What have I got to be grateful for?

If my last post sounded a little blue, put it down to a cold which arrived before Christmas, rendered me voiceless for 4 days, and then departed, except for an annoying and unproductive cough. And I was fine for a week. But now it’s back, like a viral boomerang. No fair! I have antibodies!

But that’s the least of my problems, rationally speaking. My economic situation is dire. I’m counting and budgeting every cent, walking miles to work (when I’m not running a fever) to save bus fare, reducing my breakfast eggs from 2 to 1 and slicing the bread thicker.

I’m finding myself curiously calm about this. I’m doing everything I can think of to do, and I’ll just have to deal with whatever comes. It’s not like me. My motto has always been “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” I was the woman with the backup plan. And even so, anxiety was my middle name.

Now I’ve been thrown on the mercies of near-strangers who never struck me as empathetic, and who are not responsible for me in any way. And they have been altruistic beyond all bounds of logic or self-interest. I’ve also received a number of random and very timely gifts from completely unexpected sources. The unthinkable has happened, and I’m not only alive and kicking, I’m grateful.

I’ve never been a devotee of gratitude as a practice. Too many people have tried to shove it down everyone’s throats as a cure for “negative” feelings, like anger. Most therapists will tell you that healthy, constructively-expressed anger is a normal and necessary thing which does not need to be cured. Discomfort is a spur to action. It isn’t supposed to be pleasant. If it was easy-peasy to examine feelings you’d rather not have, stand up to that bully, protest that injustice, you would already have done it.

Therefore, if you try to force gratitude when what you really feel is anger – or fear, or grief – you’re circumventing your own motivational processes. Plan to spend a lot of time and money with one of those therapists. Gratitude is not a practice, it’s a feeling. It comes when it comes.

That’s why “gratitude” has never been my mantra. I’ve tried not to focus on what’s past and can’t be undone, but do I ever regret that I lived with undiagnosed depression until I was 38 years old? Of course I do. Do I wish I’d had parents who were kind and wise and thought the sun rose and set on me? Very much.

And yet, I do harbor a few spontaneous and sincere gratitudes. I feel incredibly lucky that I came to an understanding of my depression, in time to save my life (it was a close call), that it was treatable, that I got back my mind, and that I’ve discovered the myriad shades of feeling that are not pain.

And lately, I’m harboring gratitude for the smallest things. The cough drops I found in a drawer. Ten pounds of lentils I bought months ago and never used. An unexpected bag of clean kitty litter at the back of the closet. A gift card for coffee when I thought I’d have to give it up. An offer of work from someone I already like and trust. The unseasonably sunny weather, which has freed me from my usual winter struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. A safe and pleasant place to live.

I’m also grateful for what I achieved during the time I wasn’t making the income I’m now feeling the lack of. I understand what was going wrong in my life. I’m still working on how to fix it, but I know where to start, and how to minimize further issues while I figure that out. I haven’t experienced the full consequences yet, but so far, it was worth it.

The less I have, the more I appreciate what’s left. Conveniences and simple pleasures I once took for granted no longer seem small. I’m acutely aware of each moment of peace and comfort. Tomorrow they may be gone. So what have I got to be grateful for? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Two outstretched hands offering a small gift-wrapped box

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