An Attitude of Gratitude

After Christmas, I think my favourite holiday is Thanksgiving. I have felt this way for a very long time, and yet Thanksgiving tends to be celebrated on a very low-key scale. A turkey dinner is usually the extent of any celebrating, and I seldom even bring out the good china for the occasion. While I love a turkey dinner with all that goes with it, Thanksgiving is much more than a statutory holiday on the calendar. As I am laying here with my belly full of delicious food and considering the holiday, I am struck by the personal nature of Thanksgiving. It’s not that we cannot be thankful in community, but I think that thankfulness needs to begin internally. Individually.

A number of years ago, I took up a Facebook challenge to post three things that made me happy every day for a week, and I am still making such posts on a regular basis. Sometimes I miss a day because I’m busy with life or don’t feel like it, but I always come back to it. It is a habit that has permeated the fibers of my being. It is quite normal for me to be making mental notes of my happy things throughout the day, although I do sometimes forget items by the time I get around to writing my formal list. Even beyond Facebook, I make a point of recognizing reasons to be thankful. In my blog. In my journal. In prayers. In conversation. In actions. In attitude.

My life isn’t all roses and honey, and I try not to pretend otherwise. Some days are hard, and some days just suck. But I firmly believe that gratitude is an attitude much more than it is dependent upon circumstances. We cannot always control what happens to us or around us, but we can always choose how we respond to such things. I admit that my first instinct isn’t always positive, not always thankful, but a misstep isn’t the same as giving up. Even on the darkest days, when nothing goes the way I want or the constant pain is stronger than usual, I still make the choice to be thankful for something.

Because gratitude is an attitude. It’s a posture that acknowledges the good in life, because there are a lot of good things out there. As a Christian, choosing to be thankful and looking for positives helps centre my spiritual focus. But even without my faith in the picture, I think there is great value in choosing gratitude as a daily ritual, if only to shift your focus from negative to positive. It has been my experience that practicing daily gratitude can have a profound impact on one’s overall sense of peace and joy. Being thankful for all sorts of things, big and small things, helps to make the painful and ugly parts of life easier to bear. I cannot imagine what my state of mind would have been like during these months of injury if I hadn’t made gratitude my habit a few years ago.

 

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The Spotlight

To borrow part of a line from a movie…I’m just a girl standing in front of a mirror, trying to love herself.

I have come a long way on this journey of becoming, and I am happy to be comfortable in my skin and loving myself. And yet, I can still find myself having fallen into the trap of negative self-talk which in turn leads to a distorted sense of who I am and what that looks like to others.

A few days ago on Facebook, a friend shared some odd facts about himself and welcomed others to share their own facts, and I did. Someone I do not know saw my facts and inquired after my fact of holding a World record, which led to further discussion and comments between the three of us. My friend called me a warrior and amazing and told this other person that she would really like me. Reading my friend’s comment was heart-warming but also rather made me feel the uncomfortable glare of a spotlight. It was high praise that I instantly felt was grossly exaggerated and unwarranted, and I pretty much said so.

Being a curator of thoughts, I have been dwelling on that Facebook conversation. The words written about me don’t quite seem to resemble me, not when I look at myself or when I look at others. This warrior, this amazing person worth knowing sounds like someone I would love to meet, but it doesn’t sound like me. However, in thinking about the comment and the source from which it came, I have had to pause and reconsider my position. The person who made this claim about me is not the sort of person who would throw out artificial praise. In fact, given what I know about this friend’s values and integrity, if he told me that Jane Doe was someone amazing and worth knowing, then I would believe him and want to know her. So why do I doubt his sincerity when I’m put in the spotlight?

Am I a warrior? Am I amazing? As much as I’d like to think so at times, the truth is that I am no better than anyone else and my struggles are no worse than anyone else’s. Everyone has a story that is uniquely their own. There will always be someone with a story either happier or uglier than the next person, and I dare say that a person’s story can be both happy and ugly, even at the same time. We are all stories. I think the lesson here, at least for me, is that stories draw people in. In the same way that I will always return to those books I love, people with interesting stories will always capture my attention and work their into my heart. And if I can look at others this way, then it shouldn’t be so surprising if others take interest in my story.

Pollyanna Pondering

On two separate occasions within the past three days, I have been drawn into slightly protracted conversations revolving around my lingering pains and symptoms from herniating my disc ten months ago, and the oddity of that caught my attention last night when sleep was elusive. It’s not that the subject of my ongoing issues never comes up in conversation because it does, but what grabbed hold of my attention was how I kept trying to brush off or minimize my struggles, while the people I was in conversation with kept insisting that I was indeed in an unfortunate position.

