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!

Remembering Thanksgiving

November 6th I got married! I wanted to post something before the wedding and honeymoon, but it was a busy time. The wedding was beautiful and wonderful and perfect. The honeymoon to Kolob Canyon, Snow Canyon and Zion National Park was amazing and so much fun! I had this illusion that when we got back things would still be good. Mostly, they really are. I’m married to the man of my dreams, and that is very, very good! But we also came back to some incredibly difficult challenges. Challenges that could have had me curled up in a ball crying and hopeless. And yet, all I could think the other night was how I wanted to thank God for all He has blessed me with.

More and more it seems as if society skips right over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s all about the commercialism of Christmas. I love Christmas and celebrating the birth of my Savior, but I also love Thanksgiving as a time to remember all the things we have to be grateful for.

I know I’ve written about gratitude before. Gratitude doesn’t just cure or take away mental illness, but I do believe it can help. Times when the hard things start pressing me down, threatening to crush me, I’ve been trying to think of all the ways I’ve been blessed recently, and I find myself staying above the weight of the depression. Gratitude is always important, but I’m really going to try to focus more on it this month and invite all to join in with me. Hopefully we’ll all see a difference in the level of happiness and peace we experience.

In the Storm

Last night I had a pretty amazing experience, coming out of a canyon I had just been hiking in. Off to the west I could see a storm. Clouds, rain, lightning. As I continued hiking I could tell the storm was moving east—toward me. I wondered if it would get to me before I made it to my car or if it would sputter out and die. I stopped to take pictures, but then quickened my pace, just to be safe.

I continued to watch the storm moving closer to me, until rain finally hit me. It felt good at first because it was so hot, but soon it started pouring on me. Not only was I drenched in sweat, but also got soaked from the rain. I’m not a runner, but I ran as fast as I could down the switchbacks that led to the trailhead and my car.

After making it to the shelter of my car I thought about how this is what my life has been like lately. The view of the storm was absolutely stunning, beautiful. There have been a lot of good things happening in my life—blessings and things to look forward to. But there has been a storm, too. Cold, wet and dark. The rain didn’t diminish the beauty, but the beauty didn’t take away the water soaking and chilling me.

The storm has been taking its toll. My depression and anxiety have been very, very bad. I still see the good, I still remember to be grateful, and I do know that gratitude helps, but it also doesn’t just automatically cure mental illness.

I feel like I’ve been running—as fast as I absolutely can! But the storm has followed me everywhere I go. It’s pouring, it’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s relentless. I’m trying as hard as I can to find shelter, to remain grateful for the beauty there is, but the storm is still here. All I can do is continue trying and be hopeful that someday it will stop or that I will find that shelter.

Then and Now

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I’ve been thinking about how far we’ve come as a society when it comes to mental illness. We still have a long, long way to go, but I’ve observed how much better youth today seem to have it than when I was a teenager.

Or maybe it was just me. Maybe it was just my circumstance. I’ve just noticed how much more love, acknowledgment and support teens today get than I did when I was that age, twenty years ago.

I feel like there are more people letting teens know it’s okay that they have mental illness—because there are more of us acknowledging that it is real. We offer sympathy because we have experienced the same. We show them how much we care and love them and want to help them. I didn’t have that.

Twenty years ago, when I was first diagnosed with depression and going through absolute hell and darkness, most adults ignored the scars on my arms, the tears in my eyes, my hanging head, my choice to be sad—because that’s what they thought it was. They thought it was my own fault that I was depressed and that I could just choose to be happy if I wanted to. Other adults, like some of my church youth leaders, treated me like crap instead of lifting me up and offering support. The only adult who actually showed that they cared about me and sympathized with what I was going through was my high school band teacher. Years after the fact, my mom told me that my dad cried every day for two weeks after I told them I was depressed and had been cutting myself. Unfortunately, it was years too late. He never cried in front of me, he never told me how sad it made him because of how much he loved me—because you just didn’t do things like that back then. I didn’t have adults who had been through what I had sharing their experiences the way I have shared my experiences with young people now. I just had a few other people my own age, struggling like I was.

Mental illness is a devastating, discouraging illness to live with. In a way, I’m jealous of how much love and support youth these days are getting compared to when I was their age. But more than that, it’s encouraging and hopeful to see how far we have come, to see that we are making strides to improve awareness and resources. That is definitely something to be grateful for.

A World of Contradictions

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Life is interesting. And full of contradiction. Society claims they hate the news because it reports so much bad in the world. “We want good stories, happy stories, inspirational stories,” we all say. On the flip side everyone talks about how much they hate social media because it gives a false perception of people’s lives. Everyone posts happy things, like life is never bad. “Show us reality,” we say. “Not your fake happy smiles.” So which one is it? Good or bad? Positive or negative? Depressing or inspirational?

With my blog I’ve found that I get way more views when I post a depressing piece than a happy one. And the happy ones aren’t fake. I’m open and honest all of the time. I’m always me and I always show that. But my posts about hitting low points and showing ugly crying pictures of myself always get more views and more responses than posts about how I’m doing well or how I’m happy and haven’t been dealing with my mental illness.

