The Grateful Book

September 21, 2015

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For several years I was mired in grief as I struggled to come to terms with those feelings of loss we all have when someone close to us dies and we either ignored the signs or felt helpless through the process that, in many cases, lasts for years.

As my grief cycle lost some of its hold on me I started reading again in my search for stepping stones to help me rise from a serious depression to a brighter life. I also turned to friends and relatives and my new boyfriend and they have all stood by my side as I slowly beat back the viny tendrils of my own mind that were trying to hold me back.

One of the suggestions I came across was called The Grateful Book. That’s not the name of a book, but is an exercise to help turn the tables on the mind and it has been of immense help to me.

The premise is simple

  1. Buy a brand new spiral notebook and a pen that you can keep by your bed.
  2. Each day, either before turning out the light at night or before rising in the morning, write down 10 things you are truly grateful for. (For me, this usually takes up most of a page so I just use a new page for each day.)

The page of my book from this morning follows as an example. However, to give you a better understanding of WHY I write what I do let me tell you where I live and what I saw yesterday.

I live in an apartment in a barn. The apartment was converted from a farm manager office with the horse stall next to it remodelled into a bedroom and the storage room behind converted to a bath room.

There are three other 12′ x 12′ ‘apartments’ in this facility that do not have bathrooms or windows, but there is a common kitchen and a toilet in the office in the second barn. The people in the other apartments bathe late at night, with a hose, outside in the dark. There is no hot water.

In comparison, my 700 sq.ft. apartment is the Taj Mahal. I have two window air conditioners, a small window, a real stove and refrigerator, and a full bathroom with hot water as well as my bedroom.

Yesterday, the woman who lives with her husband in one of the rooms proudly showed me their home. It was spotless, smelled of cleaning products, and had a dresser, a mattress on the floor, and storage bins stacked in one corner. There was a coffee pot on the dresser and it must have been over 100 degrees in the windowless room. She had a big smile and was so happy to show it to me.

So, here is this morning’s page from my Grateful Book:

  • I am grateful every day that I have a boyfriend who is a good man and cares about me.
  • I am grateful every day that I have a kitchen with all the appliances I need and extra ones that are convenient.
  • I am grateful every day that I have running water and a functional indoor bathroom where I can privately bathe.
  • I am grateful every day that I have lots of clothes for any weather condition.
  • I am grateful every day that I have boxes and shelves of books to read about a variety of subjects from humor to self improvement and education to science fiction.
  • I am grateful every day that I wake up each morning to the sounds of life all around me.
  • I am grateful every day that I can watch the sunset from my front door.
  • I am grateful every day for the incredible beauty I see in clouds, water, trees, flowers, animals and the faces around me.
  • I am grateful every day for my functioning brain and the creative thoughts I have as well as all the memories of my life.
  • I am grateful every day for the taste of clean water, the smell of coffee, the sounds of birds, the sight of growing things and the touch of others.
  • I am grateful every day for the lifetime of hugs I have received and for each one I will get in the future.

Sometimes I have a particular person or event on my mind and what comes to mind is all the things related to that. Many themes repeat, like my boyfriend, my sister, my friends, adventures and travel I have enjoyed, moments I remember, my animals, vehicles that are old but functional, my job, educational grants I’ve recieved…

At first it was hard to think of a single good thing to be grateful for. Then, as I got into the thought patterns of actually seeing what is around me, it became easier and easier to be grateful for everything.

IMG_2056It’s hard to believe, as I sit here inside a solid building and type on my computer that is connected to the rest of the world through the internet while a cool breeze from the air conditioner wafts the warm scent of toasting cinnamon English muffin through the air and a little black and white cat stretches in contentment and companionship next to me, that there are places in the world where bombs are falling, homes are being invaded, women are not allowed education or employment. And that my very neighbors don’t have bathrooms.

How can I NOT be grateful for what I have and where I live?

Several years ago

I had already moved from Canada to Florida, but my sister-in-law, who was in her 70’s still lived in Canada. She was the last of my husband’s family, other than a cousin who was just a few years younger than her. The last year she was alive she was getting senile, but still lived alone and had a series of falls. The calls would go something like this:

‘Hello, is this Mrs. Kayuk? Mrs. Kayuk, your sister-in-law has had a bad fall and is in the hospital. I understand you are the next of kin. She’s not in a state of mind to make decisions at this time, what should we do with her?’

I would do what I could over the phone, find people to look after my horses, book a flight to Canada for the next day, and go sit with her in the hospital, trying to point out to the medical staff that this had already happened several times and perhaps it was time to move her to a nursing home.

The hospital would keep her for several weeks, and release her back to her own home, then I would set up Meals on Wheels and rides for her doctors appointments and when she was back at home I would stay with her for a few days to settle her in, then fly back to Florida. This was an almost monthly occurrence for most of an entire year before she finally agreed to move into a place where they could regulate her medications. She had been pouring them all into a bowl on the table and having one whenever she walked by. This was a colorful bowl of warfarin, diabetes medications, mood enhancers, stool softeners and an assortment of vitamines prescribed by the doctor. She also was a chain smoker and had burn holes in her sheets and her mattress. I have never been so relieved as when she moved into the home.

Flash forward to last month when I had knee surgery.

Sick bed office

Sick bed office

I’ve been a very healthy person all my life. Until my knee started to bother me I had not seen a doctor for over 5 years. I think, for an active person, being forced into inactivity is the equivalent of being locked in a coffin sized box for the duration. For some reason, I felt that others would see this forced inactivity in the same horrible hellacious light that I saw it…that they would understand my feelings of inadequacy and helplessness and be there for me, as I would for them in the same circumstances. Instead, I made the discovery that everyone else has a life of their own to live.