The irony of my insistence on staying positive and upbeat was illuminated as I lay in bed last night, unable to sleep for the pains running up and down the backs of my legs and the uncomfortable tingling extending all the way to the tips of my toes. (So much for the efficacy of the latest medication that the doctor felt would help with the pain and sleep!) And yet somehow, despite ten months of constant, though varying degrees of pain and mostly fitful nights of sleep, I am in a place and stage where I feel that the worst is behind me, resigned to the physical discomforts that have been part of my life for so long, and still hopeful for the future.

I herniated a disc and have biradicular pain. Ten months is a long time to be dealing with pain, but I recognize that I am still blessed with good health. There are so many people struggling with greater health issues than this. Life and death health issues. Worse pain. More physical impairment and disability. Even though my struggles can feel massive in my own eyes, I still see them as insignificant compared to what others are dealing with, and I squirm under the spotlight shone on me when someone tries to point out the validity of my own experiences.

I am as human as anyone else. Sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, I do want my feelings to be heard and validated. Feeling pain every minute of every day for ten months really does suck! When you jokingly consider the benefits of amputating your legs to be free of the pain, you know how much it sucks. I have progressed enough that I can sometimes sit for periods of time, but what isn’t always visible is how uncomfortable and pained I am as I do it. My ability to walk without limping has improved significantly, but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling pains down the backs of my legs or the permanent numbness in my left calf and foot. Lying down? That’s always been one of the most painful positions for me and still is now. There is no escaping the pain. It is generally tolerable, as I tend to point out in my making lemonade attitude; however, as has been pointed out by those unwilling to accept my Pollyanna attitude, tolerable isn’t acceptable. And it is not!

But what can you do? What can I do but continue making lemonade? What point is there in focusing on how unacceptable it is to be able to tolerate the pain? Although I’ve tried a lot of things in an effort to heal, there might still be a few more options through the pain clinic, which I hope to discover at my appointment next week. The level of pain in my legs hasn’t really changed much over the past few months, but the back’s aches and pains have been decreasing. My hours at work are about to expand a fair bit, and I’ve had new exercises added to my weekly training program, which make me feel optimistic about returning to heavier lifting at some point. Things are going well in most areas, except for sleep and the numbness and pains in my legs. It’s hard to complain too much about that, because it could easily be so much worse. Besides, there is good reason to embrace lemons. They’re naturally anti-inflammatory!

No Tears Today

Today has been an incredibly long day but a good one. We ate breakfast, then drove around Abbotsford to explore a bit before registration began at Columbia Bible College. Between arriving at the college and saying our good-byes, time seemed to drag by ever so slowly and yet still much too fast. One line to check in. Another line to sign her life away. A third line to get keys for her dorm and mailbox.

Then the real fun began…unloading the car and bringing all of her possessions up to her third floor dorm room! Let me tell you how fun that was! It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t have these ongoing pains and issues with my legs. The back itself held up fine, but the nerve pains in my legs have been strong since the drive down yesterday. Far too much sitting! I cannot even sit for a couple of minutes now without strong pains running from my buttocks to the back of my knees or without numbness and strong ‘pins & needles’ in both feet. So, trekking up and down stairs really put my poor legs through the wringer. During one trip upstairs, I actually thought back to some of the questions the neurosurgeon asked me, especially the one about my ability to use stairs. By the time I got to see the neurosurgeon my mobility was greatly improved, so naturally I indicated that I had no trouble walking or using stairs. I still don’t have any real trouble with either; however, today is a reminder that I am not nearly as back to normal as I want to be. But anyway…

I had thought that Abby was packing way too much stuff for the school, and the car was definitely packed as full as it could possibly be. And yet, I was somewhat amazed to see how much stuff was being carried into the dorms by other students and parents. Abby is sharing a room with two other girls. I think she was a little disappointed to not be in a two-person room, but I think the extra body will be a good thing in the long run. At least I hope so…we didn’t get to meet the other student before we left. We did have the opportunity to meet one of her roommates and her parents though, and we even shared a table over the BBQ dinner. They seem like good people, and I feel confident that Abby will have no problem getting along with this roommate.

After helping Abby unpack and organize all of her worldly possessions into four drawers, half of a wardrobe closet, and a couple of shelves, we took a quick tour through The Metzger Collection. We only had enough time to scan the exhibits, but it was a place I’d like to spend more time. Then it was time for the parent meeting, which was both reassuring, informative, and extremely painful…for me. Following the parent meeting was the BBQ for parents and students. The food was delicious and more substantial than anticipated. Parents were also welcome to attend a worship/concert time between 6:30 and 8:00, but I could not tolerate anymore sitting or even standing. Abby understood and was okay with us leaving after dinner. We hugged and said our good-byes, and I didn’t even cry!

