We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States in November. Stories of thanks and gratitude are abundant. But what if gratitude eludes you? What if in the storm you do not see any clear skies or rainbows? When the world seems high on life, and you are not, then what?
I saw a post that read: If you are having trouble finding something to be grateful for, check your pulse.
There is always gratitude in our journey. I believe that is true. Sometimes gratitude is difficult to access. I empathize with those unable to find gratitude in a situation. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. Sometimes it is difficult to see beyond the hardship.
Three years ago, my strength was tested. I was unable to see anything positive in my situation. I thought the pressure would crush me. I could not find a silver lining. At the time, that was my truth. As I began to write about gratitude today, the memories of that time rushed through my mind. I knew I had to change directions. I decided to be vulnerable. I would write about a time I was not grateful. I feel anxiety about sharing this as I type. As I muster the courage to show the ugly bits, fear and anxiety join the party in my mind. Fear and anxiety have kept me from opening up. Today I decided to be brave and vulnerable. Look at me channeling my inner Brené Brown.
In 2019 my husband was hospitalized. Todd has battled with anxiety, and depression since Emily was a toddler. With proper medical care, his condition was manageable. This time was different. I was terrified and felt alone. I have never discussed the impact the event had on me. I held in the trauma and sadness. It was as if releasing my pain would betray him.
Todd was in the hospital. Justin was living away from home. Justin had just finished a year at UCSB. He had decided not to continue his studies but was locked into a lease for another year. He was working at UPS and learning some tough lessons about responsibility and commitment. We knew Todd was going to be out of work for an extended period. I was caring for Emily alone. I was doing my best to maintain my duties for my employer. I did not have family members that could help care for Emily.
I was unable to sleep. As my head hit the pillow, the chatter would commence. I was worried about Todd and Justin. The guilt I was carrying was overwhelming. I was too busy caring for myself and Emily. I did not see that Todd was in decline. I had let them down. I was not doing enough. I was not able to be there for everyone. I was failing at everything.
I was concerned about paying bills and the long-term impact of all of it. Todd and I have always worked well as a team. We have worked together caring for Emily. We both had times when we were down, but never at the same time. When one was down, the other would pick up the slack. We both had nothing to give, and Emily needed us. I wasn’t sure how things would progress. Everything seemed fragile and uncertain. I was not able to see all the things to be grateful for that were around me. I could only see the struggles.
As time passed, my perspective shifted. I was never alone. I had the support of the staff from AbilityFirst. The after-school program allowed me to visit Todd at the hospital after work. Staff volunteered to bring Emily to my house if I was running late to pick her up. The company I work for was extremely supportive and flexible. Todd’s supervisor was compassionate and understanding. We had money in the bank to pay our immediate bills. Todd’s brother helped us out financially while Todd was out of work. Todd’s brother flew out immediately to support Todd and Todd’s parents. Justin was not at home and did not have to experience the event firsthand. Emily’s intellectual disability prevented her from comprehending the magnitude of the situation. I had started taking great care of myself in the months prior. I was in the best mental, physical, and emotional state to handle the added stress.
I recently read there are 3 phases of gratitude:
- Recognition: When you realize it will be okay. The situation is difficult but you can handle it. You begin to see things from multiple points of view. You recognize how you are in a better position to handle than you may have initially thought. The realization that “things could be worse”.
- Acknowledgment: You see some hope or relief in the future. The concept of the light at the end of the tunnel. This gives you some energy to move forward and take steps you may have been unable to take before.
- Appreciation: You see who supported you through the experience. You realize you were not as alone as you may have thought. You recognize the people and things that got you to the other side.
Looking back I recognize that I did go through the phases of gratitude. I experienced all of these. It did not happen with perfect timing. It did not flow with ease, but the gratitude did flow. Beauty and healing grew out of the dark storm. Todd is stronger and healthier. Our family is more resilient and compassionate. Gratitude is always available. Sometimes our focus on the hard makes it difficult to recognize AND that is OKAY.