On Gratitude

Thanksgiving is an odd time of year. People who are normally grouchy and pessimistic suddenly become overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings in their lives. Good health, plenty of food, family and friends in abundance. The season of thankfulness and cheer is one that brings even the most curmudgeonly folks out of their funk and into the current of gratitude.

I have a lot to be grateful for this year, certainly. But there has been a lot of hardship, too. The past few weeks (and months) have been a heavy mix of good and bad, with seemingly endless complications arising. But I am thankful for what I have perhaps even more because of these struggles.

Two weeks ago I hopped on a plane after work and jetted across the country, landing at 5 AM in New York City. The cold, crisp air was dark and greeted me with all the warmth of a harsh slap to the face. But I was bundled up and ready for the weather, as much as I could be. I reunited with dear friends that I hadn’t seen in ages and spent the day traipsing around the city, drinking coffee, eating pizza, and pretending I had any idea where I was.

In the evening, I boarded a train to Greenwich, and was picked up from the station by my dad. We headed to my aunt and uncle’s house and spent the evening talking, laughing, and trying to keep our ice cream away from the three prowling cats that wandered the house.

The next few days were spent visiting family, primarily my grandpa. After his diagnosis of cancer a couple of months ago, time felt more fleeting than it had in the past, and the days spent in his company were precious. We made apple pie, went on walks, took naps in the afternoon, experimented disastrously with smoothie recipes and medication lists, and listened to the Beach Boys. It was hard to see him in such poor health, but my visit seemed to be a welcomed respite for him.

There are moments you know you will look back on with fondness, recognizing the memories even as they are happening. This was one of those times. His body was frail but his spirit was strong and the few days I was there were dear.

I returned to the sunshine of San Diego, and back into a busy work schedule. I had gotten an MRI before I left, and finally after weeks of back and forth was able to get an appointment with the neurologist. It has been nearly three months since my concussion, and more than two of them were spent struggling to speak. My memory routinely fails me, my sentences trailing out of existence even before they leave my mouth. My eyes succumb to blurs and spots and my head gives way to pressure and pain. Inconsistent and recurring, my symptoms still bog me down in heavy chaos each day.

My appointment with the neurologist was overwhelmingly positive. My symptoms, however annoying, are not truly worrisome. There are no significant underlying issues and the fact of the matter is my brain may take months more to heal properly. My migraines and confusion are part of a supposedly “normal” process of healing, likely drawn out by the damage from my two previous bouts of meningitis.

The MRI did show a small abnormality, though. A blip, barely significant. A small malformation in the front of my brain. It’s called an AVM. It’s small, and normally would not be something I’d be concerned about. But earlier this year, my friend Rachel in Thailand had an AVM that ruptured, putting her into a coma followed by months of slow rehabilitation. Her AVM almost killed her. And here I was told I had the same thing.

I was nervous, understandably so, but was assured by the neurologist that it was currently not a cause for concern. The trouble comes if the blood vessels weaken and the AVM ruptures. For now it will just need to be periodically monitored and I should be fine.

I know it’s not a big deal, but it does feel a little like a ticking time bomb inside my skull. A tiny tangle of blood vessels that could alter the course of my life in an instant.

My body is healing, slowly but surely, but it is not there yet. I have headaches every day, some severe enough that I can’t see or stand. I am plagued with insecurity that my stability will not last. But I have to believe it will. I am grateful, certainly, for the life I have. But I am also acutely aware of how frail it is. It is perhaps this awareness that lets me feel that gratitude so deeply.

I am thankful that I can walk–that my balance is coming back stronger every day. I’m thankful that my foot has healed so daily exercise is once again possible. I’m thankful for Carissa, my dear friend and coworker who forces me to slow down and take care of myself and reminds me daily that I’m doing OK. I’m thankful for her family, who think of me as their extended family. For the warmth of a small community here and the feeling of home that surrounds us together. I am thankful for the ability to see, to write, to play music, to cry, and to laugh til my sides hurt even now. I’m thankful for time spent with family, even when it’s for tough reasons. I’m thankful I have a family for whom distance is no obstacle, who always come through for each other. And I’m thankful that I live in sunny San Diego and not frostbitten Connecticut… There are a hundred thousand other little things for which I’m grateful. The tiny intricacies of goodness in my life that are too numerous to mention.

This year has been tough, and at times I felt like I might be swallowed up by it. But my body is recovering and I am beginning to feel my feet more firmly beneath me. These days, I don’t wake up defeated, but hopeful. And I am thankful for that.

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