Now Kane and I are back at the hotel. Obviously I’m on my laptop, blogging, and we’re watching an X-Men movie on the TV. I am also finding my thoughts frequently turning back to my daughter and tears threaten. So far, so good though! But I know they will come eventually. If not tonight, then maybe tomorrow. Or Tuesday when we get back home. Or next week. Or next month when she comes home for Thanksgiving. Maybe all of the above. I know it will happen, because I am the sort of person who leaks. There will be tears because I miss her, but the tears won’t necessarily be sad ones. I can miss her and still be extremely proud of her. I can miss her and still know that this is going to be an amazing experience for her. Oh, but I am going to miss my girl!

Mamma Mia!

My daughter is going away to college in a few weeks, and I ran straight into that reality last night as we watched the local production of Mamma Mia!

Abby has been dreaming and planning for this year of college for quite a while now, and she has been driving me crazy lately with all of her dorm room shopping and talk about dorm room shopping. It makes me a little crazy, because I don’t like shopping and I didn’t see the need to obsess over it months in advance. Aside from the shopping annoyance, I’ve been pragmatic about her leaving in the fall. I’ve made sure that I have the weekend free to take her to school, and I’ve booked the hotel room for that weekend. Time has kept its steady pace, and I haven’t been oblivious to the speed with which September is approaching, but I haven’t been emotional about it yet. Well, until last night.

There we were at our community theatre to watch the absolutely amazing performance of Mamma Mia! Abby had placed herself between her father and I for the night, which meant she and I shared many glances, nudges, and bits of conversation. We shuddered together over some fashion choices in the crowd. We nudged each other when someone from a middle seat had to get out in the middle of the performance, because we had talked about the tightness of the rows, our preference for sitting on the aisle, and the fact that it always seems to be a person in the middle who needs to get up during a show. During the song Knowing Me, Knowing You, I leaned over to hit her with the “a-ha” of the chorus, and that’s when reality smacked me in the face.

My girl is going away in a few short weeks, and I am going to miss her. The house won’t be empty, but there will be a void. Abby and I have a good relationship, and it is going to be strange to not have her here to speak sarcasm with and to disagree over Captain America and the Winter Soldier. I won’t have someone blessing me for having a pot of coffee on in the morning or understanding the need for chocolate. Instead I will need to make sure the cat gets fed and the litter box cleaned out, but I refuse to FaceTime the cat for Abby. Maybe towels won’t get lost in her bedroom once she’s gone, and maybe my chocolate will last longer.

Because I am who I am, my eyes leaked during the performance from start to finish. The waterworks were especially strong during the song Slipping Through My Fingers. Abby told me after that she had looked over during the song and seen the tears on my face. That made her laugh a bit, at least enough to stop her from getting too emotional. Typical.

My emotional balance has been restored with the light of day. For now. Abby tried to make me cry this morning by playing Slipping Through My Fingers again, but I’m okay. She’s determined to make me emotional about her leaving, and she will likely succeed at some point. That can’t be helped or avoided, but I am not at all sad for her to go. I am excited for her to go and learn and spread her wings.

The Whiteboard

whiteboardpic

This is a picture of the whiteboard in my chiropractor’s office, and all of that mumbo-jumbo written on it relates to me. I cannot claim to understand most of it. The only portion that is of real relevance to me is the little bit at the bottom left corner, because those are some exercises that I need to do. The rest of it, as best as I can describe it, has to do with testing neural tension and how my body responds to it. My chiropractor recently announced that he will be taking leaving practice for a while to follow a slightly different path. I’ve been asked how I feel about it and what that is going to mean for me. The news took me by surprise and makes me feel that awkwardly odd combination of happy/proud/sad, but mostly, I wonder what is going to happen to my whiteboard experiences. But this blog post isn’t about his leaving anymore than it is about the words written on the whiteboard!

In the week or so since hearing my chiropractor’s news, I have been wondering why it is that the whiteboard has firmly cemented itself in my brain. I like to, often need to, think and process out loud, either by talking to myself, to someone who will listen, or in written form, so I have been talking and writing and processing. What is it about a simple whiteboard that makes me feel such an impending sense of loss? I think I know and it isn’t really about the whiteboard but what the whiteboard represents. It is relationship, connection, authenticity, and all manner of positive qualities that are so often lacking in our daily interactions.