Chair and walker

My new reality

I had my surgery, was dropped off at my apartment, and the world continued to roll along on its pre-determined course while I sat in bed with my leg wrapped in ice and  thoughts of abandonment by family, friends and boyfriend swirling around in my head.

Now that the worst is over and I’m walking again, albeit slowly, I can look at everything with a bit clearer head. Yes, I had surgery. No, it wasn’t life threatening. Yes, I fell and I was frightened and the extremity of my helplessness was brought home to me. No, I didn’t die from it, it didn’t even cause any problems other than my fear of the possible repercussions.

So….Why Did I Feel So Let Down by the Experience?

This is a tougher question than what it appears on the surface. You see, I have never really lived alone.

When I was barely 16 years old I eloped and married my first husband. I lived with him for almost 7 years and when I divorced him I was remarried within two weeks to my second husband. That marriage lasted for 32 years.

During all those years of my life, I had back-up. Not just any kind of back-up, but LIVE-IN back-up. When you live with someone they are always there. OK, not during the day when they’re working, but every evening they are with you–week days, weekends, holidays–they don’t get a vacation, and neither do you. On the other hand, if something goes wrong they are always there with support and assistance, and so are you. Or at least they are there to pick you up if you fall.

Then I Was Alone.

After the loss of my second husband I learned to make my own decisions without bouncing everything off someone else for their ideas and feedback. I learned that if I wanted something I went and got it myself and didn’t depend on someone else to be my support system.

The problem was, I was used to a partnership in times of sickness and trouble. I wasn’t used to being alone and having to care for myself when I was sick or incapacitated. I had expectations that somehow that gap would be bridged and I discovered instead that, when the lights went out and the darkest part of the night came, I was alone.

To my shame, looking back, I didn’t handle this very well. To all of you who were victims of my bitchiness, whining, and general childishness in the first week, I sincerely apologize. I could use the excuse of pain, but to be honest, there was very little pain and a lot of fear. Fear that I would fall again; fear that damage had been caused by the first fall and that I would need to have the surgery again; fear that my knee would never heal properly and that I would be unable to walk properly ever again… But, as you already know, I am superwoman so I couldn’t possibly admit any of these fears. Instead, I internalized them all and became super-bitch.

In my mind, because I was alone in the apartment in bed for 24 hours a day, the time flowed slowly. For hours no one called, therefore no one cared. I was sorry for myself, frustrated by the simplest of chores, afraid to even have a bath without someone else in the house.

Mark2And What REALLY Happened…

How do you thank someone who kept you sane for a week, who travelled thousands of miles and–instead of enjoying Disney World and having a vacation–fed your horses, cooked, let the dog in and out, chatted and just generally kept your butt in bed and did all the work. AND taught you  more than the basics of audio production AND produced a radio show for you?

Mark’s original plan was to have a nice, relaxing trip to Florida, take in some Disney World, collect some sound clips, have a visit, and fly back to Canada. When he found out I was laid up and needed nursing and 24 hour dog service, he never even considered backing out of the trip. Through the whole time he was here, through extreme bitchiness and lack of sleep, he never once complained and always showed a smile and concern.

Cal and Me

Cal and Me

Well, I thanked Mark by taking him out to dinner and inviting him to come back for a more ‘fun’ time when we can walk around and enjoy Disney World together, after all, Disney World is not a place where you want to walk around by yourself!  Thank you Mark, my friend, for being here when I needed a hand (and a maid and a cook) and someone to talk to and feed my horses.

How do you thank your chiropractor for making a house call at no charge, and your blog partner for putting her own physical obstacles aside to travel an hour, one way, to visit?

How do you thank almost total strangers who dropped off ice, delivered bags of fruit, fed your horses, and checked on you when you were alone, unable to walk, with only your dog and your thoughts for company? Without the guys from around the barn I don’t think I would have been able to make it through the first week.

Ernesto and Me

Ernesto and Me

Cal, the stable manager, dropped off bags of fruit and was always ready with a smile and a chat whenever I was able to stand at the door for a few minutes.

I was going through two bags of ice a day and Martine brought me bags every afternoon when he came to the barn to feed his horses. He even came in, refilled my Ice Man, chatted for a while, and made sure I didn’t need other odds and ends from the store.

Vickie fed my horses for the first week and stopped in to see if I was ok or needed anything, and when she left at the end of the first week to run her horses at the racetrack in Virginia, Ernesto took over and fed my horses and cats until Mark arrived.

DadCarolyn

Dad and Carolyn spent almost the entire day of surgery with me at the hospital, delivered me safely to my apartment, and came back later in the week with groceries, home-made chicken soup, and best of all, a chair that would fit in the bathtub. Then they stayed while I had my first post-op shower so I wouldn’t have to face the scary, slippery bath alone for the first time.

My sister texted me off and on every day, and even ‘face-timed’ with me from her work a few times. She also sent me this video to make me laugh when all the antibiotics had my stomach in turmoil…because she loves me….really. And I’m including it because she’s just so darn cute and I love her, too.

My boyfriend hung in there, calling several times a day from California and later from Connecticut, in spite of my moodiness. (Leaping onto a shiny white steed and racing to the rescue of the damsel in distress really only happens in the movies and cartoons) He even answered my calls when he was pretty sure I was going to be a bitch. And many times I was a true bitch. I know it’s no excuse, but forced idleness does not suit my personality. Thanks, Doug, for sticking with me through it all.

Meantime, there were friends from all over who were wishing me well on both WordPress and Facebook. Each and every one of you made my day with every single note.

To all of you I say: THANK YOU!

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