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Reflecting on My Month of Practicing Gratitude While Living With ME/CFS

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Following my “July gratitude challenge,” I was keen to write a post to reflect on this and discuss both the benefits and challenges of “gratitude” when living with a chronic illness.

In a nutshell, my gratitude challenge involved tweeting something I was grateful for every day, using the hashtag #mydailythankyou. I also asked others to join me, and I was delighted that many of my Twitter friends were able to contribute. Especially as all of them also have chronic illnesses, so I know how much effort it can take to focus on the “good” when we’re struggling.

When living with a chronic illness like ME/CFS, it can often be challenging to find things to be grateful for. When we wake up in pain each day, gratitude is not usually the first thing that springs to mind. However, by trying our best to shift our focus away from all the pain and struggling, we can usually find there are still many things to be grateful for. Also, by doing so, it means we can still manage to find a little bit of magic in our everyday lives. Something we definitely need!

Of course on the good days it’s so much easier to feel positive and be grateful. On the bad days it’s not so easy. You really have to dig deep. In the first week of the gratitude challenge, we had a flood in our kitchen which caused some damage to the rest of the house too. Yikes! When you’re healthy and well, this is a pain and an inconvenience. When you’re living with ME/CFS, it also has an impact on your health. Dealing with both the physical and mental side of cleaning up, phoning various people and arranging for things to get sorted was totally exhausting. When living with ME/CFS, anything that impacts your usual routines and uses up extra energy can really take its toll and cause flare-up symptoms. I remember thinking, “Well what a time to have started a gratitude challenge!”

Also during the month, I experienced other difficulties. My husband’s parents were struggling with their health and it meant he had to be away from home a lot more than usual. It was hard to see him upset and with so much to cope with. In addition to this I also came down with a virus which really floored me for a while. Just as I thought I was recovering, I caught another cold which set me back to square one! So all in all, you could probably say it wasn’t a great month!

However, on I plodded with #mydailythankyou, and I was actually surprised how helpful it was! It helped to shift my attention away from a lot of the crappy things that were happening and focus on the positives. Sometimes it just made me find something to be thankful for in a difficult situation. For example, my sister offering to help while my husband was away or my toddler making me laugh by wanting to splash in “the flood!”

When focusing on gratitude, it doesn’t need to be big things. It’s often the simple things that bring the most pleasure. Things like enjoying a cup of tea or feeling the sun on your face can really brighten up your day.

It was also lovely to read other people’s tweets about what they were grateful for in their everyday lives. It brought a smile to my face and it also motivated me to continue with this practice. Thank you to everyone who took part in #mydailythankyou! I loved them all but here are some of my favorites:

“Today I’m thankful that I have my wife to care for me. Rough and painful day today, unable to do anything.” @wigglethemouse

“Today I am grateful that I managed to have a morning coffee at the cafe! Long time no see.” @knitcrochetlove

“Today I’m grateful I’m well enough to manage on my own this evening so my hubby can have an evening out.” @SallyClareR

“Today I’m grateful that I was able to get up early so I could see my son before he went to school.” @Paul29286239Now

“Today I’m grateful for frozen diced onions, saving me time, energy and tears!” @Cheggers1971

“Grateful for drinks and a snack left for me by my husband before his work day began.” @hopefoundinme

“Grateful my health held up on holiday.” @macanders

“It’s #SevereMEday today… grateful I’m not severe like 25% of ME/CFS sufferers.” @JulieDuffy4

Also, here is one of mine!

“Today I’m grateful I was able to take my son to the library. We’ve had a lot of ‘at home’ days lately so it was really nice!” @Not_Just_Tired

This is just a selection, and if you’d like to read more I’d suggest checking out the above Twitter accounts. As well as some lovely gratitude tweets, you’ll find some great information and resources on living with ME/CFS.

What really struck me was that those of us living with chronic illness are really grateful for the little (but oh so important) things in life. Things that ‘healthy people’ would probably not think twice about and as such take for granted. Being able to go for that coffee or spend time in nature are things that can make a big difference to our daily lives. We really cherish any “good moments” our health allows us to have. Also, we truly value the support of our family and loved ones.

In my opinion, practicing gratitude is not the same as positive thinking. I’ve got myself in a bit of a tizz in the past, giving myself a hard time about not being positive some days. I’ve since learned (still learning!) that it really is OK to have a bad day and to say everything is rubbish sometimes. It doesn’t mean you’re a negative, ungrateful person. It just means you’re human – and one with a debilitating illness at that! When living with a chronic illness we really don’t need to be giving ourselves a hard time on top of everything else. We need to have a lot of compassion for ourselves. Some days you will feel more grateful than others and that’s OK! Phew!

Focusing on gratitude actually made me become much more mindful. I started to “look” for things to be grateful for each day. Then as I got towards the end of the month it had almost become a habit! I remember reading somewhere that it takes 30 days for something to become a habit!

A few people have asked if I am going to continue with #mydailythankyou, and I have decided I will! Even if it’s not something we can commit to every day, it’s still nice to take the time to acknowledge the things we’re grateful for. When living with a chronic illness, anything that brings us a little bit of joy is worth doing!

Gratitude may not cure us but it can certainly make us feel a little bit better about our everyday lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and any experiences you’ve had (positive or negative) on practicing gratitude.

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Thinkstock photo via SALSEN.

Originally published: August 15, 2017
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