Managing Stress With Gratitude Journaling

At this point, you guys know that during most of my life, I've been playing the cards of the underdog - not because I want to or because I chose to, but because the circumstances of my life have led me from one tough situation to the next, and I didn't see it clearly enough to do much of anything about it.

From a birth defect I didn't know I had but still suffered the impact of to an abusive childhood to PTSD to multiple abusive relationships and their individual impacts, I've been through enough in my lifetime to feel like I can definitely speak on hard times. But ...

I can also speak on the good in my life, partly because learning to appreciate the good comes with growing up but also because going through and surviving the bad is what grows you up enough to be able to appreciate the good.

Still, having chronic illnesses is stressful. If you add single motherhood to that, it gets even more stressful, simply because there's more to juggle, less time to juggle it in, and too often, no one to help with the juggling. But when you're juggling your own chronic illnesses as a single mother of two children who both also have chronic illnesses ... well, things tend to get complicated.

Which can definitely get stressful.

And that's why I love my gratitude journal.

Journaling in general has always been one of my favorite coping mechanisms for living with various difficult periods in my life. I've journaled through pregnancy, through miscarriage, through divorce. I've journaled through break-ups, through new love. Frequently, I've used journaling as a way to express myself in silence when I didn't feel that I had a voice anyone would listen to.

I write letters often, to various people, for various reasons. Sometimes they're poetic and sweet, sometimes they're outright gushing. I don't deliver them though - they're just meant to let me get the words out so that I don't say them and make someone else feel awkward with the depth of my emotion. Other times, the letters are poisonous and means, filling with anger and bitterness and rage. I don't deliver those either - they're intended as a way of allowing myself the freedom to feel what I'm feeling, to acknowledge why it's there, to process it and express it in a way that's helpful to me and harmless for others. On either side of the extreme, those letters have been invaluable to me over the years - a practice I'm grateful to have discovered, and one that I will never let go of.

Sometimes my journals are just a sloppy mind dump, just a list of things I need to clear from my head because my brain is so cluttered I can't sift through the junk to focus on what's important. Writing it all down gives me a safety net; I won't forget it if I've written it down, which means I can safely forget whatever I've been trying to hold onto. Now that it's on paper, I can choose what's most important, prioritize, and take action.

But as a person with a chronically challenging life, one of the practices I find most helpful right in the moment is gratitude journaling. When I'm struggling with feeling depressed or defeated, sitting down for a minute to count my blessings helps me straighten myself out so that I can move into the next moment with hope. On days when I'm in pain, dealing with brain fog, scared for my health, worried about my daughters' issues, the kids aren't behaving perfectly, I'm feeling like an awful mom, nothing is getting down, and I just want to give up and go to bed ...

That's when I make a list of the beautiful things that have carried me this far, the good fortune hiding behind the pile of bad luck, the beauty of the cracks that make me kintsukuroi.

Today was one of those days, so I thought I'd share part of today's list with you.
  • My children are alive. And they are energetic enough, strong-willed enough, determined enough, secure enough in themselves to bicker constantly - because they know what they want, when they want it, how they want it, who they want it from, and how to out-argue everyone but each other. It may be hard to parent them sometimes, but that's because they're just like their mother.
  • I juggle loads and loads of doctorsd appointments, specifically because we have healthcare. It isn't always the best and there's a lot that isn't covered, but when my babies are sick or in need, I can have them seen by quality professionals equipped to care for their needs. I juggle my own healthcare too - because I finally have doctors who listen to me, which I know from experience is an absolute blessing.
  • I am in constant pain of some kind these days, all day every day. But I am in pain because I am alive, and while it hurts to walk, sit, stand, bend, lift, or even cough or laugh too hard, I can still do those things carefully in limited amounts.
  • My personal home life is rough sometimes, and I struggle with my pride, with hurt feelings, with areas of rejection and judgement and toxicity. But I currently live in a beautiful home stuffed to the brim with people I care for. It isn't always easy but it is usually worth it, and the gift of family and life lessons is something I am thankful to get to give to my children.
There is, of course, more to my personal list, but I'll keep the rest to myself this time. Do you make gratitude lists? If so, what's on yours? And if not, what would top your first list right now?

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