November is upon us and the days have grown chilly, the wind whispers promises of the coming winter and the touch of frost teases the ends of our hair as we scurry between house and car, car and office, then back again. Here in Canada we celebrated Thanksgiving in October, gathering together with loved ones mid-month to enjoy good company, good food and good times, remembering all that we have to be grateful for in our lives. Our American friends to the south follow the same ritual this month, and even though my family has already had our Thanksgiving, being reminded of the need for gratitude all year long is very humbling. There’s no singular month that is better than any other for being set aside to consider how blessed we are in this life, that we have more than we need in comparison to so many people in this world who barely have enough. It’s also a time to remember that even when I think I have so much to feel horrible about, there is really so much more that I can be grateful for, and reminding myself about that fact is something I need to be doing not just one day of one month out of the year, but every day of every month all year long.
Of course, it’s easier said than done when you wake up each day and the voices that live inside your head start the morning off with a heated argument over all the excuses why you should or shouldn’t get out of bed. Depression isn’t the easiest illness to live a thankful life with. It sits inside you like a wicked little imp with the power to put spells on you: on bad days, when it wants to be mean, it makes you feel like you’re bones are filled with lead, weighing you down and making you feel so heavy that it takes all your strength just to lift one foot after the other and walk from the bedroom to the kitchen. When you just want to stay on the couch wrapped up in your blanket, eating Cheerios, watching sad movies and crying all day, it’s quite difficult to feel thankful for anything. Well,… maybe if I thought about it, I’d be thankful for Cheerios and tissues.
Then there are days when the depression imp decides to see how funny you look as a human hamster, so it gives you super-strength and ambition that makes you seem like you’re some crazy wind-up toy with the energy of three people. I could have lots to be thankful for on days like that: thankful for getting cleaning done, for all the work I get done, for being positive all day, for having a cheerful attitude all day, for being creative, etc. Those days wouldn’t be so bad except that when you eventually wind down you really wind down and end up crashing into your bed feeling worse than you do on a crappy day because you’ve overdone it and pushed your body and brain beyond what it could handle normally. Again, it’s kind of like that roller-coaster thing. Hard to be thankful for those awful spins that make you feel like your brain is going to fly out of your head and take your stomach with it. Although I could easily be thankful for everything that I managed to get done on a day like that.
The imp even likes to let you have a good day now and then only to tease you into believing you’re getting better and then it pulls the rug out from under you by suddenly disrupting that good day with a traumatic incident that makes you want to curl up an a ball and cry. For instance, I had an appointment at the local hospital to have some blood tests done last week. It was a lovely day and my hubby was busy so I decided to drive myself. The trip is a fifteen-minute drive on a beautiful coastal route. I was going along, thinking how nice it was to take my time, go at my own pace and not worry that I was rushing someone or taking up their time, when suddenly a little squirrel ran out onto the road. I was still a fair distance away so I started to slow down the car. Then he stopped in the middle of the road, and I thought, “Oh, please keep going!” Just as I was nearly to where he was, he decided to dart back the way he’d come…. yup, right under my car. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I heard the car hit him, I even felt the little bump, and then made the biggest mistake of looking in the rear view mirror and seeing his little furry body twitching in it’s death throes. I was devastated. I tried to keep it in but after about a minute I had to pull over at the side of the road and cry for five minutes. Thank you very much, you little bastard imp. Yes, I realize it was nobody’s fault that the squirrel decided to run back under my car, it wasn’t my fault he’s dead, but it was my fault (aka the imp’s fault) that I couldn’t accept it factually without blame, guilt, self-abasement, self-loathing and horror. So you see, the depression imp is one evil little creep. Now, I suppose I could have found thankfulness even in that the squirrel at least had a quick death, probably didn’t feel a thing because it was so sudden, at this time of year there would be no babies waiting for it to come back, there were no other cars on the road so it was alright that I pulled over to have a cry and get it out of my system before continuing on to my appointment. It could have been worse if I had reacted badly and swerved instead of stayed straight in my lane, etc., but at the time I really didn’t feel very thankful for anything.
When every morning you wake up knowing it’s going to be a guessing game about how you’ll manage to meet the day’s challenges, it’s hard to find time to be thankful not just for your life but for the multitude of things in it that are truly things to be grateful for. But I know there will be plenty of them. I could rhyme off a long list of all the things that were bad about any given day, all the things that irritated me, that I didn’t like, that bothered or bored me, that made me feel angry or sad, frustrated or confused. Ask me what I was glad for in that same day and I know, even if I had to take a few moments to think about it, I could list a dozen or more quite easily right of the get-go, more if I thought harder. Of course, there are always the most obvious things we all have to be grateful for: a roof over our heads, food on our plate, clothes on our backs, money in our pockets, healthcare, education, jobs, families, friends, computers, phones, cars, etc, etc. Those are easy to toss out. It’s the more subtle things that we should be remembering though. The little moments and things that we take for granted, that we forget we’re lucky to have, that even others in our peer groups may not have, that we should be reminding ourselves to be grateful for. I struggle every day with depression, and yet I forget that even when I have to take six different pills every morning and two more every evening in order to help my brain cope with the imbalance of chemicals that it’s missing, I still have moments during any given bad or good day that are precious for which I am thankful. I can stop in the middle of crossing through my living room to listen to the crazy bird singing some weird new phrase he picked up from one of the bird-sounds tracks on his mp3, and I can smile and call him crazy and laugh as he makes his “Am not!” squawk back at me as I walk on to wherever I was going, and be perfectly happy and content with my life in that small moment. I can be thankful for those small slices out of time that I am normal, that I have beautiful windows of serendipity, peace amid the chaos, time out of time. I should be thankful for them…. and I will try to be aware and grateful from today forward.
This month I’m going to do my best to remind myself at the end of every day to think of one thing, just one, no matter how small or big, size doesn’t matter (all the ladies in the chorus say ‘Amen sister’), and I will stop what I’m doing and be thankful for a moment. One different thing, every day. And to keep me honest, I’ll write that one thing down on a little calendar to encourage me to make sure I don’t leave any squares empty. Now, I know it’s already November 4th and I’ve just started my thankfulness pledge so there’s already three empty squares, but I’m going to give myself some grace, and if I don’t remember every day that’s alright. After this month is over, and I look back on my thankful days and what I found to be thankful for, I’m hoping it will light a little bit of a spark in me and encourage me to continue doing my thankfulness project in December, then on into the new year. Every habit starts slow, then grows stronger as you do it more often. Eventually I won’t need a calendar to mark it down. Eventually it will just become a good habit and I will find myself being thankful at different moments throughout the day regularly. And I’m hoping it will make me happy to be thankful, happy and grateful. With luck the rotten little imp will hate every moment of it and will decide to settle down and be a little more quiet.
Today I had another test appointment at a different hospital on the Island. We had a nice drive down the coast along a route we hadn’t taken before. It was lovely to see a part of the Island that was new to us and after the tests we had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants on the way home. I was pretty worn out and had to lay down once we did get home and even after that little nap I still felt tired, but all in all it was a good day. So, to get my month of thankfulness started, I will officially say that I am thankful for a safe drive (it had rained intermittently) with good company (Mom came along for the ride and we all had good conversation) and I’m most thankful for my hubby being so thoughtful to feed the beasts their supper while was napping (usually my chore). Sure, they may seem like little things, but to me they were big. And I’m grateful. And happy. And the imp is quiet.
“My socks may not match, but my feet are always warm.” ~Maureen McCullough
PS. Just a couple new poems under the poetry pages this time. The poetry muse has been a bit sleepy these days.