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How to Cultivate Gratitude in the Midst of Hardship - Chronically Whole
How to Cultivate Gratitude in the Midst of Hardship

How to Cultivate Gratitude in the Midst of Hardship

November 6, 2016 | Posted in: Coping, Disability, Faith, Grief, Marriage, Relationships, Self-Care, Special Needs Parenting

2012 was that year.  The Murphey’s Law year.  Everything that could go wrong did, and it took everything we had to survive it…literally.

It was the third year of my son’s leukemia treatment, the total duration of which lasted over 3 years.  Additionally, I started out the year with mono and thyroid failure, which I attribute to the enormous stress of parenting a child with cancer.  In early spring, my husband slipped in oil and fell on his rear end.  The meager remains of one of his lumbar discs which had previously exploded and been repaired were decimated, and at the ripe young age of 40, he had a fusion surgery to his lumbar spine.

That was enough, believe me, but that wasn’t all.  On Mother’s Day, while my husband was detoxing from the valium prescribed for the initial recover of his surgery, I noticed that my feet were asleep and wouldn’t “wake up”.  I moved and wiggled and stretched to no avail, my feet remained asleep.

Days went by, and little by little, the tingling sensation of my feet being asleep traveled up my legs and into my arms, followed by loss of sensation in my feet and legs, profound weakness, and exhaustion.  I didn’t mention it to anyone for probably a month.  There was too much going on, I didn’t have time to worry about myself.  Finally, I admitted I was terrified, and went to my doctor who suspected Multiple Sclerosis and referred my to a neurologist.  Long story short, I endured a few months of testing, during which my son got c diff.  I was at the oncology clinic with him when my neurologist called me to deliver the news that I had Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The good news was that I finally had an answer and the disease was (in the words of my neurologist) “entirely self-limiting” (meaning that I should recover completely, eventually), the bad news was that I was outside of the time frame for treatment to be effective, so I was left to recover on my own.

My son, with his c diff, being still in diapers, required upwards of 20 diaper changes daily, several of those during the night hours.  Every time I sat down on the floor to change him, I lacked the strength to stand back up, and had to crawl to the book shelf or couch to pull myself back to a standing position from all fours.

My husband had a prolonged recovery, and could lift no more than a gallon of milk.  In order to recover, he had to follow orders and rest, it was crucial.

And so we made do, like a feeble old couple hobbling around trying to help each other with what little strength either of us had.

There were days I didn’t think we’d make it. Literally, physically, emotionally, mentally.

There was only one strand of a rope for us to cling to: gratitude. Click To Tweet

If you’re wondering what on earth we had to be grateful for, you’re not alone.  We were sinking in quicksand, and to struggle against it would have made it worse, the best thing we could do was to cling to thankfulness as a lifeline. And that’s exactly what we did.

Guillain-Barre syndrome can be far, far worse than my case, causing complete paralysis.  We were grateful for my relatively light case.  We have world class medical facilities within a half hour of our home, so that the treatment for each of us was within easy travel distance.  We have a marriage that had been tested before, so we knew that we are stronger together, and focused on that.  I was able to get up off the floor, even if the effort it took was extraordinary, I was thankful each time my legs supported me.  Because our son had c diff, when he went to the oncology clinic he had to be isolated, which means he got a room with a bed, and we could both lie down during his visits and rest.  We have a home filled with modern conveniences which make life much more manageable.

We highlighted every small success or bit of relief, keeping our minds on the good instead of the bad, and I am convinced that the only way we made it through that dark time was by focusing on thanksgiving instead of grief.

There is a time for grieving, and there were many days that I broke down and ugly cried, so please don’t imagine that I’m suggesting that we were happy-go-lucky and cruised through that year with hardly a scratch on us, quite the contrary.  We were battered, bruised and torn limb from limb, but we survived, marriage and family intact, and I know that and attitude of gratitude was instrumental in our survival.

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  1. Sarah
    November 7, 2016

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    Many, many hugs! You and your fam have been through the gauntlet from the sound of things. I’m so sorry you have had the deep layers of hurt that you’ve experienced, but I am encouraged by your post to keep the spirit of gratitude. Was going to write something similarly given this Thanksgiving month. It’s so good to see so many others with chronic illness who have had the same idea!

  2. Moriah
    November 7, 2016

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    Wow! Amazing story and such an awesome reminder of the power of gratitude and how it can change our whole outlook and see the joys and gifts God has given us!

  3. Katarina Zulak
    November 11, 2016

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    Wow, that’s an incredible story and I’m so glad to hear that you and your family came through the other side intact. I absolutely agree on the importance of choosing whether you focus on what is good, and what you are grateful for, or focus on what isn’t working and what you wish you could change. Choosing the former made a significant difference in my mental and emotional wellbeing after my chronic illness diagnosis. It’s funny that for most people, we instinctively dwell on the negative. It takes a conscious effort to refocus on gratitude.

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