This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving.
All week, leading up to the big day, I have really been examining the role of thankfulness in my life. What I figured out about myself has astounded me.
Last winter was one of the – if not the – hardest winter of my life. I know it was a hard winter emotionally for a lot of people, for some reason, far more so than usual.
Last month I wrote about the period in my life when I was suicidal. But that was several years ago.
Last winter was a very dark time for me in quite a different way. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was extremely depressed. I was completely apathetic. I just simply was not engaged.
In September my mood started to take a nose-dive, spiraling quickly into depression. I began a long period of flare with Fibromyalgia. And that October, I began to get migraines for the first time in my life. Those migraines would put me in a dark room for 3-4 days at a time, about once a week. Little did I know then that it would get much worse from there.
I was very unhappy, but I kind of didn’t care. Like I said, apathetic. A dark room and an audiobook to distract me, and I could escape into someone else’s story for awhile.
Not much of a way to lead a life.
I have long been pretty involved with social media. But last winter, even that kind of connection dissolved. I wouldn’t check Facebook for weeks at a time. And I don’t think I logged into Twitter once in 6 months.
In and of itself, taking an offline break for awhile can actually be a very healthy thing. But that’s not what I was doing.
I was withdrawing from the world.
One day in the spring I did log in, and then another day, and the day after that. And I started to write on this blog again, after an absence of more than a year.
Writing started to bring me back.
I don’t even understand why. I just know that I was happiest when I wrote. It was both cathartic and an amazing creative outlet. I started wanting to write more often. And when I wrote, I would tweet the link.
And so I found myself back on Twitter. How it happened, I have no idea, but I had 1,000 or so followers. Granted, lots of them probably found me because I’m my brother’s sister. But they stuck around for other reasons, because I don’t talk about Josh a huge amount.
I started getting back into the swing of tweeting. And I started really enjoying the interaction there, which meant I did it more, and it became a good, self-propelling cycle.
One day my girls and I went for dinner at our friends’ house. This is one of the strongest family units I know, and it’s a privilege to be around such a “healthy” example, when most of the world is falling apart at the seams. Well, at least in my own experience, I’ve seen a lot of examples of unhealthy relationships and marriages, non-cohesive parenting, and families that really don’t come together as a family unit. So when I say it’s an honour to be around a family that is wonderful, and real, and works well together, I mean every word.
These friends of ours have a ritual that they do every night around the dinner table. When we’re there, we’re included too. They go round the table, and each person answers the question, “What was your favourite thing today?” Simple, right?
So simple, but so powerful. No negatives, only positives. It reminds each person to examine their day, looking for the best moments. Each day. Every day. And it’s a way for all the family members to connect with the parts of each others’ lives for which they are not always present.
I have adopted this same nightly ritual with my kids, and even my own dad enjoys it so much that he instigates the question at dinner now, whenever we’re all together. So one day I posed the question to my Twitter followers.
Simple. Easy. Without thinking much about it.
I got an overwhelming response from people.
So I posed the question again the next day. And the next. And the next.
Finally, after a week or so of tweeting it, I decided to turn the idea into its own blog. Before long, I actually registered the domain name www.myfavouritethingtoday.com. The site was live within another day or two, and a nightly ritual, without fail, was born.
Every night, at some point in the evening, I post about my favourite thing of the day. Sometimes it’s the last thing I do before bed, sometimes it’s up before dinner’s on the table. But it’s posted each and every day.
Other people began posting their favourite things too. Most days now, there are several people who post their favourite thing about their own day. That conversation, that focus on the positive, changed my life.
Invoking gratitude into my daily routine absolutely changed my personal trajectory.
Because, you see, I believe that it’s impossible to recognize the best thing about your day without there also being an inherent degree of gratitude.
I had read about gratitude journals before. I knew the talk about an “attitude of gratitude.” I had even tried keeping a gratitude journal before, but after a few days, I’d simply forget and it would slip away.
But this time, it was a ritual I already performed almost daily with my kids, but I’d just gone public with it. It made the follow through much easier.
The choice to perceive life through gratitude was so powerful, it started to pervade everything.
I live with chronic illness, chronic depression, and chronic pain. That’s not likely to change anytime soon, if ever. For a long time I worked on trying to accept it rather than fight it. Then I was trying to make rights with it, once I’d accepted it…to learn to live my life within these new constructs that had been thrust upon me, rather than trying to muscle through and be the person I used to be, living with the capabilities I used to have. That had all changed, and I had to get ok with it.
Easier said than done.
But when I started myfavouritethingtoday.com, the muscle of gratitude started getting worked. Every. Single. Day. And make no mistake, it’s a muscle. And it started to permeate everything else. Everything.
Instead of focusing on the loss in my life, I began to be able to reframe it through gratitude. Finding the things I could be grateful for helped me not to dwell on the things for which I could not.
And I learned that seeing life through the eyes of gratitude made me much, much happier. And it allowed me to live rather than just exist.
And so I practice daily gratitude. When I’m faced with something particularly nasty, I try to reframe it and find things – about it, or about my life in general – for which I can be thankful. No matter how overwhelmed I am, there’s always something. It might simply be that the day that has been so awful is finally over. It might be that I have amazing friends or family to help me when X or Y is raining down all over my head. It might be the view of the Divine in every ocean and every sunset I see. There’s always something.
So myfavouritethingtoday.com began to grow. Kissmysassafrass.com began to grow too as I continued to write whatever descended through my mind and onto the screen. And my Twitter followers increased.
Today I’m up around 2,200 followers. Might be small beans compared to some, but I’m kind of in awe that that many people are interested in the shit that comes out of my mouth! But that writing, that daily gratitude, and those conversations are what drew me out of apathy and back into life again.
It’s a cycle, to be sure. I will go down again, and I will come back up. Winter is alway a darker time of year, and summer’s always better.
I’m not sure what this winter will bring, but I do know that I will stay connected and keep writing this year. Because now it has become a lifeline for me.
And for that I am so grateful.
As I said, I learned a lot about myself in the process of considering the role gratitude plays in my life, as we approach the official day of giving thanks. I learned that gratitude is a muscle that must be worked daily, and that it can save lives.
It sure saved mine.
Thank you for coming on the ride with me. It means more than you could ever know.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend.
What are you grateful for?