Giving Thanks – A gratitude journal

About 2 years ago, while trying to find a way to help a patient battling depression, I came up with the idea of a gratitude exercise. My reasoning was that if we could change habits of thought that fostered hopelessness into ones that actively looked for and acknowledged the blessings in our lives, perhaps we could alter the blend of neurotransmitters in the brain that allowed us to live in colour rather than washed out gray. My patient agreed, and for one week we exchanged daily emails listing three things each of us were grateful for. At the one week follow up appointment, we both were surprised at the effect of the exercise on both doctor and patient. Thus encouraged, we continued with the exercise. Weeks ran into months which ran into years, and  we  managed to maintain a gratitude practice that has sustained both of us through life’s daily struggles.

The surprising success of this experiment led me to ponder the benefits of being grateful. I found there was indeed research and study into this powerful practice that I had intuitively reached for to help a patient who had given up on ever being able to live in the light. This talk by Dr Robert Emmons (The Power of Gratitude) sums it up really well for those of us who prefer our information in audio format.  I have tried in the past to keep a personal gratitude journal but never managed to reach the level of consistency that my daily 3 email exchange got to. On further reflection I realised that the additional element that perhaps contributed to consistency was the aspect of making a meaningful connection with another human being. I was sharing my reflections with someone else which made me more motivated to keep doing the exercise. Consistency of practice seems to be the secret to achieving a desired result. I truly believe that what I learned with this one patient is worth sharing with a wider audience. Mental health is not something we should be taking for granted. Consciously practising gratitude, and making positive connections with other human beings are both ways to maintain good mental health. So I have decided to open my gratitude practice to a wider audience, in the hopes that it may bring a spark of joy, a smile, or a nod of recognition to those who read, maybe some will be stirred to respond, or share my reflections with others or start their own gratitude practice. I have no control or expectations of the audience, but I believe this is a useful way to be a part of this world..and so here goes:

Sunday, April 7, 2019

This past week has been a tiring one, starting off with my receptionist getting sick on Tuesday, leaving me to manage the office essentially on my own for two days. I was truly grateful for the kindness and understanding of my patients who did not complain about the extra waiting time. As a result of the additional duties, I left work late each of those days, and was glad for a teenager that could keep herself constructively occupied when her mother was repeatedly late to pick her up from school.

Then on Thursday, with a full day of house-calls and things to do, I woke up with a itchy throat and aches and pains, and overwhelming fatigue. I was grateful beyond words that I was self employed, and that none of my visits that day were emergency or urgent visits because this gave me the freedom to take the day off from work. To be able to stay home for 2 days, and have a comfortable bed to sleep in, running water, electricity and a supply of good books to read are not things to be taken for granted. I am also grateful for good food, and relief from school drop off and pick up duties as my mother and husband took up the slack in those areas. I am also blessed with a child at home who is self-sufficient and does not need her mummy to tell her what to do each minute of the day.

So on this clear blue sky Sunday, I am grateful to be beginning to feel better, to have been given everything I needed fight the flu. I am grateful for the freedom to take an extra day off from work tomorrow, and for having the good sense to take the advice I give my own patients to rest until you feel better. I give thanks for a week of challenges and making the right choices that now leave me looking forward to a new week, instead of wanting to rewind the weekend.

Sunday April 14, 2019

For the past week I have been making my way slowly but surely through Marlon James’ award winning book “A Brief History of Seven Killings”. It is very intense reading, and even though I still have at least 1/5 of the book left to read, I am already not the same person I was when I started reading the book. In the breaks between reading, I have been reflecting on how grateful I am for the love of written words that was inculcated in me from an early age. I grew up in a house where books were everywhere: bookshelves, bedsides, on the toilet tank, desk, car …just everywhere. From the time the letters on the page began to form themselves into words that I could understand, I have read everything I could get my hands on. So this week, as I work my way through this epic novel, I am deeply grateful to my parents  who provided both the environment and the example that produced this lifelong love of words, and what can be achieved with them. I am also deeply indebted to a lovely lady of German descent who recognised an incubating bookophile when she saw one, and loaned me  boxes of books (formerly owned by her son and daughter) that allowed me to travel far and wide every school holiday (for many years), without ever setting foot outside my house.

The second thing I am truly grateful for this week is the opportunity to have benefited from a high school education that had an indelible Jesuit influence. To think deeply, to constantly question , and to keep an open mind,  but also to have a core of values that guide you in making important decisions are ways of being that I realise were set in motion by the Jesuit priests who founded the high school I attended. The belief that my life is not be spent seeking only my own advancement, and that  my gifts and talents  should be used to help those who did not share the opportunities I was blessed with…that belief which I hold dear, was fanned to life within the walls of the institution named after Edmund Campion that I attended for 7 years. It is only now, as I get older, that I am beginning to appreciate the true value of this Jesuit influenced education that involved so much more than academic accolades. “Faith, Integrity, Honour Liberty, these shall never never fail.”

