About two months ago, my best friend and I started keeping gratitude journals. We were inspired by an Instagram post by one of our favorite authors, Stephanie Danler. She described a period in her early twenties when she and her best friend were having a time; she used the phrase, "Life was in session." Sara and I titled the email chain, "Life is in Session" and we began being grateful.
The first list hurt. It was two days before Thanksgiving break and my body felt like a sack of bricks that my sad/topsy-turvy mind had to drag throughout the rest of the week. I wrote to Sara that it felt hard to be grateful, that it hurt. A large part of me felt like I was grasping at straws, but while one part of me felt like she was dying, another part of me felt like she was blooming. Perhaps it was our deeply embedded studiousness or maybe it was a long, cultivated love for the other, but for some reason, we got really good at them. At first we sent them every day at 4:00 pm or so, just before work ended. If one forgot, the other remembered. I enjoyed writing mine, yes, but more often, I found that I was excited to read hers. When the lows swung low, I would return to the lists, I would read them again. I would laugh and cry and smile at the words we strung together, at the tiny sparkles that illuminated dark days. Every day, somehow or another, I knew that Sara was grateful for me and she knew that I was grateful for her. I don't know if there is a greater gift you can give to someone, than to let them know they are a gift to you.
The lists were rife with little tidbits, people who made us feel safe, food that made us feel inspired, weird stances that we took that were only significant for us. But they were also dotted with profound moments. Sara realizing that New York felt like home. Me realizing that I loved myself more than someone else. These moments were framed between Youtube videos and Instagram quotes, but I know that they will matter to me forever. I know that I will have a written record of my twenty-two year old self, her thoughts, her wishes, her fears, her dreams, her deepest insecurities, and her greatest triumphs, for the rest of my life. The gratitude became a way through; through the pain, through the healing, through finding myself, through loving myself, through hating myself. When I couldn't stop crying, when I couldn't get out of bed, I made a list. I scraped together bits and pieces of every day to be cherished. There were bad days when getting to #10 felt like a feat. But more and more, the gratitude became abundant. We had more to say and more to feel. We had more to cherish and more to be aware of. Our emotions expanded tenfold on either side of us, I can't speak for Sara, but I could feel myself opening up in every direction. I started to feel like a human mandala.
And it ebbs and flows. On Wednesday, I woke up and I didn't feel like going through the day. I felt like curling into a ball and crying and giving up and not getting dressed or brushing my teeth. But I didn't. I cried my way through showering and then I cried my way through brushing my teeth and then I wrote Sara a gratitude list and I felt capable again.
In Stephanie Danler's original post, she wrote, "I've been prescribed cures for hard times. Pills, walking, talking, sleeping, travel, exercise, all of which treat the symptoms. I have also tried cooking, drinking, dancing, drugs, sex. None of these fully work, though they do have their own rewards. I don't really believe there is a cure for sadness. But gratitude works. It's a tool. It's not an easy exercise. It's always a choice, in your ugly moments, start making that list. To start by being grateful for your hands, elbows, feet. For your books. For the weather."
It's true. There is no cure all for sadness, no ointment, no magic potion. In the beginning this overwhelmed me. I saw a long, dark passage of time ahead, I scraped at the walls. I tried to numb my way out of it until I realized, I just had to go through it, I just had to feel it. So now I'm in it, deep, embedded on all sides. And I crawl out of bed and do yoga and I spend all day talking to my best friends and I sleep in when I can and I take spontaneous trips and I also drink and dance too much. I lavish in the unknowing. I lavish in wondering what obstacles the day will bring, in knowing today won't look like tomorrow, and tomorrow won't look like the day after. And I think it is because I am grateful. I am grateful that I have the energy to write love letters, grateful that I am no longer afraid to take up space in a room. I am grateful for unconditional love, in all of it's many forms, from cats, from parents, from soulmates, from co-workers, from the universe. I am grateful to love the person that I am and have been and will be.
They do not tell you about the through period when you start this life, when you reach milestones. You graduate from college or leave your job or move to a new city or end a relationship, and people say, "You have so much ahead of you" or "It's gonna be amazing" or "This is the most exciting time of your life." And those things are all true, yes. But it's exciting because it's so fucking scary. The through period hurts. You feel yourself expanding on all sides and trying on lives that are fun but don't quite fit. You wake up on Tuesday and feel like the sun is shining out of your asshole and by 5:00 pm, you've hit a deer with your car and you just want to curl up in bed. There are moments when it feels too good to be true and moments when the pain feels insurmountable; everything comes and everything goes. The low lows are balanced by the high highs and the days in which you simply have a day, nothing profound, nothing inspiring. On these days, you are grateful for your hands.
One day it might make sense. Or it might not. Ever. Either way, you are gonna be okay. And then you will be more than okay. It helps to start by being grateful that you are.
"So here is the thing. It used to be everything, and now it isn't. Which is maybe why I don't feel like a black hole is sucking me up with all of my nutrients. I remember what it feels like/what it felt like. I see me now and know that we are different and also the same. I don't feel world weary, I just feel alive."