After writing about gratitude earlier this week (including my tips on how to have a better relationship with gratitude), I thought more about Thanksgiving. Specifically, I reflected on the word thankful and what it means to me. Thankfulness and gratitude don’t come easy to me, and I know there are plenty of people who it doesn’t come to either. Over the years, I’ve learned some things about thankfulness and living with depression that I’d like to share this Thanksgiving day.
When you experience depression, the concepts of gratitude and being thankful seem like some of the most difficult things in the world. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to express gratitude or thankfulness and I’ve flat-out failed.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand what it means to thankful for things. But when negative thinking and low self-worth dominate your headspace, the concept of being thankful for something is like finding a needle in a haystack – you know it’s there, but you don’t know why they made it so damn hard to find.
Like my other views on mental health and wellness, my approach to being thankful has changed dramatically over the years. At first, it was something I ignored because I knew my feelings of thankfulness rang hollow. Then after years of suicidal thoughts and ideation, I felt forced to be overly grateful for every single thing I could think of (very big ‘stop and smell the roses’ energy).
However, none of this was sustainable. I couldn’t be thankful in a way that felt authentic and real, which made me feel like I wasn’t appreciating what I had. And instead of realizing connecting this to my depression, I connected it to my personality. I thought that I was incapable of being thankful. Instead, I should have acknowledged the fact that even though gratitude and thankfulness can help me feel good and have positive benefits, it won’t cure my depression. And that’s okay.
So, how am I going to be thankful this holiday season? I’m going to go slow. I’m going to take deep breaths, and make sure I’m as present as I possibly can be when I’m with the people I love. When I’m not able to be as present, I’ll take a break, exit the room if I need to, and come back and try again when I’m ready. It’s what I want and more importantly, it’s what I need.
When it comes to thankfulness and gratitude, I’ll try to calmly find one thing I’m grateful for. That’s right, just one thing. There might be many more things to be thankful for, but those things can be difficult for people experiencing mental illness to see, which leads to feelings of guilt or shame. So I try to find one thing I can be thankful for, and I try to feel it all throughout my being. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible to be thankful even when you have depression. And just like climbing a mountain, the view is pretty great at the top. Happy Thanksgiving.