Thanks to my parents, and the teachers that I was blessed with in my early years, I am today grateful to be the person that I am : a flawed but constantly striving human being who is willing to listen to the stories of the people who have experienced a different life from mine, and to share those stories in the hopes of shining a little light in to the dark corners of this world. I am grateful to have learned  that kindness and compassion transcend religion, state, race and culture, and constitute a language that is universally understood.

Sunday April 21, 2019

In less than 10 days, my 74 year old mother will be setting of on a trip to Vietnam. She leaves from Norman Manley International Airport and lands in New York where she will join up with my older daughter who will be arriving from Toronto. They will set off together on a trans-Atlantic journey to Vietnam where they will visit a number of tourist destinations, and partake of local cuisine and culture. I imagine and expect it will be an experience of a lifetime for both grandmother and granddaughter.

This momentous journey gives a number of things to be grateful for this week. First of these is  that my daughter is blessed to have not one but 3 living grandparents. At her age I had none alive. Second is that I am blessed to have a mother who is physically, mentally and financially able and wants to offer my daughter this experience.  I am very thankful that I spent the time and effort to facilitate the type of relationship between my children and their extended family to allow such adventures to be not just possibilities but realities. The relationship between my mother and me in my role as mother of her grandchildren has not been an easy one. We both have overcome many obstacles as we navigated  treacherous ground regarding boundaries and philosophies of child rearing. So most of all, I am truly grateful for the outcome of that struggle, which has led to the type of relationship between my mother and my daughter that has allowed this invitation to be made and accepted in love and a genuine desire to spend time together doing “fun stuff”.

Sunday April 28, 2019

Today I am grateful for the greenery all around me: my own neem tree abuzz with bees in my backyard, and the wonderful lush greens of all my neighbours’ trees which refresh my eyes no matter what direction I look in. I am grateful for the blue skies today, and the cooling breeze that wandered through the house creating a symphony with the wind chimes I have scattered throughout the house.

Indoor plumbing with clean potable water ready to drink out of the pipe is another blessing on my long list. I also give thanks for electricity, internet access and devices which allow me to communicate with family and friends in faraway places. I am made more aware of the comfort these amenities bring to my life when I realise that there are places where such things are not freely available.

I am also grateful that I was able to get through this week working at my usual capacity, and no longer battling the post-flu fatigue.  In normal energy mode I am enjoying the work I do, and that in itself is a boost that helps me to keep going. One of my greatest blessings is to have a job that challenges me to use my skills and knowledge in creative and innovative ways, and also provides me with the satisfaction of knowing that I am, in my small way, making a difference for the people whose lives connect with mine. This has been a great week for me, and I look forward to the next one with a grateful heart.

May 5, 2019

We have completed 1/3 of this year, and  plane crashes, air-strikes, bombings and shootings dominate the news, while lunatic leaders with limited vision and self control hold the power to annihilate the world as we know it. Yet, the world remains on its axis, perhaps a little wobbly but still spinnng.   So this week,  I am glad to be alive to contemplate another week, and all the things I am grateful for.

It was a long and arduous week, and I am grateful to have recovered my “pre flu” energy levels because this made it possible to get through all the work, and still have a little energy left over to enjoy a walk with my daughter. I am also grateful for the availability of healthy eating spots other than my kitchen, and for the means to take advantage of these places on the days when the energy could not stretch to cover cooking dinner.

During the course of the past week, several people reminded me that they were praying for me and my family…my health and safety. This led me to reflect on all the good will and positive energy that is directed my way on a daily basis by the many people whose paths have crossed mine over the years that I have been practising medicine. I thought also about the at least 2-3 occasions in just the past week, where I narrowly missed being hit by another car while on the madness that we call roads in Jamaica…and the many times over the years that I needed help in one way or another with a dead battery, flat tire or a failed fuel pump, and someone turned up to help. I carry with me daily  shield made up of all the prayers and beneficence directed my way, and a heart that bears no ill will towards anyone. These are the things that keep me safe from harm, and for them I am truly grateful.

June 2, 2019

It has been almost a month since my last entry and it is hard to believe that much time has flown by so quickly. Life has been so full of things to be grateful for that I have not had time to post…which is something I am grateful for.

For the past week, I have been  grateful daily for the persistent gentle rain that has soaked the ground without washing it away, and produced multiple shades of green everywhere I look…trees, grass, the mountains in the distance. The view from my hill is once again sparkling and crisp instead of hazy beige, as the rain washed the air clean. This morning after a week of rain, the sun was out, the sky was blue, the breeze was cold and soft, and I was able to enjoy my morning mug of hot tea outside in the company of my neem tree,  the hummingbird that came to drink from the flowers on the neem tree, and my  younger daughter. For all these blessings I am grateful.

Earlier this month, my mother and older daughter returned safely from a holiday trip to Vietnam. Sights were seen, food enjoyed, and once in a lifetime memories were made by grandmother and granddaughter, and I am grateful for the time they had together and their safe return.

