First and foremost, I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving and your holiday season is off to a great start.
Now that we're in full swing of the holidays, every commercial you see, every catchy headline and article you read, every music station you listen to (if you still do that sort of thing), every store you walk into...every...everything is on holiday steroids. It can be an exciting time of year for a lot of people BUT it can also be horrendously depressing for a plethora of reasons. Seriously. One of these reasons...chronic pain and/or chronic illness.
During this time of year, we're all encouraged and reminded to give thanks, count our blessings, have an "attitude of gratitude," etc., etc. The world makes it sound so easy..."write down 3 things you're grateful for every day, focus on what you do have, not on what you don't, only speak words of hope and positivity," and on and on and on. Though the concept is as old as the beginning of time, it's become "trendy" to be grateful. Call it a spiritual awakening, conscious movement or religious discipline, the world has been openly discussing spreading "love and light," using positive words and affirmations and openly sharing what they're blessed and grateful for while simultaneously shedding negativity and excising complaining. It's not a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination but what happens when you find yourself in a crowd of positive, hopeful, grateful, seemingly happy people...and you feel like the odd man out? Oscar the Grouch? Bitter Betty?...ok, ok, I'm done now.
Well, you're not alone. As chronic pain/ chronic illness sufferers it can be really hard to gain any kind of grateful perspective. Whether we realize it or not, oftentimes, we are grieving...the lives we suddenly lost, the dreams we had and the roles we used to know ourselves to play. As months and months of medication changes, hopeful surgeries, and bi-weekly doctor's appointments drag on without us beginning to feel any better, our hope slowly begins to dwindle...and so do our attitudes. Even the sweetest of us, can begin to sour. Add in a tragic or trying life event and you have one serious mess on your hands.
More times than not, we don't even realize we've become negative. And then, once we do, we're so entrenched in our own suffering, we are convinced we can't do anything about it.
This holiday season is a particularly hard one for me. For Thanksgiving, I was down in Sarasota, FL with my paternal grandparents, my brother, sister-in-law and my brand new baby niece. Sounds nice, right? It should be. I should be overflowing with gratitude...that I have my Dad's parents left to celebrate a holiday with, that my brother and his wife just gave birth to their beautiful 3-month-old and my first niece, that the rest of my family is healthy, we've enjoyed some success and we have lots of love to go around. Who could complain? Be sad? Be negative?
Me! Why? Because my two "Boys" recently passed away and the grief is suffocating. My mind and emotions have been on overdrive. I have done my best to accept my illnesses, and haven't minded being single, still building my career or even being "barren" but suddenly, with the loss of my two great loves, the only children I have ever known...I have found myself crying relentlessly about everything. I have found myself asking the questions I once asked during the beginning of my plight with chronic pain and illness. Why is everything such an uphill battle? What have I done that things have to always be so difficult? In other words...my epic pity-party that I threw 7-years ago, started to look enticing all over again. At one point, I stopped myself and thought, Christina, you teach this stuff! What is WRONG with you? And then I realized, gratitude was a lesson I had to LEARN...and clearly, I needed a refresher course.
Most of us feel captive to our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. At least, I know I did. It wasn't until I heard Joyce Meyer, a well known American, Christian author, speaker, and president of Joyce Meyer Ministries, said, "Your thoughts and my thoughts will determine the kind of lives we will have in the future. And you don't have to think about and focus on whatever falls into your head. You can think things on purpose." Duh, right? But honestly, it hit me like a ton of bricks when I first heard it...and it still seems to take my breath away at times.
We are NOT captive to our thoughts, and emotions. We CAN change what we think about and focus on. BUT, here's what they don't tell you. You need to learn how. You need to push yourself...hard. And, you need a LOT of practice.
Here are my best tips on how I'm relearning how to be grateful through grief, emotional pain, and physical pain.
1. First, it's important to know your thoughts. I kept a small journal with me wherever I went for 30 days. Every single time I noticed a negative thought, feeling, complaint or emotional change...I'd stop and write down what I was thinking about. You can also use the notes on your phone if you find it easier, but for me, physically writing something solidifies it in my mind. After the 30 days, I realized that I had the same 6 looping fearful thoughts and complaints. ALL DAY. My mind was smart enough to switch up how I feared the same 6 thoughts and complaints, but sure enough, it was the same exact content.
2. Once I understood what I was thinking, I then decided to write down the antidote to those fears. For every negative thought, I wrote down a positive, hopeful thought - even if I didn't believe it. Full disclosure, I didn't believe any of them at first. Here's an example:
Negative thought: I'm never going to get remarried again because chronic pain is just too much for someone to take on if they don't have to.
Positive thought: I am a smart, faithful, driven, hard-working, loving, faith-guided woman who has a lot to give - I will find someone who will love and respect me despite my human flaws.
3. Then, I carried that same journal around with me and each time a negative thought or complaint, I would pop into my head, I would open my little journal to its antidote and say it out loud.
4. But, I still had to find things to be grateful for. Despite my failed marriage, my failing health, my derailed career, and the tragic loss of my Dad. It seemed impossible. But I decided that trying couldn't hurt any more than what I was already. So...I started a routine, tradition if you will. Like all good routines or traditions, I first had to start by setting an alarm every morning that rang obnoxiously with a reminder: "Practice Gratefulness." Every morning, after getting the Boys and myself downstairs, while I was feeding them and starting our day, I would say, "Okay Boys...what are we grateful for today?"
The first few weeks...it was a struggle to find...anything. The next few weeks, finding 3-4 things seemed difficult but not impossible. The next month, 3-4 came pretty naturally...until, one day, after a few months...I was rattling off things I was grateful for like a pro. It could be the smallest or biggest of things. I was grateful for my home, my new car (even though I needed one because mine was totaled thanks to it being the first drive of a brand new licensed 17-year old), my eyesight, the Boys health, the parts of my body that didn't hurt, the people in my life who loved me, the people who were no longer in my life (for whatever reason) but loved me while they were...and on and on I went.
5. The saying is true: the more you practice gratefulness, the easier it becomes to be grateful. However, it is a learned behavior. And changing behaviors and/or learning new behaviors requires commitment, time, patience and practice. And oh, by the way, what I'm learning now is even though you learned the lesson...life has this funny way of retesting your skill set.
Today, I struggle to list the things I'm grateful for as I linger in the midst of the immense pain I'm experiencing due to the loss of my beloved "Boys." Especially, since I started my gratefulness journey with my "Boys." I've tried a few times earlier in the week while I was in the kitchen doing the dishes, but I eventually get reduced to tears every time, after looking up and seeing an empty living room with no little eyes and wagging tails looking back at me like, what the hell is she talking about now?
Life is a journey. Gratefulness is a journey. Chronic pain/chronic Illness is a journey. We will never wake up one day and say, "Tada! I've finally figured it all out, my health is perfect, my perspective is perfect, my life is perfect and the best part is...it's going to be that way for the rest of my life!" We're all a constant work in progress - we take huge strides forward, and enormous missteps backward - we all have lessons we've learned, lessons we need to repeat and lessons we still have yet to learn. So, be patient with yourself, kind to yourself and loving with yourself; And then, be grateful that you have been. (Get it?!)
Christina H Chororos founded Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching in the fall of 2017 after obtaining her Integrative Wellness Life Coaching certification from the Integrative Wellness Academy.
She is a decade-long deep infiltrating endometriosis sufferer, speaker and, suicide prevention + chronic pain patient advocate.
For more information, please visit kairoschronicpain.com