I’m certainly grateful I’ve gotten such a positive response from readers, friends and neighbors during my difficult times. I’m grateful they have been there for me, prayed for me, loved me and not been scared away. It shows me that people are learning, caring and seeing past the stigma of mental illness that has been around for so long. But people—everyone, with or without mental illness—still need love and support even in the good times.

So we want happy, but we don’t want fake, but we don’t want depressing, but we only care if it’s depressing. And around and around we go. I have no judgments about whether this is right or wrong or makes sense or not. I just find it interesting because it does seem like a pattern of contradictions. Do I keep writing even if I’m happy or should I only share when I’m struggling? What are your thoughts?

Thief of Joy

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Recently, I thought of a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. I heard it from the general primary president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at our last General Conference in October. It goes, “Comparison is the thief of all joy.” Perhaps the obvious meaning of the quote is that comparing what we have to what someone else has, always thinking this person or that person has it better, doesn’t make you happy—it only makes you miserable. I think there’s more to it than that.

Some of the most miserable people I know or have met are ones who think no one has suffered the way they have, people who get upset when someone else talks about their own trials or hardships. I recently heard a woman share her outrage that her sister had the audacity to complain about how hard her life was—because apparently her sister’s life isn’t as hard as hers. I guess that means she’s the only one who has the right to complain! She said her sister has no clue how hard her life is. Well, maybe this woman has no clue how hard her sister’s life is. This sort of attitude robs you of happiness because you are dwelling on your own negativity instead of being grateful for what you do have.

Also, one of my biggest pet peeves is to hear someone say, “I’ve been through things no one else can imagine,” or, “If anyone else had been given my trials they would have given up or just died.” Well, how do you know that? How do you know how much someone else has suffered or what kind of strength they have in them to endure? Thinking this way certainly doesn’t bring strength, and it certainly doesn’t bring happiness. Maybe this will sound judgmental, but that sort of attitude reflects egotism, in my opinion. Ego definitely stands in the way of happiness.

There’s one other way I’ve found this quote to be true. And that is when we compare our hardship to others—not in a I’ve-suffered-more-than-anyone-else sort of way. In a I-shouldn’t-feel-so-bad-because-other-people-have-it-worse-than-me sort of way. A friend from high school helped teach me this lesson. It was after the second time in high school that I almost took my own life. I told her I felt bad for feeling bad—because really I had a pretty good life. I was just depressed, but I knew I shouldn’t be because there was real suffering in the world, and I was blessed to live in a first world country. She told me I shouldn’t compare my problems to other people. She said something along the lines of, “Something that’s hard for you might not be hard for someone else, but what’s hard for someone else might be easy for you. We’re all individuals, and we’re all different.”

As I’ve grown, learned, developed I’ve gained a strong belief in God’s love for all of His children. We are all important to Him as individuals, and I truly believe that He cares just as much about me as he does anyone and everyone else in the world. He cares about my own individual struggles. He cares about yours. If we are that important to Him, there’s no need to compare ourselves. Doing so only steals joy from your life. I think most of us, as humans, are pretty good at being hard on ourselves anyway. If you have mental illness, on top of that, you are probably an absolute expert! Now, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to become one of those people who says no one else has it as hard as you do, but we all have emotions, and those emotions are real. It’s okay to feel them and even, at times, let them batter and bruise you. It’s about what you do after that counts. Are you going to stay down? Are you going to wallow in misery? Or are you going to say, “Yeah, I have problems, I have trials, I have difficulties, and they are real, but I can keep going. I will keep going, and I will be grateful for the blessings I do have.”

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If comparison is the thief of all joy, then perhaps acceptance is the giver of it. Being able to say that you are good enough, that you are of worth. It’s hard. Believe me, these days I don’t feel like I’m good enough—for anything or for anyone. And I have a hard time seeing my worth in a world that seems to be full of people who are so much more amazing and better than me. But there’s that comparison—it really doesn’t help. It only brings me down. I need to work on it. Maybe we all do. And if we did, maybe we’d be a happier people, a happier world.

Focusing on the Blessings

I was going to write down all of the bad things that have happened to me in the last few weeks. Perhaps it was about justification for why I am, and should be allowed, to be so depressed. Then I realized that doing so wouldn’t solve anything. It wouldn’t make me happy, but would, if anything, give these problems and difficulties more power over me.

Instead, I’m going to write down the blessings I have received through this hardship. That is what I should focus on because that, in all of this, is what really matters.

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First I want to write what a blessing my ward (a local, Latter-day Saint congregation) has been. I’ve never felt like I mattered as much as I do in this ward. I’ve never felt so loved or cared for in any other ward I’ve ever lived in. The people here have been absolutely amazing.

So many people—ward members, friends, near or far, family, acquaintances—have messaged, texted, called, commented to see how I’m doing and to offer encouragement and support.

Friends are a big blessing. I have one friend who has let me cry and vent to her about so many things. We were roommates in college, and she has stuck with me through all of my struggles. I know she sees me for who I really am, and I can always be myself with her. When depression and anxiety make it so hard to make and keep any kind of relationships, this has meant so much to me.

