After the week I've just had, I have to say that writing a post on gratitude was not the first thing that came to mind.
Gratitude is a big topic.
People with disabilities and chronic illnesses are often accused of being ungrateful, or of complaining more than they should. It is common to hear the criticism that, "They just don't know how good they have it," of those who are healthy and able-bodied, or even those with illnesses or disabilities that are deemed to be 'less severe'.
As my body has become more affected by my illness, I've found myself thinking that same thing, and criticising my younger self for not realising how good things were. It's not the big things that I could have done that I regret (though maybe I would have done more travelling), but the feeling that I didn't appreciate the little things enough until they were no longer possible.
Though it's too late for many experiences, I try to relish everything now, however tiny. I appreciate colours, scents and flavours; the turns of phrase and mannerisms of those I love. That doesn't mean that I don't grieve for those things (and people) that I've lost, or for the things that might have been. It doesn't mean that I don't experience daily symptoms to drag my days down into reality. What it does mean is that I choose to focus on the things that I enjoy, and that are special to me, rather than focusing on the things about my life that make me sad.
Gratitude doesn't mean that everything is perfect.
As I sit here now, typing this, I'm taking one of my 19 daily medications (this one takes 10 minutes - perfect for starting a blog post). I can't walk more than a few metres without getting short of breath, or sit without pain in the joints that dislocate even at rest. Currently, and I really hope this is just a flare-up, I am not able to eat at all, or even drink much.
But I am still grateful.
I am grateful for my cat, curled up in a purring, dribbling heap of companionship beside me; grateful for the tiny pink cyclamen by the garden door that even I (with my black anti-gardening fingers) haven't managed to kill, and which is flowering cheerfully against the autumn weather. I am grateful for the candles on the dining table, which I will light when the daylight goes. I am grateful for the daylight, grey and meagre as it is, and grateful for the people outside on the street who have braved the grey weather to provide entertainment for me as I people-watch from my window.
Loneliness is a feature of most of my days, so I am especially grateful to those who reach out and break into my isolation, whether online or in real life - my husband, family and friends.
I am grateful for the medical professionals who work so diligently to give me some quality of life.
But quality of life can't really be given, can it?
My symptoms can be controlled to some extent, but unless I choose to accept my situation as it is, I will never really have quality of life. I could quite easily justify spending the rest of my life lamenting my circumstances, feeling jealousy towards those who can do things that I can't do, and directing inwards the anger and frustration that I feel about my illness.
Gratitude is the alternative to all that. It is making the decision to seek quality in the life that I have, not the life that I might prefer. It is choosing to embrace each day and the things that it may bring, taking pleasure in the little things. Perhaps most of all, for me, it is choosing to take care of my body despite its many flaws, and love it for what it is; loving myself for who I am, so that I can appreciate all that I have, and be grateful for it.
Gratitude is a choice, not a feeling.
This post was written as part of NHBPM - 30 health posts in 30 days: http://bit.ly/vU0g9J
It is also part of the chronicbabe.com fortnightly blog carnival