“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity-it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
With the holidays comes everyone speaking of gratitude. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. So when this holiday sprung up in front of me, the amount of guilt I felt for being anything but grateful was difficult to even acknowledge aloud.
This was my first “real” holiday since my food allergy diagnosis and medical uncertainties. A month ahead of time, I had already started to plan where I would be located so I could move forward in assessing what I was going to be able to eat. The problem was that the rest of the world did not have to function in this manner. No one else had thought about this issue because no one else had to. I needed to know where I would be eating breakfast, where I would be eating lunch, where I would be eating dinner, and where I would be eating dessert to make sure that I in fact was eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.
Next, I had to start to ask what was on the menu. It started with prompting for traditions from last year because who wants to break those? In my head, if I could keep things as consistent as possible, then it wouldn’t feel like my illness had power over me and the day. The most difficult part of this was to ask for specifics , yet this seemed unnecessary and overly complicated for others. A simple statement of, “We’re eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing” doesn’t mean anything to someone with food allergies. What brand names? What specific ingredients are in each of those? Are they homemade or store bought? What seasonings are you using? Will you be cooking this the same time as another item that could possibly be cross contaminated? Will you be serving any dishes with nuts? Can you keep the labels so that I can read them? The list was endless.
While many people feel comfortable asking these questions because they NEED to ask these questions to keep themselves or their kids safe, I still battle with feeling worthy enough to do so. I still feel like an inconvenience. I still feel like someone will not tailor their food for me, so why even ask and risk feeling hurt or not important enough for someone to make a change for? Facing this challenge with those in my own family is already hard to do, but this becomes an even more monumental task when it’s someone else’s family. It feels even more so like my problems are my problems alone. This is where the lonely feeling creeps right in. No one else can understand what this is like to have to focus so much energy on keeping yourself safe and alive. No one else can understand how much one does not want to have to do this during a time like the holidays. I would give anything in the entire world to just be in the moment and enjoy the holiday for what it is.
Instead, I wanted to scream that while they got to sit and focus on all the things that they were supposed to focus on, I had to sit and focus on what I could and could not eat, how I was or was not feeling. I had to sit and only half-way participate in conversations because of the excruciating pain in my stomach. I had to excuse myself from the table on several occasions when the pain no longer felt tolerable. I had to question whether I would actually be able to be a positive influence or a negative one due to all of these things.
On top of my current illness, I had to spend the day before cooking a side dish, bread, and one dessert so I could have at least one option at every part of the meal. I had to question whether the vegetable dish, the fruit salad, the turkey, the alcohol, whether any of those were worth the risk. The risk of an episode. The risk of drawing attention to myself. The risk of interfering with someone else’s good time. The risk of ruining a tradition. The risk of a hospital visit. The risk of death. All for the price of being able to eat something that everyone else is eating. To many of you, this may seem absurd. Some may question why you would risk such a thing. Some may question how realistic this truly is. The reality is that on days like Thanksgiving, I find it harder and harder to feel so different from everyone else. The macaroni and cheese, the roll, the apple pie, it doesn’t feel like enough. My enough doesn’t feel like enough when I see that everyone else’s enough is that much more. So on days like Thanksgiving, I find myself wanting to take the risk. I find myself wanting to sacrifice my possible well-being for the sake of feeling happy, feeling normal, and for the sake of blending in with the rest of the crowd. While I am well aware that this risk is not even close to being worth it, I can’t help but crave what everyone else has. To me on my first holiday, my enough felt like so much less than enough.
The day before Thanksgiving, I felt like I was faced with two options:
- Go and spend time with everyone as planned with the risk of being angry, upset, not normal, and at risk of exposure.
- Decided to stay home with my own safe food and capability of managing any physical pain that may arise, with the risk of being angry, upset, and not normal.
How does one have gratitude when this happens? How does one find the order within this chaos? How does one find acceptance when she is so far into the denial? My head spins round and round in self judgment over having these feelings during a time that is designed to be so happy and loving.
Despite every inkling in my body to choose option #2, my concept of my enough still brought me back to option #1 and I survived. So on this holiday, instead of fighting myself to identify what I was so grateful for, I chose to just be okay with the obvious: My enough might not feel like enough, but somehow my enough is still enough because I’m still here.
I can’t help but think of Meredith Grey at this time who said, “Maybe we’re not supposed to be happy. Maybe gratitude has nothing to do with joy. Maybe being grateful means recognizing what you have for what it is. Appreciating small victories. Admiring the struggle it takes simply to be human. Maybe we’re thankful for the familiar things we know. And maybe we’re thankful for the things we’ll never know. At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.”