Since this week is Thanksgiving in the US, I’m thinking a lot about the word gratitude. Being in the mental health space, I heard this word quite often. One of the most common tips for people dealing with depression centers around finding gratitude in our lives. There are many ways that people can find gratitude (and I hope to make a post about that in the near future!), but what isn’t talked about as much is that people’s relationships with gratitude can be tricky. There’s a fine line to balance if we feel like we’re being forced to look on the ‘bright side’ if we’re struggling to cope with mental illness. That’s why, before I reflect more on this word and what it means for me, I want to share some of the ways that you can improve the way you view gratitude and your relationship with this tricky concept.Continue reading
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that keeping a ‘gratitude journal,’ or writing down what you’re grateful/thankful for on a daily basis, is helpful for your mental health. It makes sense why. When you recount good things in your life, it reminds you of how blessed you are. You feel better because you remember all of the good things in your life, and those good things can push the negative thoughts out of your brain. I’ve tried to keep a gratitude journal before, or at least to write down lists of what I’m thankful for. But it’s never sustainable, and that’s because I think that in the past, I’ve done it for the wrong reasons.
What a gratitude journal is not – a cure.
See for some reason, I thought writing down what I’m grateful would remind me why my life was so good, and that reminder would cure me of feeling the effects of depression. If I know that I have a good life, I can’t possibly continue to feel depressed, right? Wrong.
If you haven’t already heard, life is actually going pretty well for me right now – personally, professionally and mentally. I have tons of new opportunities this year and I’m happy when I think about all the good things that are going to happen in 2019. But…I still have depression. And I still have anxiety. And no matter how good my life is, I don’t forget that I have depression and anxiety. Because it doesn’t go away.
I imagined my lists of gratitude bringing me joy and helping me welcome each new day with a wonderful rise and shine attitude. That was not the case. Instead, those lists would bring me guilt. I have so many things to be grateful for, I’d think. Why am I not happier about all this? Then it hit me…I’d approached this all wrong. This exercise was not supposed to solve all my problems but rather, put those problems in perspective.
What a gratitude journal can be – a tool to improve mental health
I would like to start a gratitude journal again, but use my lists in a different way. What I’m grateful shouldn’t make me feel like I have to be happy all the time, or that my life is easy – rather, it should be a gentle reminder that there are positive aspects of my life (very positive aspects, in my opinion) that help me to combat the negative aspects. My blessings help me fight against my struggles – good battles evil, in a way.
I can’t guarantee that things will go any better this second time around, but I hope by approaching my journaling with a new attitude that I will be to use more tools to fight against my mental illness. You can’t have too many tools in the toolbox, can you?
A few weeks ago I was sitting in therapy (more on that next week!), and something occurred to me. My therapist said she’s amazed how I’m able to get so many things done despite my mental illness, which made me think of two things.
The first was that yes, I am high functioning despite my depression, but it took me six years to work up to that success. The second thing was that I’d rather be a motivated person who didn’t like himself than someone who had a ton of confidence but never got anything done.
And as we turn to a season of thankfulness and gratitude, I often think about how grateful I am for my mental illnesses. Sounds weird, right? Stay with me.
Living with depression and anxiety has taken a lot away from me. But it’s also given me so much. It’s given me strength. It’s taught me resiliency. It’s taken me from being plagued by my mental illness to becoming a force in the mental health community, and an advocate for everyone like me.
My mental illness has taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you have a chance. It might not be the best chance, or an opportune one, but it is a chance. And it’s what you do with those chances that counts.
I’d like to add that this viewpoint didn’t happen overnight. I’d knowingly lived with mental illness for more than six years before being where I am today. I’ve had highs and lows that I honestly can’t even believe. But I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world.
It might be confusing to read that, and it’s kind of confusing to write, but it’s true. I’ve long held the belief that everything happens for a reason. Most of the time people have that belief when good things happen to them, but I think of it more when it comes to adversity.
So this Thanksgiving, as hard as it might be, try to be thankful for everything. Every good thing, every bad thing. Be thankful that everything that’s happened to you has made you the person you are today. I’m thankful for every bit of what life has thrown my way. It’s made me the person I am – a person I am damn proud to be. Happy Thanksgiving.