Can we just talk about some latitude for gratitude, please? Since being diagnosed with cancer the second time around, I have made gratitude a daily practice. I have found that it lifts me up when I’m down, procures me to live life with more intention, heart, and adventurous spirit, and has saved me many times from throwing myself a big old pity party.
And yet, I realized the other day, it is not great to tick off a list of things that you’re grateful for when you’re not really connecting to those things.
Case in point: I’m in the shower the other night and I’m washing the day off of me and thinking about my top 5 favorite things, because one of those is a nice long, warm shower, when I start to go through my list of things to be thankful for. I do this almost every night and sometimes it brings me relief, sometimes joy, sometimes tears, and sometimes quite honestly it’s just a few seconds of thankfulness and then I’m putting my pj’s on and thinking about what the next episode of The Affair will bring. Hey, I’m human.
But this other night, while I ticked off the things that I was grateful for that day (the warm shower, having a job, SHL and my family, not having treatment on that day, my new cozy pajamas, that cup of hot chocolate that I indulged in, my plans to see friends in the coming weeks), I realized that I was actually feeling kind of numb.
It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all of those crazy-good things, of course. But on that particular day I was actually just feeling like I needed to get through the day. Now this isn’t my usual motto– “just get through the day;” I like to make sure that in fact that I am not just going through the motions, but on this evening I was just so.tired. And a little bit crabby, too. Work has been busy and my fatigue has gotten the best of me lately, with little energy to work out or do much around the house, napping every day for hours and feeling a little “out of sync” with the rest of the world.
And then I realized: Gratitude as part of a daily practice is wonderful, but only if you can really connect to it. If you can really feel the appreciation like a bubble in your heart ready to explode with that feeling you get when you realize that you have so much.
I know I have so much. But lately (the past few days), I’ve also been feeling the injustice around having cancer. Around decisions being made for me, like not being able to have children or how often I need to go to the doctor (8 sets of scans in 12 months doesn’t give you much of a reprieve from worrying).
And nobody really knows what to say, because nobody knows what it’s like to walk in my shoes, just as I don’t know what it is like to walk in yours. And this brings up the lonely part; the part where I know people try, and love me, and say comforting things, but in reality there are times when I just feel so damn alone. Out of sync with others my age, thinking about my mortality and things that most of my friends aren’t thinking about. Worrying about things that most people my age thank goodness don’t have to worry about.
And on these days, I don’t always want to turn to gratitude. Sometimes I want to turn to chocolate, or sleep, or a funny movie. Some days I want to hibernate. Some days I want to yell. Some days I want to cry so hard I fall to the floor. Some days I actually like being at work so I can not think about cancer or the decisions already made for me or my next scans for at least a few minutes at a time.
I used to think that if I said something like what I just did, lighting would strike me. That g-d or the universe would punish me. It was superstitious, it was harmful, and it was holding me back from allowing myself to really feel grief. But now that I am trying to deal with suffering head-on, I realize that I need to allow myself those days where I don’t feel like I have to say, “Yeah, but it could be so much worse.” We all know that it could, but there are times when it is also OK to say “this feels like despair.” Sometimes even though you know that things could be worse, it’s actually irrelevant, believe it or not. Because to dismiss grief or anxiety or depression or suffering with “it could always be worse” is to dismiss authenticity, and in turn, to dismiss a person. And I’ve learned, the very hard way, that often than not when you’re authentic with your feelings, they don’t get the best of you.
And so I what a yearn to say to the world is, please don’t dismiss me. (I bet we’ve all felt this way at one time or another in our lives!). Please give me some latitude. Please know that gratitude lives in my heart forever, but some days, my authentic self is one that hurts.
I’ve been working on trying to see things with more compassion– especially with those that annoy, frustrate, or hurt me.
Now I’d like to work on allowing myself that same compassion.
I know that we’re all our worst critics. But I’m finally willing to give myself a little latitude. Are you? XO.