Moving from guilt to gratitude

I am sick, so sick, achy, feverish, exhausted, so-tired-I-don’t-think-I’ll-even-make-it-to-the-bathroom-even-to’-I-really-need-to-puke-tired…

(Digression-justification: I am obscenely healthy. I hardly ever get sick. And so, when I do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. Your husband’s man-flu, for which you mock him mercilessly? Forget it. I’m worse.)

I’m so sick, so-tired-barely-conscious, my rational-disciplined self is incapacitated, and the rest of me chooses this moment of physical vulnerability to assault me emotionally and mentally with… GUILT.

I feel guilty… oh, where do I begin? I feel guilty that I’m sick. That I’m not working-billing. Working-family-raising. That I didn’t get up with the kids. Actually I don’t even know where they are. Are they awake? Are they home? Are they alive?

I feel guilty that I’m too sick-exhausted-I-think-I’m-dying to really care…

I  need to get myself to the bathroom—but I can’t move, I can’t move—and the door opens and my beloved comes in with a puke bucket.

As I retch—I’m pretty sure this isn’t just the flu or the latest reiteration of whatever gastro-intestinal bug is floating around, it’s the plague and tomorrow I will be dead—he tells me he’s cancelled my appointments for the day and his, and the kids are fine, and is there anything else I need? Ginger tea?

I moan something incomprehensible and don’t hear his response. I’m too busy feeling guilty. Not just guilty that he’s taking care of me and the kids. No, that wouldn’t be self-flagellating enough: I’m guilty over our entire lifestyle. Guilty that our work allows my husband to be there for me and the kids on a day like this. We’re so stupid-lucky, elitist-privileged, bubble-wrapped.

So guilty.

I even start to feel guilty about this: if he had a shoot or a client commitment today that couldn’t be rescheduled—there are a dozen people he could call on to help. And they would be there for me, for us. In a heart beat.

As I start to inch my way across the bed to get away from the smell of the barf bucket, I realize that I’m  feeling fully and acutely guilty over being supported, connected. Loved.

That’s when my rational-disciplined self, however close to death it feels, snaps. Can’t take it anymore. And wallops its whiney-guilty counterpart upside the head.

“What’d you do that for? I’m sick! I’m dying! And I feel so GUILTY because…”


My rational-discipline self plays hard ball when roused. IT is on the brink of either slapping the rest of me again or, worse, delivering the mother of all lectures on…

…the door creaks open. “Ginger tea?” my beloved says. And… I am flooded with gratitude.

Gratitude for the tea. For the love that brings it. For the support behind it. For my entire life and everyone in it.

Why is guilt so much easier to indulge in than gratitude is to feel and practice?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused… while gratitude requires humility and awareness of our interdependence, our vulnerability.

I drink my ginger tea. Puke it up almost immediately… then drift off into a feverish-restless sleep-coma-no-not-death.

But I slip into unconsciousness bubble-wrapped in gratitude.


P.S. A. Deathbed experiences make me sappy. Sorry. How do they affect you? B. Clearly, I lived. Thank you for asking. But just barely… I’m pretty sure it was the plague. C. For the last few weeks, Cinder, Flora, Ender and I have been constructing a “Things That Went Right” wall. It’s a simple, fun project inspired by Martin Seligman’s gratitude journal exercise in Flourish: every day, each of us thinks of and writes down three things that went right that day. Three good things. Three exciting things. Or three ordinary things. The week of my plague, “I didn’t puke” was THE good thing each of the kids flagged. It’s all about perspective, right?

What Went Right

P.P.S. Tirzah Duncan aka The Inkcaster wrote a marvellous post about her freeing and beautiful take on beauty last week, and I’d love for you to read it: Beauty is far from skin deep.

For those of you deep in the toddler trenches, pop over to Stephanie Sprenger at Mommy Is For Real for a refresher on the concept of disequilibrium… and a tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) proposition of the massing of transitionin-disequibiriumiated (fine, it’s not a word, but you know exactly what I mean…) toddlers in a toddler “Red Tent.”

Looking for me? I’ve revamped the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”

18 thoughts on “Moving from guilt to gratitude

  1. A. When I get sick I get fevers and when I get fevers I feel like the world is collapsing and my skin is shedding in damp quivering sheets. I don’t like it.

    B. I think you’ve got a touch of food poisoning. That’s my professional opinion from 9000 miles away, so take it for what it’s worth. Hydrate hydrate hydrate.

    I have no response to C. Two out of three, and all that.

  2. Oh, I appreciate this so much. As soon as I become incapacitated, I am awash with guilt. You gave voice to this so perfectly. And how lovely of you to link to the Toddler Red Tent- much obliged. xo

  3. Puke eh? Plague eh? No guilt here in that I want to stay WELL away from you ma’am! 😉 I agree with gratitude being needy and vulnerable. You need to thank someone for invading Poland and that is MUCH harder than puking in a bucket and feeling guilty that your kids are eating dorito’s for dinner again…for the third night in a row…

  4. Yogurt. Sleep. Patience. Mouthwash. Props to the very nice grownup partner and the understanding children. And I agree it sounds like food poisoning, eeny weeny evil bacteria getting all muscular over the eeny weeny good ones. May the good ones vanguish the evils! You’ll know you’re better when you’re thinking about a grilled cheese sandwich…And in the meantime, there’s this:

  5. So you can puke and write like that. Amazing. (I understand you wrote it after that episode, but still – you can write ABOUT puking and turn it into an amazing introspection). Clearly loved. This sentence was an eye opener: Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused. I spend a lot of time feeling guilty, maybe I should start looking at it this way, as more of an indulgence and freaking stop.

  6. Loved this line: “Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused… while gratitude requires humility and awareness of our interdependence, our vulnerability.” #truth

    hope all are healthy now…

  7. Groan. So sorry you almost died, but am relieved to know that you did, in fact, survive The Plague. My son had it last week. Of course his vomiting started in the middle of the night. Which was followed by a bath, more puking, laundry, laundry, puking, 10-minute bouts of sleep, puking, laundry. Tears (mine). Cancelled meetings. Guilt (mine). He didn’t feel guilty at all. I think you’re right though, that guilt is easier because it’s selfish.
    I love your “things that went right” wall. Not puking being on there is awesome.

  8. Pingback: Quote This: Joanna Cole on taking chances | Undogmatic Unschoolers

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