I wanted to share a personal story about a time when I truly felt gratitude, and how it enabled me to take advantage of what I had in order achieve a bit of personal growth, to this day. I think this might be valuable to some readers, because it might highlight the difference between appreciating your life and yourself as it is (without judgement) and moving towards your goals with confidence, as opposed to taking the mindset of never being enough – and therefore having to constantly strive for improvement just to be worthy.
I want to add a disclaimer here – I’m going to describe some of my experience with cancer, and the pain and physical symptoms that came with that. I don’t generally sugar coat my medical experiences, so it might be too much for some people. I also use the F-bomb, like, once, and I ramble on quite a bit. So don’t read this if that bothers you.
In late 2012, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I was prescribed several rounds of chemo-therapy, and with that treatment came a LOT of sickness, fatigue, and pain. Lots of days I was just too tired to get out of bed, or eat, or even pay attention to the TV. Many days I was starving, but no matter how badly I wanted it I couldn’t bring myself to eat rice because I knew the pain of attempting to digest it would be too much to handle.
I remember sitting down at the kitchen table one night. My mom had cooked one of my favorite meals in an attempt to get me to eat a little more. I sat down, stared at the plate, and all of a sudden I felt nothing but pure terror. Even the thought of eating one of my favorite meals caused me to break down sobbing because the I knew the pain in my mouth, my throat, and my stomach would just be too much to handle. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even want to try.
Another night I remember the bones in my legs hurting so badly, the only thing I could do was cry and rock my head back and forth to distract myself from the pain. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but it was at least six hours. Six hours of deep breathing, crying, and begging my body to please stop.
One day, I woke up, took a breath, and…. nothing. No pain. No aches in my bones, no tender bruises, no stomach cramps or migraines. No sharp pain when I inhaled and no coughing when I exhaled. No pins, needles, or numbness in my toes or fingers. On top of it, I actually felt ready to get out of bed and start my day – I had the kind of morning energy that makes you feel like you’re glowing ever so slightly.
Never before in my life, and not once since then, have I felt so grateful for anything. I almost couldn’t believe it. I wiggled my toes, I bent my knees. I hopped out of bed and walked a few steps, and still I wasn’t in pain. Holy shit, was that something.
Never before in my life had I been so, so thankful to have my body. Lots of times I’ve thought of my body as this traitorous, broken-down, rickety old meat sack that needs replacement parts every few years to function half as well as anyone else’s. Poor me, what disease will I get next? Why me, why me?
Well, guess what? Being in that much pain turned me around. Not being able to use my legs, my toes or my fingers really gave me a new perspective.
Nowadays, before I start a pity party I try to remind myself of a few things.
Maybe I can’t run as fast as I want to, but I have legs that let me run. Thank God (or whatever) for that. I’m going to be grateful for them and use them the best I can, because the old me that couldn’t use her legs would be fucking PISSED if she saw me wasting that opportunity. I’m really, really grateful I’m as healthy as I am; that I have the opportunities that I have, and that I’m still alive to pursue my aspirations. And I know I have so much to improve about myself. But when I take a moment to be grateful for what I have, it allows me to pursue my dreams from a different place than I used to.
I used to think I (and my body) was broken, and I would only be worthy as a person if I reached the goals I set for myself – running as fast and as long as my friends, being as smart as them, or as funny or as pretty. Taking a minute to appreciate all the immense assets I have (such as working legs!) lets me see myself in a new light.
I’m not broken and in need of improvement. I’m worthy the way I am. My legs don’t need to be the strongest for me to love them now. It turns out I can do a whole lot of things I used to take for granted. In the end, I’m getting a lot farther focusing on what I have and what I am than focusing on what I lack, or what I am not.