My throat burned after the fourth upheaval. I tossed another white paper bag, stained with the remnants of yesterday’s dinner, into the trashcan by my bedside. The nurse placed a hand on the top of my back as I tried to stand, only to grip my shoulders as I collapsed right back down into the cold seat of my wheelchair. “This is unfortunate,” I thought to myself, as the pressure to vomit built inside of me for the fifth time that day. “I will never take for granted the ability to walk, or talk, or sing ‘Break Free’ ever again.”
On that bright Sunday morning in late June, I woke to the world spinning. Everything in my vision floated, and when I told myself to focus on the closet opposite of my bed, its wooden door defied gravity and did somersaults. Nausea pierced me every time I stood or even looked up, so I crawled to the hall bathroom, vomited – for the first of many times that day – and spent ten minutes dialing my friend’s phone number, because the numbers swam as I tried to type them into my phone.
Now, about five weeks later and with a clear, recovered head, I recall one conversation I had with a woman who worked at the hospital’s front desk, right when I came in:
“I am so sorry,” I said. I handed her my insurance card and stared at my feet, unable to look up lest my head split open.
“Sorry for what?”
“For not making eye contact with you right now.” I clutched my forehead and pressed my fingers against my skull. “I really want to show how much I appreciate your work this early in the morning*, but if I look up, I swear I will either pass out or throw up. Again.”
Of course the kind employee told me not to worry about it and that she appreciated my thoughtfulness, but that emergency room visit, the vertigo that caused my inability to walk or even look up, brought my life into sharp focus. It reminded me that there are people who have lives much worse than mine, that there are millions who spend their days sick, terrified, and/or uncertain about their well-beings. Though on that day my head felt like it had been twisted inside out and struck with a sledgehammer, those hours came nothing close to the pain others have experienced. I practiced mindful gratitude: I told myself that yes, that nausea hurt like nothing I had ever experienced in a physical sense, and when it was over, I would be so much more appreciative of my health than ever before.
This summer has been an exercise in mindfulness, which involves an awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings without denying them or dramatizing them. In terms of gratitude, I have learned that I can appreciate things while still acknowledging my suffering or discomfort. Yes, I have experienced abuse, an eating disorder, and the cruelty of someone I once considered my best friend. Yes, in a state of crisis this past spring I made mistakes and had friends abandon me as a result. Yes, I have been through a decent amount in twenty years.
At the same time, I am grateful to have always had access to clean water and food, to a top-tier education, and to mentors who have touched my life more than anyone else. I am grateful for my resilience, for my willingness to thrive in the face of adversity. I am grateful for my dedication to bettering and understanding the lives of others and the many opportunities that have allowed me to research, to write, and to learn.
I am grateful for this blog. I can read it and know how much I have matured; I can write it and know much I have left to grow. But most importantly, I am grateful for all the support all my readers have given me. Every word means the world.
I apologize for the lack of regular updates. Full-time research, part-time work, and studying for the GRE (which I take in three days, ah!) have kept me busy. After Wednesday I will do my best to respond to comments and messages while writing more posts before the fall semester starts.
My question for you guys: what are you grateful for? Are there things that, for lack of eloquent wording, really really sucked but turned out to be blessings in disguise? How do you practice gratitude and/or mindfulness in your lives, and would you want to start doing so if you have not already? I hope to hear from you all soon, and I also hope you have had a wonderful weekend!
*in retrospect this dialogue sounds awkward, but I often get super empathetic when in pain. Next post: common defense mechanisms and Thomas’s many other oddities…