APPRECIATING THE PRESENT
Here’s the thing: you can’t change the past and you can’t predict the future. We know these things on a fundamental level yet we do little things every day to suggest otherwise. I get stuck on the little things, I complain about the little things. It’s nearly constant, and it’s a perpetual New Year’s resolution of mine to knock it off. But once in a while I’ll happen upon a picture from 3 years ago and get some forced perspective.
On Christmas Eve 3 years ago I noticed a small cluster of hives on my elbow. I’d been sitting near and touching the Christmas tree – a known allergen for me – so I attributed it to that. I went and showed my dad and he shrugged and suggested I take a Benadryl. That was that. Little did either of us know that I was about to embark upon a 2 year journey filled with countless doctors appointments, steroid shots every other week, handfuls of pills and supplements, hours upon hours of tears, and almost failing classes from the stress.
That small cluster of hives ended up spreading all over my entire body, like an alien organism happily settled in its new host. This thing that was attacking me was so foreign to me and yet it was made of me. I would wake up with my lips swollen to twice their normal size, my eyes swollen shut, my feet swollen too big for my shoes let alone to walk or drive. It itched all over but more than that it ached. If I wasn’t doped up on Benadryl I was doped up on steroids that I was warned would destroy my bones, (not what you want to hear when Osteoporosis runs in the family). I went on a Paleo diet, I slept with cold washcloths all over me, I laid on my parents’ couch with ice packs on my swollen feet and cried and cried and none of us knew what to do. I thought this was the rest of my life. I thought I would never feel pretty or normal again, never again not be in pain or misery of some form. I thought I would do anything to go back to my old life, I would never complain again if I could just have it back.
But I did go back to my old life. I finally found a doctor who told me my thyroid was attacking its own cells as though they were histamines. He told me it was common with my form of thyroid disease, especially in women, but no one talks about it. He told me the cocktail of antihistamines to settle it down had only been discovered 3 years prior, that before then women suffering from chronic urticaria were stuck with the steroids I’d been taking rotting their bones and often needed hip replacements. He gave me my old life back within 3 days of our first meeting. I went in for a check up and cried and hugged him.
And then I set about getting back to my life, the way it had been before, the one I had so desperately wished to have back.
I wish I could tell you that I kept my word to never complain about the little things again. I wish I could tell you I’m a changed person glowing with gratitude and positivity. I’m not. I still get stressed about work and irrationally upset about long lines and traffic and I still think doctor’s appointments are the end of the world and I must spend months worrying about them. Sometimes I complain to a friend if it takes too long for our food to come at a restaurant or the line to get out of a parking garage is taking forever. My point is, gratitude isn’t a constant state.
But then I’ll see a picture from back then. Something will pop up as I’m scrolling through my phone and it will catapult me back to 3 years ago. I’ll see how miserable I looked. I’ll see the red splotches on my skin peeking out from all the ways I tried desperately to hide them beneath my clothes. I’ll remember how low I felt. I’ll wonder, briefly, if it will ever happen again, and then quickly push the thought away. Because I’ve convinced myself that if I’m grateful enough it won’t happen again.
There is nothing wrong with intentional gratitude. It’s probably one of the best things we can do for our soul. The problem begins when I decide that intentional gratitude about the past will save me from the events of the future. Even if I spent all my time being grateful that I’m past that point in my life and I never got upset over trivial things, it wouldn’t change whether or not this is going to happen to me again. So the point isn’t to be grateful just to keep myself safe from the future. The point is to be grateful in order to appreciate the present. A present where I don’t feel the physical and emotional ramifications of my body attacking itself without my permission. A present where I can wear whatever I want and feel pretty. A present where an illness isn’t the only thing on my mind. Gratitude won’t predict the future, and it sure won’t change the past, but it can make all the difference in the present.