On Emergency Room Visits and Mindful Gratitude

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.”

Even took a pic of the fancy equipment so I could prove this happened. You guys are always on my mind (in a non-creepy way).

I even took a pic of the fancy equipment so I could prove this happened. You guys are always on my mind (in a non-creepy way).

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.

And here I sit in my natural habitat, getting ready to meditate on the carpeted floor of my research lab. Can I get a #yas?

And here I sit in my natural habitat, getting ready to meditate on the carpeted floor of my research lab. Can I get a #yas?

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…

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9 Comments

Filed under Personal

9 responses to “On Emergency Room Visits and Mindful Gratitude

  1. Oh Thomas! So many thoughts which I will try to form into coherence and not a book:

    1. I’m glad you are (apparently!) better! That sounds awful.
    2. You are a fantastic writer. Straight-up, your posts and comments are a joy to read. (And English majors don’t say that a lot)
    3. Best of luck on the GRE! From what I know of you, you’ll be totally fine. 🙂
    4. Practicing mindfulness for things that suck: my really awful high school relationship gave me wonderful perspective on what I didn’t want in a relationship. And it made me a much stronger person on my own. Struggling with depression and various family situations (comparatively not that bad) has given me the ability to understand and empathize with a lot of people. The relative solitude of my childhood has given me the ability to float in and out of groups, creating my own path without peer pressure. So many more things, but you get the idea. 🙂
    5. Mindfulness, to me, means not only being thankful for seemingly bad things, but also for small good things. I like to make daily lists of little happy things – sunshine at a particular time of day, seeing a cute animal, meeting someone new, etc. Going back and reading those lists triggers memories of happy moments.

  2. I am sorry you had that difficult stretch of I’ll health. As someone who lives with disabilities I totally understand how these situations impact our lives. I don’t have a specific mindfulness technique but I do take time to clear my head and listen to the many albums of natural sounds I have. Somehow transporting myself to a downpour in a rainforest in the wilds of Borneo or a babbling brook in the Pacific Northwest are really relaxing for me.

  3. “I can read it and know how much I have matured; I can write it and know [how?] much I have left to grow.” Yes, yes, yes! Thomas you summed up the purpose of a blog to one’s self in one eloquent, simple sentence.
    My dad suffered vertigo a couple of years ago, and it was a harrowing time for him and the family, even if his vertigo didn’t sound nearly as horrible as yours. So I cannot begin to imagine what pain and discomfort you had to grow through. It is inspiring that despite your many trials, you always manage to reach a positive light. In that way and many others, you are a great human being Thomas.
    Hope you had a wonderful weekend as well,
    Grace 🙂

  4. Ah. The closest thing to that feeling of described vertigo for me is when I was food poisoned half a year ago (note: I should not have eaten that day-old shucked oysters…especially with symptomatic IBS). And with it being my first time for such an illness, it was a surreal kind of delirious that felt like I was in some sleep paralysis-like trance. With pain, and all the fix-ins. A feeling I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

    Being aware is a pretty neat kind of feeling, ain’t it? I won’t claim to be a wizard at being mindful (because I’m not) but it’s nice to show extrospection without even meaning to. That’s where it shines best, and where it seems telling that you’ve grown (or what feels like growth, because as you know, this new friendship and what-not).

    But either way: cue that Break Free for me, Thomas, you are super and I’m glad that you’re healthier and ready to wreck that GRE!

    Cheers,
    Joey via. thoughts and afterthoughts

  5. So was it vertigo or a really extreme migraine you were suffering from? In any case, I hope you are feeling better. Good luck on the GRE! Do you know what kind of psychology you want to specialize in? Thanks for the recent blog comments! I have been wondering if anyone was reading as my pageviews have been so low. I’ve tried to be good about posting, but real life does have a habit of getting in the way. I try to be mindful and thankful, but don’t always express it as much as I should. I am very grateful for my hubby and all the things he does for our family. I try to say thanks to him at least once a week.

  6. Oh Thomas, reading that you become (even) more empathetic when you’re in pain made me laugh in fondness. It seems so /you/. That aside, I’m so glad you’re awake – I was horrified with the beginning of the post and I’m relieved that it didn’t become anything worse (and permanent). Hope your exam went well. I’m certain you kicked its butt.

  7. Kev

    I’m so glad you are feeling better. I must say, I was very worried when I first started reading this post. That must have been terrifying. It’s so you to take such an awful personal experience and start thinking about other people. I can quite often think about the things in my life that I’m not happy about and concentrate on that rather than the things I do have. I guess it’s times like you’ve experienced that make you realise. I am grateful for my family and friends. I’m grateful for my boyfriend, my cat and my house. I don’t have it too bad when I think about it. Like you, I am grateful for my blog and the community of people who seem to care what I think. I miss that, and hope to get it back.

  8. Really don’t know all that much about you, but I think I’m starting to get the picture. Is it weird that I found your blog randomly and have no connection to you? Probably. But I enjoy reading what you write and hope you keep it up.

  9. Thomas, hope you haven’t stopped blogging! Miss your thoughts on the blogosphere!

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