Athens, Georgia, Dogs, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, San Diego, California

Three Times the Gratitude

It’s easy to be grateful when life gives you lemonade instead of lemons. That sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? I just made that up – I like the saying: when life gives you lemons, turn it into lemonade. It works, and I’ve recently been reminded by one of my best, most honest friends: “Jill, you are the most resilient person I’ve ever known.” (Thus, my home page header with the Emerson quote on perseverance).

The point is that gratitude can take work, effort and willpower if life consistently gives you lemons, and it’s even more challenging if you are born with DNA cells made up of lemons instead of the proverbial lemonade.

I fully admit that I have much to be grateful for, even in this dark time in my life, darker than most, actually.  Contrary to what people believe, fighting negativity takes work if you are not born with a brain filled with the “feel-good” chemicals reproducing themselves without drugs, exercise, meditation, or a charmed life filled with endless good luck. And, if you grew up in a nuclear family with healthy boundaries and strong role models, mixed with a lot of love and laughter (no family is “normal” or “perfect” but some come pretty close) then your cup of lemonade will forever runneth over.

For the rest of us, we have to work at it, constantly, every day.  Not because we don’t have an inherent love of life (I do), or gravitate toward the silver linings in the clouds (I do), but only because life handed me (and millions like me) a deck with several of the key cards missing – and just ask my grandma who taught me all I know about card games – you can’t play the game the right way without a full deck of cards.

grandmame
Grandma and me circa September 2003

The game of life is very similar to a game of cards.

Back in 2006 when I lived in Santa Barbara, California for a brief time, I took a class through the city’s free continuing education program called, “Coping with Grief and Loss.”

It was one of the best things I ever did and it cost only $5 for 12 weeks.

Marilyn Grosboll, one of the most inspirational and insightful motivational speakers/social workers I’ve ever had the good luck to encounter, taught the interactive workshop. (I also took her other class, “Building Self-Esteem,” which was another gem).

Marilyn recommended the book, Life After Loss, as a companion to the material in the class. I read it that summer and it delivered what she promised it would.

The other day I dug that book out of my boxes of old books. It’s time to re-read it.

But, I’m a slow reader these days…so…in the meantime…I’m refocusing on the main lesson I learned from Marilyn’s class: wake up every day and go to bed every night writing down three things you are grateful for that day, and keep them in a journal. When the grief hits you so hard you can’t breathe (that happens to me a lot lately), go back to the journal and re-read what you have written. Say it aloud. If you think of more to add, write those down, too – even if it’s not first thing in the morning or bedtime.

I remember the doctor I was working with at the time said to me, coincidentally, “Some people are born with a natural joy for living. They feel happy every day, no matter what happens to them.”

Must be nice. I wonder if they take that for granted. I hope not. That would be something to be incredibly grateful for – the world would be a peaceful place if everyone felt that inner peace and happiness 24/7, would it not? I bet that it would and people would have much less to fight over.

I remember I felt insulted at the time, or criticized, at least, by what he said, in the context of our conversation which centered around why my depression was not getting better and why I couldn’t just pull myself out of it.  Yes, doctors who treat depression, or some, at least, have that attitude about their patients. When the people who are professionally trained to treat the illness judge you, that’s pretty messed up. And it makes it harder to get well – note to the mental health professionals. It sure doesn’t help the stigma, either.

But, thirteen years later, I’m grateful that he said that. Yes, it’s true. I am. Because it gives me perspective now: there’s nothing wrong with me that isn’t wrong with most of us. The majority of people do not fall into this category of “Pollyanna positivity” that is elusive to the rest of us.

The majority of us, to one degree or another, have to work at that inner peace and joy.

We have to remind ourselves to be grateful for the good things in our lives: past and present – and to be hopeful about the future.

I think based on what my friend said about my resilience (which I know is true), I fall somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of positivity: somewhere smack dab in the center in between severely depressed and pessimistic, and that 24/7 innate joy that nothing, and no one, can put asunder.

In other words, I’m your average human being.

Not black or white, but many shades of gray, or I prefer, rainbow colors – they’re much prettier, and who doesn’t love all the colors of the rainbow?

