About Name Three Things

When my daughter was two, I learned she had cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that progressively destroys the lungs. Her diagnosis wiped away any delusions I had of certainty, and for the next two decades, I lived in a state of hypervigilance—on constant alert for the next illness, hospital admission or worse.

By the time my daughter graduated high school, her lung function was in decline and two of my friends’ daughters had died in their 20s from the same disease. And yet…in the face of uncertainty about her future, despite being reminded again and again how little was in my control, there were always glimmers of light. When things fell apart, I learned how to pick my way through the rubble and find solid ground. To hold onto optimism.

Sometimes I’d play a game I called Name Three Things. It’s a little sappy, but here’s how it went. I’d force myself to list three things I was grateful for. They could be the most trivial, inconsequential things like: “I’m grateful there’s a new episode of Friends on tonight. I’m grateful I put clean sheets on my bed this morning. I’m grateful there’s leftover Chinese food in the fridge.” Right away, I’d feel the tiniest internal shift and I’d tell myself to go another round. “I’m grateful to be self-employed, grateful for my sweet dog, grateful we aren’t in the hospital right now.”

Name Three Things never failed me. It was the ladder I used to pull myself out of despair, rung by rung. I had other tools and tricks as well, and I’m writing about it all in a memoir called Hypervigilant. I started this monthly-ish newsletter to explore the inspiring and meaningful ways people are navigating uncertainty and finding their own solid ground. I’ll also name the things that are currently keeping me going because, let’s face it, life is still uncertain.

My daughter is now on a miracle drug that has slowed her disease progression and offers the possibility of a normal lifespan. Still, this bright pathway to the future is shadowed by the instability of our world today.

It’s important to pay attention to the danger—to keep scanning the horizon like Chief Brody from Jaws looking for fins—but it’s equally important to notice what connects us, lifts us, makes us laugh, and bodes well for the future. That’s what Name Three Things will do. Many smart people are doing a fine job reporting the danger. In the meantime, I’ll be over here holding a flashlight, illuminating a path to hope.

Why subscribe?

Name Three Things is my free monthly newsletter that illuminates in essays and interviews the inspiring and meaningful ways people navigate uncertainty and forge a path to hope. I’ll also share the shows, books, podcasts, articles, videos, and other things that motivate, entertain, or intrigue me. Subscribe to receive my newsletter in your email and never miss an update.

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Illuminating hope in uncertain times.


Abby Alten Schwartz is published in The Washington Post, NYT, HuffPost, Wired, Salon, Scary Mommy, Reader’s Digest, The Belladonna Comedy & elsewhere. A healthcare writer, designer & marketing consultant, she’s also writing a memoir.