From day one, my chiropractor has been different than any other health care practitioner I have ever seen, and I am fairly certain that he used a whiteboard that day to illustrate the problem going on inside my shoulder. My chiropractor is one of the smartest people I know, but he has never dismissed my doubts or questions or fears. He has always just been himself and accepted me as I am. His authenticity made it easy for me to trust him at a time when I didn’t think highly of chiropractors at all. Being able to trust him enabled me to be myself, and as a result his impact on my life goes wider and deeper than a routine spinal adjustment. I imagine that many clinicians maintain an impenetrable veneer to keep distance between themselves and their patients, and I get how that can be necessary. However, now I have first-hand experience of a better way, and I love it. I value and yearn for real relationships, not that I need to be the bestest of friends with everyone I meet, but I want to be seen as a real person and I want to see realness in others. Those are the people who inspire and motivate me, who challenge and encourage me. Those are the people I want to surround myself with.

So back to the whiteboard…

I can get another chiropractor, and I’m reasonably certain I can get one that I’d like. The bigger question I ask is will I get the whiteboard. It’s not that I need illustrations and mumbo-jumbo, although I do tend to be a visual learner. What I truly want is someone who will get me and see me as a real person rather than just another body to poke and crunch. Quite honestly, this is what I want of most of my relationships. If I choose to or need to spend great chunks of time with someone, I want that relationship to be authentic. A friend made a comment the other day about a line she had read in a book, which talked about how old friends see each other’s original paint, no matter how many layers we have applied in our attempts to fit in and to be someone else. I like that. Whether old friends or new, when we can see a person’s original paint we are being authentic, and those are the kind of relationships I want.

 

In The Moment

When I pull my brain back from tomorrow and my heart from yesterday, I live with joy today.

(I came across that quote somewhere a while back, but I have no idea who originally said or wrote it.)

It’s been a weird week. There was the unexpected follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon and a couple of surprise announcements that are going to take some time to process and accept. After a deload week in my training, I began this week expecting a fresh training week feeling strong and fresh, but that never quite materialized. At the gym on Wednesday, I wanted to throw a kettlebell through a wall, because the back was so achy and uncomfortable, and I cannot always avoid feeling frustrated and stuck. I had no anger or frustration issues at the gym today; however, my mood was drooping and I simply felt tired and weak.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night, probably the worst night in a while now. Sleep has been tricky since the start of this injury, but the past few months has at least allowed me to settle into a reasonable, functional rhythm of lying awake, falling asleep, lots of tossing and position changes, and a few wakeful periods. Last night had plenty of tossing and position changes and lying awake…not so much sleep though. It wasn’t all due to the physical symptoms. The brain was racing for the first hour or two, twisting problems into knots before unraveling them to start over again, but the brain did eventually quiet and settle. Still no sleep. Despite the central air-conditioning and bedroom fan blowing, I felt too hot, too uncomfortable. The lack of sleep probably didn’t help me out at the gym this morning.

Although I stopped taking my prescriptions more than a month ago, I still have them. Lots of them actually because the last refill had been a big one. In all the time that I was on the medications, I never felt like they made a difference in the pain or symptoms, which is why I stopped taking them. I hate taking medication, but there are moments when I pause to consider the vials on my counter. What if I was wrong about the impact they made on the pain I felt? As much as my current pain levels are a far cry from what they used to be, I am still in pain. All of the time. It sucks. It saps energy and life from your body. It eats away at you from the inside and wears you down. Most of the time I can look beyond the pain and discomfort, but there are moments, sometimes days, when that is difficult to do. I think today is one of those days. Perhaps most of the week has been like that, and certainly my body is still re-learning and adjusting to being back at work, even if with limited hours.

I am tired, frustrated, and hurting, yet the day was not all gloom.

I got to go to the gym today! Although this injury has significantly impacted my ability to train as I would like, I am still of the mindset that going to the gym is a positive. My body might not always enjoy working out these days, but I am always glad to be able to do it.

My youngest son came by today. Sure, he was only here to pick up some mail, but that’s two days in a row I got to see my baby boy.

It’s far too easy to allow pain, fatigue, and low mood to throw road blocks in front of any sort of productivity I might have planned, but I managed to get a few things done today.

I laughed. Not the fake laugh one does when being polite but genuine laughter. Mostly at my own expense and that’s okay. It was still the sort of laughter that lessens the weightiness of whatever is sitting on your shoulders. And I didn’t laugh alone, which only increases its’ potency.

I finished off one book and began another. You would think that someone who had been off work and essentially idle for seven months would have read plenty of books, but the pain was too distracting and my head too foggy to focus on written words up until recently.