It sounds trite at first glance doesn’t it? Of course, I am alive. I can sense the eye-rolling as some people read the title and quickly get bored. “Oh, another person with a chronic illness waxing lyrical about the fact that they’re not dead yet, while in the meantime we have real life, here and now problems to tackle and deal with…I don’t have time to give thanks for my life, I am too busy living it…” Good, get on with that then, don’t let me stop you. I am glad that for most (perhaps many, not most) people, there is no need to pause to consider mortality all that often, least of all their own.
Yet there are some people who will understand what I mean when I say that it has been a long journey that has led me to this point where I can say I am grateful to be alive. Because I have, in the past, battled the feelings of wishing I was not.
I don’t think I was ever truly ungrateful, that I lacked an appreciation of the sanctity of life, or the way in which it is a gift (from who? Another time…) to be treasured. I just recall, vividly and painfully, the feeling of wanting to wrap it up carefully and hand it back. No thank you, not for me. It is too much, you shouldn’t have. It is wasted on me, I don’t know what to do with it. Give it to someone else please, I no longer need it.
It would be easy to assume that this was a result of my MS diagnosis, but this is in fact not the case. I suspect that there could be some causal link between my…[ what do we call it these days, now that “nervous breakdown” is no longer accepted medical terminology? Episode?] my episode of serious depression and my subsequent diagnosis of MS the following year. It is possible that this was a factor even before I knew of it, but it is also equally possible that it is entirely irrelevant. I may never know, and I am no longer sure it matters. My depression was not, at that time, knowingly, a result of anything other than my circumstances and my response to those, over which I felt no control.
At the time, I was incredibly open about being depressed. I was adamant that this illness should be afforded the same credibility as any other, more physical, manifestation of dis-ease. I did not want to perpetuate the stigma of mental illness, and “coming out” about what I was going through was my message to friends and family that, should they ever find themselves in the place where I had been, I would want them to feel able to ask for help and not be ashamed.
Yet I did not speak openly about wanting to stop living. It felt like a selfish desire – after all, I had three children and a husband that I was, in effect, considering leaving behind. That in itself induced a profound sense of shame that simply reinforced my feelings of worthlessness, sending me deeper into the spiral of emotions that felt bottomless, endless…
I never wanted to die. Yes, I checked into a “sanctuary for the suicidal”, and that title best defined my sentiments at the time, but there is an indescribable difference between wanting to die and wanting to stop living. I needed a pause button, an escape route, a way out of the contradictory sensations of numbness yet hypersensitivity, both at the same time.
So today, here and now, I am truly grateful for finding my way out of that forest of darkness, for beginning to see the light ahead (a journey too long to describe here today). My journey could have ended at that point, and there are myriad reasons why it did not, as well as even more reasons why I am glad of that being the case, some of which I am now able to document in this “30 Days of Gratitude” project. It seems right to take one day to give thanks for the fact that, despite all that has gone before and all that may be to come, I am grateful to be alive, and I don’t mind how trite that sounds.