How Gratitude Helps

Last week I reached a level of depression I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. I had wanted to focus on gratitude, but it was hard. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful. I thought of many, many things I had to be grateful for, I just couldn’t feel it in the depth of my depression. However, I still wanted to try.

I thought of this quote by Tim Keller a coworker shared in a meeting the week before. “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” I decided to do more than just think of what I was grateful for. I wanted to do something and see if it helped.

Even though I wasn’t feeling much of anything, other than despair and defeat, I wrote a bunch of little notes stating what I was grateful for about my husband, then placed them all over the house for him to find. It felt good. Seeing how much he appreciated finding them felt good. It didn’t completely take away the darkness and depression, but it did help to lift me from it. And it inspired me to do more.

Normally, I’m the type of person who keeps my head down and tries to avoid conversation with others when I’m at a store or in line to pay for my groceries. I worry having to make eye contact and talk to someone will trigger my anxiety. But I decided to step outside my comfort zone. I took my girls shopping for clothes the day before Thanksgiving. The person helping me asked if I had any plans for Thanksgiving. I answered her, then asked her if she had any plans. She smiled and replied, then we continued to have a wonderful conversation. She seemed really happy—maybe even grateful—when I told her I hoped she had a great Thanksgiving just before I took my bag of clothes and left. I had a similar conversation with a checker at the grocery store after Thanksgiving as I asked her how her Thanksgiving had been. We both smiled and she seemed genuinely happy that I had asked her questions and engaged her in a real conversation. I was happy, too!

Focusing on gratitude and then stepping outside my comfort zone and doing, rather than just thinking or feeling, really did make such a difference. I know it can be hard, but I encourage others to give it a try, too, and see what a difference it makes!

Mountain Therapy, Music Therapy

This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had some high highs and some very low lows. Last night I watched Hulu for hours and hours and feasted on waffle fries from Chick-fil-A for dinner, along with diet Coke and a whole six pack of raspberry-filled donuts. And I sobbed. A lot.

Today, I realized I couldn’t allow myself to engage in such destructive behavior again, so I thought about what might help me. I’ve talked about it before, but I will again—one of the tricky things about mental illness is that there’s no one set cure. Different things help different people. What works for one person might not work for someone else. I’ve dealt with my mental illness for so long that I’ve come to know what helps and what doesn’t—or at least what hasn’t helped so far. Two things that do help me are mountains and music. So I decided to take a drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, while listening to music from my youth.

The drive was so good for me! Drinking in the towering granite cliffs with their varying shades of gray, black, blue, white. Being mesmerized at all the waterfalls I passed. It has been the second wettest spring on record here in Utah, so there were more waterfalls than I’d ever seen, and the river was raging harder than I’d ever seen. It made me downright giddy! And rocking out to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Collective Soul and Soundgarden—that was what I needed. That was my therapy.

Last night I was feeling pretty hopeless and defeated. I have those moments. We all have those moments. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to remind me that I don’t have to stay there. I’m a fighter. I will get back up and soar above that rock. It may be hard, it may be painful. I may stumble and falter as I scrape my way up, claw my way out, but I won’t stay down. And when I get up, I will be stronger than I was before. I will be able to look back at what I’ve learned and use it to propel me forward. Doesn’t mean I won’t get on anymore rollercoasters. Doesn’t mean I won’t have anymore lows. Doesn’t mean my mental illness will be gone. But it does mean I can keep going. It does mean there is still hope.