There’s a lot not to love about endometriosis. It alters our moods, our bodies, our pain levels, our love lives, our work and our ability to have children, and generally not for the better. I tried starting this month out with a post on the few positives I have managed to drag out of this experience, but today I want to talk more about how to maintain a mindset of gratitude in general.
It’s a funny thing, gratitude. I often say and think that you don’t owe people gratitude for doing the bare minimum of decency, such as when men get applauded for “babysitting” their own children. However, I do think that gratitude is healthy, and taking time to be grateful for small things is good for the soul. It has a whole range of positive benefits on the psyche, from making us happier and more likeable to making us physically healthier due to the reduced stress.
In addition, Christians are called to be grateful to our creator for our lives, this beautiful planet, and pretty much everything else.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you let yourself turn into some sort of sycophant who is constantly kissing the bottoms of everyone for any minor thing they’ve done to assist, nor am I suggesting that we should be grateful for the problems that we face as people with chronic illnesses. What I am suggesting is that we do our best to cultivate a more grateful (but still realistic) mindset overall. How can we do that?
List things that you are unadulteratedly (is that a word?) grateful for. Things that don’t have any negative association for you. For instance, I am grateful for spring weather, for my idiotic cat, the love of my husband, and my comfy bed. They aren’t things that ever have negative aspects for me. I think you’ll find that this is actually a surprisingly large list. Challenge yourself to make it as big as possible. Fill pages. You don’t need to have a reason for why you are grateful for them. I’m grateful for mountains. I don’t know why. I just like them.
Don’t just make stuff up, though. If you hate the ocean, don’t put that you are grateful for it. It’s not something that you can be purely grateful for without a negative. There’s no point fluffing out the list for the sake of making it bigger – that will take away from the things that you really are grateful for.
List the things that didn’t fit on that first list – things that suck but you are grateful for a particular aspect of them. For instance, I hate that it can be so hard to get doctors to listen, but I am so grateful for the ones that do. I hate that I have so few days without pain, but I am grateful when they come.
It’s important with this to list the negative before the positive. Framing it as, “I love it when I get to exercise but I hate that it hurts so much afterwards” is not looking on the bright side. It’s true, but it doesn’t belong on this list.
Put your list into practice. When you come across a bad situation or are having a terrible day, see if you can find a bright side to it. Write it down if that helps. I’m not saying that you will always be able to find a bright side. Sometimes there simply won’t be one, and that’s ok. However, the more you do this, the easier it will get. It’s a case of faking it til you make it, and it does work. You are training your brain to be more positive.
There are a number of things that I don’t find to be healthy habits in training your brain this way, and I would try to avoid them. First, don’t compare yourself to someone else. Your gratitude shouldn’t be, “Well, my endo sucks but at least it isn’t as bad as Emma’s.” That invalidates your pain and makes poor Emma an object of pity. Don’t do it. Second, don’t get stupid with it. “My pain is a 10/10 but at least I’m not DEAD.” That’s not a helpful mindset and it will make you bitter, not grateful. Goodness knows I struggle enough to be not bitter without thoughts like that. Third, don’t force it. Faking it and forcing it are not the same. Four, don’t let gratitude get in the way of holding people up to standards of human decency. If you got your handbag stolen at knifepoint, you wouldn’t be grateful to the thief for not actually stabbing you. You might be grateful that you got out unharmed, but that’s not the same as being grateful to the knife-wielding menace. Send your gratitude in the right direction.
I don’t think gratitude is easy when you’ve been dealt a really rough hand. I am often too depressed to be grateful for anything. Sometimes, even the things I’m grateful for can be really annoying. For example, I am incredibly grateful for my cat, but as I typed this sentence I just heard him figure out how to unlock open the bathroom window and now I know I will never have peace or a warm house ever again. Yep, here comes the cold winter air swirling in. Little pest. Got to be impressed at the persistence and ingenuity, though.
Practice making perfect and faking it til you make it are pretty worn-out maxims by now, but they remain true all the same. Some days it is hard, but I find my mental health really does benefit when I drag my brain away from the bad stuff and let it frolic in the good stuff for a while. Being in a good place mentally then makes it easier for me to deal with the physical pain.
Do you find that being grateful makes a difference to your mindset? How do you manage to stay grateful when we have a fair number of things not to be grateful for? Let me know in the comments, and say tuned for the follow-up to this piece, “Staying Generous.”