418. Gratitude

Image result for free bulging bellies picturesAs one year bulged its way into the next over the food and drink and presents and party people, I realized that I had not blogged in a couple of weeks. That tells me something: I must either be content or constipated. I know the latter is not true, but I need to ponder the former. Am I content?  I think so. I am full on many levels, fulfilled even. Maybe even overflowing in the sense that my cup overfloweth.

Lacking anxiety as well, because anxiety cannot be contained in contentment; it is a psychological gas that presses against the space it expands into. Anxiety is the steam of an overheated mind; brain sweat from the racing rat wheel of worry. This deformed child of worry makes one’s eyes squint; pulse tick up; sweat seep; capillaries squeeze shut. Symptoms go on and on– the nauseated stomach, gas, reflux, insomnia, etc. All traceable back to the drip drip of adrenaline into a worried and worn out body. Raw fear.Image result for anxiety images

And what motivates the rat wheel, you ask? The endless game of “what if?” that’s what. Since there is no definitive answer to the “what if?” game, the cognitive rat brain simply runs faster and faster in order to keep up with its self imposed pace. “What if this spot on my back is cancer? What if  I can’t get insurance? What if there is no after life?  What if there is and I wind up in Hell? What if I die on my next birthday? What if the country implodes? What if …?”Image result for rat on a wheel picturesThe rat is exhausted.

Oh, but the antidote to all this angst is the peace of mind, body and spirit that gratitude delivers. Truly, it is a gift that expands in melting paraffin waves of relaxation and fulfillment. Gratitude is a word derived from gratis, Latin for thanks. Thanks for what? Well, for what is; what has been; and what may likely be. Gratitude collects one’s thoughts and feelings like random pieces of laundry. Gratitude washes the negativity out of each garment and sets it out clean and fresh again. Sort of like forgiveness. And whom are you thanking? The Gift Giver, of course. Image result for grateful images

A young man once surprised me with an unexpected mini-lesson on gratitude. “Yeah, I’m doing okay with the lithium. This is the longest I’ve ever stayed compliant, you know. I do counseling twice a month, and that helps. I work out every day for an hour, no matter what. Overall I have a lot more activity in my life with more relationships. I can see that I was hibernating two years ago, but now I’m crawling out of that badger’s den. But you know what is the most important factor?”

“Well, I’m guessing it’s not one that you have already mentioned, yes?”

“Of course. I think gratitude is really powerful. More and more I see it in my life. When I am able to look thankfully at what I do have, I am filled with joy. And the funny thing is this: the facts of my life really haven’t changed. It’s my perspective. I knew this all along, but I thought there had to be more factors. But in theses last six months I’ve been focusing on the good in my life, my blessings, my living friends, what I can still do. And it’s enough. Way more than enough. I can’t easily get depressed when I am full of stubborn gratitude.”

“Nice!  I agree. Gratitude is thankfulness for what you do have and who you are instead of moaning about what you lost or never had to begin with. It’s coming to peace with who you are. Gratitude has no room for envy of others and how life should be ideally. Instead, the grateful look at what is and give thanks. It’s living in the world you are in, in your own skin, and enjoying it.”

“Yeah. I don’t have a career anymore because of my bipolar, but I still have a family that loves me. I have my daughter, though her mom and I are divorced. I can still ski and play golf, work out, do manual labor. I have to do vigorous exercise some days to check my self, usually to force the energy to flow. If I don’t pull the blanket back in the mornings, then I’m inviting the ticks into my brain.”

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120. Hope

In the mental health business hope is an indicator of health, optimism, and faith. The opposite of hope, hopelessness, is an indicator of bad times and often correlates with suicide attempts. “I’ve lost all hope” is a pre-suicide cliche. So by extension hope correlates with life, and hopelessness with death. I’ve known a few unfortunate souls who suffered from intense chronic pain. Not surprisingly they thought of death as a reasonable pain killer. They did not want to die, just to end their suffering. They had lost hope of their pain ending; lost faith in their painkillers; and decided to kill the pain receptor, i.e., themselves.

It’s a hard sell to try and persuade someone back into their pain wracked body. It’s comparable to encouraging a battered spouse to go back into his/her marriage. I would never try to persuade a battered spouse to return to a battering partner. Yet, I would try to walk and talk a chronic sufferer back into their pain dump. Not because I am a cruel sadist and derive pleasure from another’s pain. No, my position is more rooted in the value of life and,of course, the hope of cure. I believe in better times and have walked through many dark valleys with folks who were ready to cash out their chips. So far, no suicides have occurred on my watch. None of the credit belongs to me; all of it belongs to the concept and practice of hoping for better days, and the strength of the hoper.

Years ago I recall a conversation with my one good buddy who was swatting at the flies of suicide in his mind. “Been this way for fifty years, Man. No chance. Gotta face it.” I argued a bit that the past is not the ruler of the future. He disagreed. “The past rules. No, once the bell is rung, you can’t unring it.”

“True, but you don’t have to march to the same cadence to the end of your life. What if Act Three of your life is all about redemption and joy? You’ll miss it because you bought the message of the first two acts of your life.” Fortunately for him, the love of his life was just around the corner. He is one of the happiest guys I know now, except when he bosses me around and I won’t cooperate.

Today I am back in Arizona with my daughter and brand new granddaughter, Leah Grace. It’s a surreal experience as I feel and hear my granddaughter’s little kitten breaths while she slumbers on my chest. She curls her little hands together and clings like a baby possum to its mother. The circle of life is complete, and something very satisfying is rising up in my core. I suppose it is joy. Eight pounds of gentle quiet joy. She resembles her mother whom I can barely remember cradling in my arms 26 years ago. The old photos show a svelt young me with full black hair and big 80’s glasses. Wow! A full generation has passed. Back then I am sure I hoped and prayed for a healthy and wonderful life for my baby at that time, Grace Marie. My wife and I were so grateful to God that we could have another child after losing one in 1984. We hoped all the more because of the deep pain we had suffered through with the loss of baby #2, Lisa Ellen. It’s funny: you don’t hope for what you have. Hope is the thing that keeps you going when you are at the bottom of an abandoned well, calling for help, hoping a Good Samaritan passes by. You don’t practice hope if you are securely standing beside the well. Still, I hope and pray for this precious child, that she will have a healthy and wonder-filled life. I can realistically hope to hold her child one day, God willinng. I can cast my hope out there another 26 years… I’ll be 82 and teetering on the Grand Canyon of life. What a blessing that would be!

For the moment I will content myself with hope for a good night’s sleep for her devoted mother and father.  Ever wonder what your life would be like if your kids were your parents? In some faint reflective way, they are. The DNA may commingle and dilute, but there are traits of my parents in my children. My wife is adopted, so the trail ends with her. My folks were odd people, let me tell you. They married late for their generation due to the Big War. My mother wrote to many GI’s during WWII because it was the patriotic thing to do. Plus, there weren’t many men available in Boston in the early 1940’s. My dad wrote back. He returned in person and hung out with my uncles. Amazingly none of my uncles was killed or injured in the War, though one was held for two years in a Nazi prison camp. Think he needed some hope?  And his family who faithfully sent him packages that he never received. Hope might have been an empty box, but it still contained a loving spirit if not cookies and bread and chocolate. However, what if he had received every package sent and never made it home? That would have been the empty box, the coffin. Instead he was liberated and made it back to Boston. Bob fathered nine kids, by the way. He lived a full life and was much loved when he died a  timely death a few years back.

The old saying goes, “Be careful what you hope for. You might just get it.” Well, thus far my life has exceeded my hopes and dreams, and there is more ahead. Amen.