(As we’ve seen in past blogs and as we’ll see with Donna in the Last Best Cure blog series, mindfulness practices – such as the gratitude practices Sue writes about below, if engaged in regularly – can bring benefits both to the quality of life and sometimes even the health of people with chronic illnesses.
Sue writes about the Grace In Small Things (GiST) website below. Check out why the founder created the site.)
When I started GiST, I had no faith in my ability to create a better life for myself. At the beginning, I was so low physically, psychologically, and emotionally after dealing with cancer, negative work conditions, depression and anxiety, and a then yet to be acknowledged alcoholism.
I felt beholden to GiST, though, so I made sure I wrote down five things I at least didn’t hate every day during that first year, and I slowly became someone who could see beauty and light again, against all my actual expectations.
The daily reminders turned from a chore I grumbled through to a way of seeing throughout my days, transitioning me from a state of hopelessness to one of vision. Grace in Small Things helped give me not only my life back but also one that I could love and feel the power to grow within.)
I needed to bring meaning into the hours spent sitting in a chair or lying in bed
When I first came upon a caring, loving internet site called “Grace in Small Things” four years ago I never imagined I was starting something that would improve my CFS. The simple act of writing down and sharing five things I was grateful for every day seemed innocent enough, yet it soon brought untold joy and meaning into my life.
At that time I was 63 and had had CFS for four years. My life had changed from very active to relatively sedentary. I needed to bring meaning into the hours spent sitting in a chair or lying in bed.
I chose to give huge attention to the tiniest moments of grace that occurred during my day. This challenge of searching for graces and sharing them with others opened my eyes to the simple beauty it is possible to experience from a chair and a relatively static life.
I began to wake up thinking “What is going to be beautiful in my life today?” or “What can I create that will be beautiful today?” or “What can I experience today that will give meaning?”
I started a system of doing pleasurable things for five minutes – or one minute, or two. I would play the piano for two minutes, listen to music for two minutes, dance (even in bed, even with just my fingers) for two minutes.
Finding grace is what my life is about now
Later, I decided that I could organize my limited energy envelope in such a way that I would have the perception that I was living without boundaries.
I used to get someone to drive me up the mountain so that I could just stand and breathe in the mountain air, or I would walk for one minute there, or just sit in the car and enjoy the beauty of the fir forest.
On good days I would go to the pool and swim for one minute. On bad days I would sit on the veranda just living in the present and noting my ‘graces’. Or lay in bed imagining beautiful moments from my rich life-experiences.
Life really is limitless, even with CFS. Our imaginations can take us anywhere – good or bad – and it’s up to us to put in the uplifting thoughts and images.
I may not be able to dance as I did, but I can watch others dancing on youtube and share in their joy. After I was able to listen to music again – because I wasn’t for two years – I could be inspired by just turning on the radio.
Each beautiful moment I experienced was a grace that I shared with my community. I was like a bird bringing shiny things back to the nest. Only my nest was the graceinsmallthings site and the loving community there
Now, after four years of sharing gratitude, I find that as I go about my daily life I notice the beauty around me where before I was too involved in my thoughts. I am open to receiving love and warmth from people I come into daily contact with. I notice the small leaf on the tree glistening with raindrops, or the fresh blades of grass pushing up through damp soil after the rain.
From being a rather stressed person before I discovered this site I have become full of light and optimism.
I have time to talk to a passing cat or smile at a stranger. I welcome the clouds for their uniqueness and find things to be grateful for even in ugly bureaucratic situations.
Simply put, finding graces has become a habit. It is with me all day long. In hospitals I see the loving care rather than the despair. Surrounded by concrete tenements I see the tiny fig tree shooting out of the pavement, or the lovely people walking in and out. In stressful situations I see the grace.
Finding grace is what my life is about now. From being a rather stressed person before I discovered this site I have become full of light and optimism.
