"Experiencing Gratitude while Living with Chronic Illness"
Thanksgiving is upon us.
I’m grateful for my body, as it continues to heal and is very capable. I’m grateful for my husband’s unconditional acceptance and love for me. I’m grateful for kindness. I’m grateful for those who abused, neglected, and tormented me because they taught me survival. I’m grateful for small tokens of affection and generosity, like flowers, compliments, and hugs. I’m grateful for music. I’m grateful for red lipstick. I’m grateful for the ocean. I’m grateful for everyone who supports me because it takes a village…
Gratitude helps us refocus on what we have, instead of what we lack, lost, or are diagnosed with. Gratitude is a vehicle for behavior change and overall wellness.
People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past by retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings; the present by not taking good fortune for granted as it comes; and the future by maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude.
Cultivating gratitude can be done through journaling, sharing our talents, performing random acts of kindness, listening intently, smiling, forgiving those who hurt us, meditating, and saying thank you.
Gratitude is not meant to remove or replace painful or negative emotions. Rather, gratitude can be used to help guide our negative emotions towards a more balanced perspective.
This is in part what I do as a Behavioral Health Consultant at Stephen Klein Wellness Center (SKWC): use gratitude to help patients on their journey of chronic illness management.
Many individuals who seek care at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center (SKWC) have chronic physical illnesses. While chronic illnesses like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes are manageable, they can have a huge impact on our health. Our mental health can make our chronic physical illnesses worse. Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic physical illnesses, and is known to make them worse. Many mental health illnesses are experienced as chronic conditions.
Receiving a diagnosis may lead to fear, shock, anger, depression, confusion, and stress -all of which can have a negative impact on our physical wellness. We can often feel overwhelmed and struggle to adjust to the adaptations our new lifestyles require.
Experiencing gratitude is an effective way to feel better and to help ease the complexities of chronic illness.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and is one such chronic illness that can be supported by practicing gratitude.
Gratitude helps reduce depression, a known barrier to the self-care required to manage diabetes. It also helps improve sleep, as poor sleep quality is both a risk factor for developing diabetes and is linked to poor glucose control in diabetes.
To support their healing, some SKWC participants who have or at risk of developing diabetes were asked to journal about gratitude as a way to support their healing. Participants from two different diabetes management groups at SKWC were interviewed: Drop-In Diabetes Group and the Health Enterprise Zone Program.
Margaret Kushiner is the Program Coordinator of the HEZ Program in which two Peer Community Health Workers, Juanita Hannibal and Angela Evans, address diabetes through a 10-week evidence-based healthy lifestyle program focusing on nutrition and physical activity. The program also provides intensive care management services for some patients with diabetes and other pressing needs.
Director of Nursing Lisa Greenspan offers a weekly Drop-In Diabetes Class - a community-based group that focuses on diabetes prevention and management. Some of her participants collectively defined gratitude. They said, “Gratitude is an attitude, with a quality of being thankful. Gratitude is a way of life. Gratitude is being appreciative for life itself. Gratitude is kindness.”
Participant Gratitude Journal
Aleta Abdul-Qaadir: “I’m grateful to Allah for all the mercies and blessings He has bestowed on me. I need to work on being grateful for Allah for creating me and for allowing me to be me.”
Anonymous: “Gratitude is an attitude. I love gratitude. Besides Jesus, gratitude is my best friend. I’m grateful that our creator created us. Like we the people. I love you all.”
Denise Clark: “I’m grateful for [the Diabetes Walk In] class. I feel very relaxed.”
Tanisha DaCosta: “I’m grateful for my children. I’m grateful just to have another day.”
Jean Dupree: “I’m grateful for waking up this morning, for my granddaughter’s love. And for life itself. For the air I breathe, And the beauty of seeing a flower grow through dark in the concrete.”
Loretta Fink: “I’m grateful for living and being able to control my diabetes and keep it down.”
Geraldine Grady: “I’m grateful for classes at SKWC and for God’s help.”
Arness Goodman: “I’m grateful for having a place [like SKWC] that helps me control my blood sugar and a group of peers that helps me work it out.”
Marketa Heard: “I’m grateful for the many improvements of the world - medical improvements and research. I’m grateful for learning the value and portion size of foods I’ve been overeating and about destructive foods. I’ve learned about good versus bad fats and am grateful for the free nutrition classes like Plant-Based cooking. My friends are so impressed with the offerings at SKWC!”
Khea Parham: “I could really exhaust my ink writing about what I feel grateful for. I have so much. I believe the good and the bad have their own ability to make you a better, stronger, version of yourself. Of course the good things feel good immediately, so they satisfy my longing for immediate gratification. The bad on the other hand requires that I survive my emotions long enough to see the lesson; the goodness... I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that my level of gratitude could never match the things I have to be grateful for.”
Dorothy Thompson: “I’m grateful for all of you, grateful for the women in this room. Gratitude is gratefulness for the wisdom the Lord God has given me, for others, and for appreciating His blessing, creation - you.”