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  • Writer's pictureJack Shain

Gratitude in Overwhelming Odds

I remember opening my computer a few weeks ago. Curious about the growing concerns around Covid-19, I looked at CNN for the first time in a few months. Three bold, large headlines read, “President Trump Bans All Travel From Europe,” “NBA Suspends Its Season,” and -- the cherry on top -- “Tom Hanks Diagnosed with Coronavirus.” On any other day, any of these headlines would have dominated the news channels for a week. For a minute, I thought someone was playing a prank on me. It was too absurd, too surreal. Today, I woke up to a story that caught my attention. An Italian nurse had committed suicide after testing positive for the virus.

The article was from my phone and I have not been able to find it on CNN. From the articles I have read, it appears the nurse did not want to spread the virus. As a mental health professional who specializes in addiction, I understand that I can never assume what could be going on in someone else’s head. But I can only imagine what this woman had experienced last month. She had been working in Lombardy, an area hit hardest by the virus. And according to multiple sources, this was not the first nurse to take their own life.

I have worked in treatment for over 5 years now. And I have led more memorials in my career than anyone should have to do in a lifetime. The sad part is that this always seems like it's the youth that die from overdoses. Last year, in the span of two weeks, three clients left treatment on good terms, and then died. After the third, I didn't know what to do, so I called Jeff, my old sober living manger. His response to my story was simple. "What are you grateful for?" he asked. "It's in moments like this where gratitude has its greatest strength."

I think back to that conversation a lot. Especially today. For some reason that nurse's story really got to me. I can't imagine the suffering she must have faced. With a story like hers, it's not always easy for me to find optimism. When facing uncertainty, where is the human component in the fallout of this virus? Where is the hope when medical professionals begin to become sick or worse -- commit suicide?

When I am overwhelmed, I have to remember that I have choices. Despite wanting to run away, I have the choice to instead lean into a support system. For some, it will be religion, family, friends, etc. For me, it's an email chain. My home group began an email chain about a year or two ago. There are about 25 of us on it. The idea is simple: list ten things you are grateful for today. It reminds me of my old sober living manager's words. And I have to realize that gratitude is a tool to combat fear. The program taught me that 'courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to walk through it'. And a good tool to walk through fear is finding gratitude and expressing it with others. Not everyone writes a list every day -- Heck, I'll go months sometimes without contributing. In the last week, my notifications for this chain have been buzzing constantly. I think I'll go write one now.

This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC -II and CEO of Keep Left Recovery

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


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