It’s difficult to say how much my gratitude practice has affected my health. I have definitely been getting slowly better over the past four years since I started. I have now reached a plateau, which temporarily isn’t moving, because I’m doing much more and am much more engaged with life.
Gratitude practice has definitely affected my well-being, however. Perceived quality of life has much to do with our experience of our life. More than anything else, gratitude practice has affected the way I see my life, and that in itself is energizing. I think I’ll be leaving that plateau behind very soon now
Do think about joining Grace In Small Things and sharing your graces, even if it’s just occasionally.
I am an English woman living in Greece. CFS began suddenly for me the night after the London bombings in 2005 when I danced too strenuously for two hours to get rid of the stress.
I was 58 years old. The next morning I couldn’t walk uphill. For a year I was on level 80 out of 100, but didn’t know what was wrong with me. My lungs and heart tested fine. Then during the July heatwave of 2006 – (I have a thermoregulatory problem) – I went down to level 40 when a nearby gas station emitted noxious fumes for days on end.
Before this I had been a happy musician, writer and mum; an outdoor girl living in Greece, who loved to walk, dance and swim. I had recently gained an MA in creative writing in England under the tutelage of the Poet Laureate.
However, I did already have hypothyroidism and auto-immune disease of the thyroid when I got CFS, and the five years leading up to CFS were the most intense of my life.
My parents died, my children left home, my marriage broke-up and my home was destroyed in an earthquake. I think all the stress may have triggered a ‘spread’ of the auto-immune activity to other parts of my metabolism.
I have not taken medication for CFS, apart from mineral and vitamin tablets, and omega 3 and 6 tablets. My main line of defense has been pacing.
For the past eight years I have participated in an online group run by Bruce Campbell in his CFIDS Self-help organization. This has helped me more than I can express. I now automatically live within my energy envelope.
I am also an enthusiastic follower of Ashok Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining method and I often meditate to his CDs. They are very helpful.
I look forward to the future with such optimism these days that less and less do I find myself sitting back and saying ‘Hey, what have you got to be optimistic about?’
Sue Camarados in Greece
Wonderful article. We all have go find a way to appreciate what we have left and are able to do. So true. I’m in the pacing courses, too. I’m sorry that we’ve been in different groups. You must know Suella, though. She inspires, as do you.
Love the article, Sue! Like your posts in the CFIDS Self-Help group and “Grace in Small Things” it is very inspiring!
It is seeing the grace in your every day life. Not giving into a defeatist mentality no matter what. I have seen the pit of despair, and I was so afraid I might never escape it’s dark clutches. I am a naturally optimistic, enthusiastic, never let the bastards get you down person. But my brain chemistry betrayed. Thank you, my Father in heaven for Dr. Sandra A., she helped helped me find a medical ladder out. My body and mind were just exhausted. But each new dayis a day of gratitude, maybe share my experience lift someone up. Or minister to another having a hard time having something to place a ray light in their pit. And it’s not me who gets the credit it’s many blessings Dr A and the love of God who grows in my heart
Glad to hear it Deborah. I think even the strongest of us will get worn down by this disorder emotionally and mentally unless we engage in practices such as Sue does. I say that because I would put myself in the pretty optimistic category but the lack of hope and sheer frustration seeps in there – it really does and before you know it – you’ve lost something vital and sustaining.
(Actually even when we were healthy we were losing it! :))
I’m glad you’ve found a ladder up…
Thank you so much for your article! I’m going to GIST site now!
Good! I find that doing these ‘little things’ helps and they do build on each other and they do take pressure off of a weakened system. Have fun 🙂
I just came across this quote and it seems to fit this discussion….
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”
― Eckhart Tolle
I see this practice as being regular ways of increasing our dopamine levels of which we are known to suffer a shortage. We need regular rewards to stay healthy and I even believe that in these illnesses we need more than normal. I know that I have always worked hard to keep myself in a naturally beautiful and serene place and take joy from the little things.