the only toilet I can use is located in my house, I am limited in how long I can be away from home.

Think about the number of times you use the toilet throughout each day. Now, imagine you have to return to your house every time you need to use the toilet. It doesn’t matter if you have a meeting, or a lunch appointment, or plan to volunteer somewhere in your community. Now, imagine you not only need to return home, but you need to have a nondisabled person at home with you every time you need to use the toilet. Then, imagine you are a menstruating female and think about using a slide board while you are bleeding for five days each month. Or, transfer onto your bed to use a bed pan.

Too graphic? Sorry – but it’s reality. And reality is not pretty. It’s messy and complicated. Life is like that for everyone, not just those of us who live with disability.

It is the main reason my gratitude lists “post femur fracture” are particularly important now. Because when I am stuck in the middle of of a “this-sucks-and-I-HATE-that-everything-has-changed” self-pity cry fest (and there have been lots of those these past six months), one of the only ways I know to pull myself around is to force myself to grateful. I don’t have to be grateful for the pain, or grateful for the fracture which is giving me plenty of life lessons and fodder for writing. I just need to concentrate on the start of my list, the same two lines I use to start every gratitude list I make.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

Strength is not found in the number of repetitions performed during an exercise routine. It is not described in the extra degrees of range of motion measured during a physical therapy re-evaluation. The strength to endure comes from knowing the burden is carried by more than your own shoulders. The strength to persevere comes from understanding we don’t have to face our latest challenge alone.

30 Days of Thanks Day 26 – Happy Thanksgiving!

This past Sunday, the New York Times featured an op-ed by Arthur C. Brooks, “Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Grateful.” I read it with eagerness, because I have often encouraged friends who are having difficulty finding happiness to make gratitude lists. When we take time to recognize what is good in our lives, things which make us feel better, we feel better than when we focus on what makes us unhappy.

Sometimes life makes it difficult to be grateful. There are times when we are bogged down by the day-to-day struggles. It is easy to forget to be thankful when we are facing illness, grief or lonliness.

I know friends and family members who are struggling to find gratitude today. I have endured holidays when I felt despondent while everyone else appeared to be joyous and happy. Memories of those times cause me to be even more appreciative for all the blessings I have received this year.  My gratitude list for today is long, but here are a few things for which I am thanful.

I am thankful to be living on my own, independently in the community when so many people with disabilties are living in institutions. I have access to home care and I am grateful to the women who work each and every day so I can contine to meet my basic needs.

I am grateful to have a place to live, food to eat and clean clothes to wear.

I am blessed to have family and friends who love me.

I am grateful to everyone who has come to be a regular reader of my blog. Last year when I started sharing my writing, I had no idea how this process would change my life. I have made new friends, reconnected with forever friends, and found a new way to help other people. I am humbled and overwhelmed by your outpouring of support, and grateful to all of you who grant me the honor of reading my words and sharing them when they move you to do so.

What is on your gratitude list today? 

Gratitude Lists

This morning I read a post by Kim on SpiralSpun about simple things which brought happiness into her life. She was using a gratitude list to find reasons to be cheerful. I am a fan of gratitude lists because they help us focus on the good things in life.

It is easy to get sucked up in the negative. The news bombards us with terrible stories of war and disasters. This week my Facebook feed has had stories and photos from friends experiencing cyclones, hospitalizations, crime and death. I have a vacancy in my Personal Assistant staff, which is causing me to alter my routine and scramble to find coverage. When my basic needs are up in the air, my ability to stay in the moment is tested.

Gratitude lists cause us to change our attention. They force us to find positive. And when we shift from negative to positive, we become more aware of how much we have to appreciate. I find it is easier to be generous and charitable towards others when I review my gratitude lists. I need all the help I can get with being charitable these days!

Composing a gratitude list, even if it is only a mental list and not one written on paper, makes me less bitter. My lists keep me in the present, and help prevent anxiety over potential future problems. Last week when I realized I was wasting hours trying to solve my wheelchair charger dilemma, a gratitude list helped bring me back from the edge of yet another meltdown.

Gratitude lists don’t have to be grandiose. Although Kim’s list contained ten items, sometimes just one reminder is all it takes to snap me out of negativity. If I were to create a list today, it would include the following things for which I am grateful:

  1. The space heater under my desk which helps keep my feet warm in the winter.
  2. Cuddle-duds. Required attire for this chick in a chair from November – April. Thin enough to provide extra warmth without adding bulk or weight which would restrict my limited movement.
  3. Fifteen days until departure for Australia.
  4. The Broadway channel on the internet radio station I’m listening to. Now playing: “Electricity” from Billy Elliott. This leads me to….
  5. Memories of fun times with my best friend Stephanie. Thinking of her always makes me smile.
  6. Cadbury chocolate. Not the cheap kind made in the USA, but real Cadbury like the bar in my desk brought to me by a friend who recently traveled overseas. I will be returning the favor next month when I return from Australia.

Sure – this is a short list and there are more things for which I am grateful. But taking time to notice the small things, as Kim suggested in her post, means I am less likely to take the larger things (like my job, my car, my accessible apartment) for granted.

Give it a try. What is on your gratitude list today? Share it with the rest of us in the comments!