I woke up Monday feeling not quite right. Something was just… off.
As lunchtime approached and I was not only not hungry but also feeling a little queasy, I went up to bed to wait out the inevitable. One doesn’t make it to 36 without being able to tell when gastro’s about to come storming in.
And did it.
But this isn’t a story about napping on the bathroom floor in between bouts of violent hurling.
This is a story about gratitude.
Now before we both get ahead of ourselves and you get the idea that I’m about to tell you that I was simultaneously puking until it hurt while also sending up thankful gasps to the heavens, I’ll remind you that I’m more than just a little bit human. I am, in fact, the world’s biggest baby when it comes to illnesses of the less-than-life-threatening sort. Get through a 5.5 hour lumbar fusion and the 13 months of recovery afterwards? Like a champ. Get the sniffles or a temporary tummy bug? Watch out World.
After consulting Dr. Google to self-diagnose myself with vibrio (from the oysters we ate more than 48 hours prior), appendicitis (despite the fact that there was no pain anywhere near my belly button) and gallstones (because it seemed logical), I sent my poor husband at least four texts telling him that I was pretty sure I was dying. He still offered to stop by the grocery and get me anything that I thought would make me feel better. The only thing that was going to help was yellow Gatorade. (Actually, orange Pedialyte would have been ideal but I didn’t dare try to send him on a goose chase to find that here.) Luckily for me — and probably for him — there’s a small store at the embassy where he could grab a few bottles before coming home to a whiney, mismatched-Lularoe-clad wife who may have looked worse for the wear but who was nowhere near dying. Like I said, I can lean towards the more human (* cough * melodramatic * cough *) side of things…
By late evening, I had picked myself up out of the towel nest I had made on the bathroom floor and tucked myself into the big bed with Gatorade, flat Sprite and all the Madame Secretary that Netflix would serve me. (And yes, I do realize how ridiculous it might be to watch a show about a fictionalized State Department while one is lying in a bed that literally belongs to the actual State Department. It was either that or the Real Housewives. Even sick me has some standards.)
As Secretary McCord diplomacized around the world, I took my own feverish trip through fitful naps and tentative sips of electric yellow thirst quencher. It was somewhere between the fourth and fifth episodes that I realized it had been a while since my stomach had cramped. I figured it was time to try to get some real sleep. And then something strange happened: I’m pretty sure my Gatorade spoke to me as I reached over to turn off the light. I mean, not literally, of course. But the bottle of glowing liquid on the nightstand turned into a visible reminder for me to get outside of my self-pity just long enough to be thankful for all that I had. I definitely still felt AWFUL but I had access to clean water, a warm and soft bed, a doting husband bopping in to check on me every hour or so, plus all the electrolytes a girl could want. I would be just fine. I was just fine. In fact, I was more than fine. I felt just a little better as I rolled myself up into the covers and waited for the virus or bacteria or demon to exorcise itself from my body.
It took me until this morning to realize that it wasn’t just a fluke to have that moment of gratitude the other night.
I have to work at getting outside of myself. And I try to. Most days. For the past few years, I’ve had an on- and off-again practice of writing down — with actual pen to actual paper — a list of things I’m grateful for each day. It’s not terribly long, maybe three or four things of varying magnitudes. Writing this list is the simplest action but not always the easiest task to remember to do. But they say that actually practicing gratitude changes your brain and so I keep trying. Lately I’ve been more on than off with those lists; I guess it’s no surprise that gratitude was more accessible to me, even when sick, than it would have been if I hadn’t been practicing.
It’s like that with a lot of the things that are good for us, isn’t it? Practicing taking a pause in less-than-stressful times makes it so much easier to do so when my nerves are fried and I’m a millimeter away from completely losing it. Practicing using my voice to speak up about life’s little injustices makes it easier to advocate for myself or others when something big requires it. And practicing actively seeking out the good makes it easier to spot when it starts feeling like it’s hiding deep behind all the bad. Noticing a theme? Me too. None of these positive thought patterns and behaviors just magically happen… not for me at least. I have to actively practice them. I had to make the choice to add them to my toolbox and then make sure I use them frequently enough that they’re not rusty when it comes time to really, truly need them.
Maybe that bout of gastro was just a pop quiz to show me how much my gratitude practice is actually working.
Maybe it was telling me I should keep at it.
Maybe I will.