My older daughter comes home in 3 days for a month at home after completing her first year of college with mind, body and spirit intact. My younger daughter found out that her application to attend a highly regarded 4 week STEM summer camp in Barbados was not only successful, but that all camp and travel expenses will be taken care of. Mere words fail to adequately express my gratitude for the blessings bestowed on my children.

About two weeks ago, I got a visit from one of my young patients: a little girl that I have known since before she was born. I have not seen her for at least a year, but her mother told me that she insisted that she needed to come and see me, and not the doctor she had seen earlier this year when she got sick. I could not believe how much she had grown…but she wasn’t too old for the flavoured tongue depressors and stickers that I offer my kids for being good patients. She left my office with a dimpled smile, and a few minutes later dashed back in and slipped a piece of paper into my hand, and ran out. I opened the paper to find a note that read “I love you Dr Bandara”. As I slipped the note into the back of my wallet to serve as a reminder of how much love is sent my way, my heart was full of gratitude for the “love note” from the little beam of sunshine that is this little girl…and for the chance to make a difference in her life. It has indeed been a month full of blessings…too many to count.

June 9, 2019

The end of one week and the beginning of another merge as the “weekend” draws to a close. Sitting outside, beside my neem tree, as the sun is going down, and the birds are chirping their goodnight songs, I am deeply grateful to be alive and surrounded by an abundance of all the things that matter to me in life.

I spent the week reading my way through a fantasy fiction saga (The Belgariad) created by David Eddings. I am grateful for the book club that I was invited to join earlier this year, because it was through that membership that I discovered this series.  I am grateful to be literate and to possess the ability to lose myself in an imaginary world created by the writer, and emerge from the journey with new insights about the world, and myself. The story unfolds over 5 books, and I am grateful to my brother-in-law who loaned me the entire set without a moment’s hesitation which allowed me  to enjoy the story without interruption. I have completed three books, and look forward eagerly to immersing myself in the final two volumes in the coming week. I am deeply grateful for the abundance of opportunities that made it possible for me to take this literary journey over the past two weeks.

My older daughter is back home for a month for the summer before returning to college in Canada. Over the past 9 months, we have been learning to adjust to her absence, and finding ways to do things as 3, instead of 4. The difference in our lives with her presence as opposed to her absence is like the difference between night and day.  I am grateful for her laughter, and her enthusiastic articulate participation in family conversations. Most of all I am grateful for  her ability to pull us all together whether it be to share a meal,  plan a trip, play a game or make a supermarket run. Love, laughter, family, friends and good books to read…all the things that make life worth living, and with which I have been abundantly blessed.

Sept 9, 2019

Over the summer, we opted for a short stay at an all inclusive resort in Ocho Rios as our family vacation. It was a place we had been to before and a main contributing factor in deciding to return there was the food : the variety, the 24 hour availability, and the deliciousness of the options…all irresistible to my family of foodies. A major challenge at each meal time was what to choose from the mouth watering array, because we could not (no matter how much we would have liked to) try everything. Trying to decide which of my many blessings over the summer to include in my gratitude reflection today feels a lot like standing in front of the buffet at that all inclusive resort…so hard to choose because there is so much good stuff.

For the summer just past, I am grateful to have spent time with my older daughter at home in Jamaica, as well as in her “new home” in Waterloo, Ontario. In that time, over long conversations in the wee hours of the night, and late afternoon teas with her friends, I had the chance to appreciate how different her experience of growing up has been from mine. I was grateful for the way she handled the opportunities as well as the challenges she was presented with because I could see how much she had grown from the whole experience. . Most of all in the time I spent with this legally adult child of mine, I was grateful to hear that even with the thrills and joys of independence, she still missed home, her family and her “childhood’ friends and looked forward to coming home.

My younger daughter spent 4 weeks away from home, in another country, immersed in an environment populated by a group of people her age who were quirky, academically driven, intense and passionate about learning and solving problems. In spite of the intense workload, lack of sleep, and being away from home, she not only survived but thrived. The experience left her excited about the prospect of college. I think she finally discovered an environment where she could be herself and fit in perfectly. The group members were like-minded enough in the things that mattered to everyone that they could accept the individual diversities as the spice that enhanced the whole, rather than something to be distracted by. I am grateful that she was able to experience a taste of being in a learning environment that was truly suited to her abilities and temperament.

This summer also provided me with many opportunities to experience and contemplate what life might be like when my nest is completely empty of chicks. I missed my daughters intensely, but there was also equal parts of joy at the time and space to absorb myself in meaningful work which didn’t have to be interrupted for school pick-ups, dinner preparation, and nagging to get chores done. I am grateful for the glimpse into the positive aspects of a less full nest, even as I treasure and savour my last months with my second daughter, and prepare to let her go next summer. This  has been a full and fulfilling summer.