Off the top of my head, as I sit down to write this week’s post, a plethora of things to be grateful for come to mind for me, and since I haven’t been writing in my gratitude journal the last 12 years, I have some major catching up to do. Though, I’d like to be more creative here – rather than list the obvious (my innate gifts, family members, home) – it’s a good time for me to reflect on some of the small, and large, moments in my past that I’m grateful for, and especially for the mountains I have already overcome. (On a recent episode of “Mom,” Marjorie had a great line: “When we look at the mountains ahead of us, we forget all the mountains we’ve already overcome.”)

So here goes…

I am grateful for:

In September 1990, I bought a $1 raffle ticket for free parking on campus and a reserved parking space in the parking lot closest to Muir College residence halls for the entire school year at UCSD. Out of thousands of students, I won that raffle.  With a single $1 ticket.

 

On January 5, 2011, our dog, Reggie (yes, the one I blog about so often), ran away. We left the front door open (unbeknownst to us) while we were preoccupied and just like that, he was gone. We searched in the dark for several hours, but we didn’t find him and we lived near a busy road…the next morning we put up flyers that we created the night before, but no one had seen him.

19 hours after we realized Reggie was missing, Audie got a call from the vet in Washington that the PetSmart in LaJolla had contacted them from the microchip company (Chip your pets!). Someone had found Reggie the night before and took him into PetSmart but Audie had not registered him in San Diego yet (easy thing to forget about, trust me) so it took them longer to locate the owner. At first, they called Addie, his ex-girlfriend, whom Reggie’s chip was still registered to in Seattle. Long story short, we got Reggie back. A couple of nice students had “Lucky” (his original name, not changed either with the chip company) and kept him safe and sound overnight in their apartment, just a few blocks from our condo! He didn’t get that far, thank goodness.

Audie gave them a $200 reward (he’s always been a very generous person, I love that about him) and our contact information so they could visit Reggie when they wanted to. They were very grateful – they had already bought him a bunch of toys and dog food from PetSmart. I felt bad for them, I knew how they felt. They were so excited to have a dog. We did hear from them once more, about four weeks later, to tell us that they adopted their own dog. So in a way, maybe Reggie did a mitzvah by running away: spending one night taking care of him motivated the students to give another rescue dog a forever family.

On July 1, 2015, I tried to change lanes on Oconee Street near downtown Athens, GA, but I was feeling dizzy from TMJ and I didn’t see the black Lincoln continental in my blind spot. I sideswiped their car in the right lane and then pulled back into the left lane as soon as I hit the Lincoln.

I was sick about it. It was such a stupid thing and I had a perfect driving record. I felt my body go numb as I drove to the Church’s Fried Chicken parking lot a block or so down the street, followed by the Lincoln. As I parked the car, I felt my head getting dizzier. I thought I might faint. I couldn’t think straight – it must have been panic – panic attacks do that to me. I don’t sweat, I get lightheaded and feel faint and it’s a scary feeling. I sat in the car for about 10 minutes. Finally, I exited the car and a young girl (probably a UGA student) was waiting for me, leaning on her car.

I apologized I don’t know how many times, and of course, admitted it was my fault. Showed her my license and insurance – we all know the drill.

And then, something amazing happened. Never happened to me in California, that’s for sure.

She looked at my car, and at her car, and told me most of the damage was on my end and her car looked fine.

“Let me call my dad and ask him, okay?”

“Take your time,” I answered. (I was afraid to look at the damage on the right side of my car just yet, so I took her word for it).

She took a few minutes to call her dad while I waited by the undamaged side of my car.

When she came back to talk to me she said, “It’s okay. My dad said it’s fine to let it go since there’s no damage.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I was at fault. Are you sure you’re okay with that?” (I really couldn’t believe anyone would be so nice about it. Anytime I had a fender bender in a parking lot in Los Angeles or San Diego, people were out for blood, even if there was barely a scratch, much less a dent).

“Yes, my dad said it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you!” I said. “You are very kind.”

She smiled and left. I walked over to my car at that point and saw that I had paint damage and a pretty deep dent above my right front tire.

But, I could breathe easier again.

I’m still in disbelief to this day as I write about it.

And…extremely grateful to that young lady and her dad for their kindness.

Ha! Even as I am writing these three memories I am grateful for, the feel-good chemicals are buzzing in my head!

Marilyn’s right. Gratitude uplifts us when we are grieving.

And helps turn those sour lemons into sweet, delicious lemonade.

lemonade

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