A close friend of mine who lives in another state sent her mom to bring me flowers. After having just gotten home from a traumatic experience getting the oil in my car changed, I broke down and just started crying. (I know it sounds stupid, but on top of everything else going on I had reached my breaking point.) My friend’s mom hugged me and told me she was a good listener and very bad at gossiping if I wanted to talk. I didn’t feel like I could at that point, but knew she was being genuine and honest, that if I did need to talk she would listen and not judge.

One night I was feeling particularly bad and felt like I need some company, that I shouldn’t be alone. I texted a friend and asked if she would be able to get a drink (as in a diet coke!) the next morning. She said she could, so the next morning we went for a walk where she listened to me, but didn’t pressure me to say anything I didn’t want to say. She then bought me a diet coke before we went to pick our kiddos up from kindergarten.

Another night when I was down I felt like hurting myself—because yes, that is still where my mind first goes when I’m that low. I had been texting a friend, and he could tell something was wrong. When I told him how I was feeling he kept texting me until I got to a place where I felt well enough and in control enough to know I wouldn’t hurt myself. I was incredibly grateful that he didn’t judge me or tell me it was stupid that a grown woman would want to do that. He just talked—or texted—me through it. Definite blessing.

Another blessing was a friend who brought lunch one day, then sat and talked with me—or more like listened to me. I sort of spilled all my guts to her about everything that’s happened the last few months. Yet again, I broke down and sobbed through much of it. She just listened and gave quiet encouragement and support. By the time she left that day the load I had been carrying for so long felt lighter. I felt more like I could keep going, that I could do this, than I had all week.

I have to mention some individuals in my ward, as well. My Relief Society president (the Relief Society is an organization of all the women in a ward) stopped by one day with some beautiful tulips that are in full bloom right now! She also came in and cleaned my kitchen for me. It was simple and quick yet made a huge difference.

The second counselor in the Relief Society presidency also dropped by one afternoon with pizza and some of my favorite breadsticks to have for dinner! Again, such a simple gesture, yet it meant so much.

A woman in my ward reached out to me, and I told her how Sundays were hard when my kids were at their dad’s. Despite having her own struggles right now, she invited me over for dinner with her family on Sunday. While there we discovered our birthdays are close together, so she and her mother-in-law told me I should go over to celebrate with all of them—have dinner and cake. Her mother-in-law doesn’t even know me! We had just met, and yet she was inviting me to her house for dinner and cake—chocolate cake! Sometimes I am amazed, saddened, shocked by all the bad in the world. So many horrible things happen, people do terrible things to each other, yet there is still so much good. The world is full of everyday people living simple lives full of love, kindness and service. What a blessing to be reminded of this!

All of the prayers and people who have put my name in the temple—I have felt it. It has made a difference.

I was thinking about how I didn’t feel as though I should be receiving so many blessings. It’s not because I think I’m worthless or anything like that. It’s much more complicated, but not something I feel I need to go into here. It just didn’t make sense to me. Then I realized that maybe it isn’t about me. Maybe it isn’t for me. Maybe it’s for the sources of all these blessings—the people who have done so many good things for me—giving them another opportunity to serve. Service is one of the best ways we can become like our Savior. It’s what He spent His life doing. When we serve we are following His example and coming closer to Him. No matter the reasons, whether there be any or not, I am extremely grateful. Blessings are definitely the more positive thing to focus on!

Beating My SAD

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I live in a desert. It’s a high desert, there are mountains, we do get snow, but it’s still an arid region. Because of this, winter snow and snowpack are very important. I know how important it is to our water situation come summer, yet I can’t help but be grateful for the mild winter we have had. I can only think of two major snowstorms this winter. There was a brief period of time where it got pretty cold, but for the most part it hasn’t been a bad winter at all. This is great new for my seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which hasn’t been nearly as bad as previous winters. It hasn’t abandoned me completely, unfortunately, but just like this winter, it has been mild. I think part of it has been my consistent light/heat therapy, but the warmer temps and overall nice weather have definitely played in as well. Rather than being holed up in my house, escaping the cold, but getting antsy and claustrophobic, I have been able to get outside, enjoy the sun, the warmth, birds, water, the sky, nature. It’s had an amazing effect! Yesterday morning I planned on hiking around this trail near my house, but got caught up taking pictures of all these great blue herons and white-crowned sparrows—which was just as much fun as hiking!

I know the warmer-than-usual, lack-of-snowfall winter has many people concerned, but I am going to remain grateful for how it has helped my health this season!

This Roller Coaster Called Life

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly our emotions can flip, flop, turn around and change. Saturday morning I was feeling sad and lonely as I thought about my first Christmas as a single mom, how my kids were going to be spending most of the next week with their dad. Then, that afternoon I took my kids to a Christmas party at my aunt and uncle’s house that my cousin had invited us to. They gave us a delicious meal, talked and laughed with us and even had presents for all three of us. I sat there, feeling so overwhelmed, holding back tears. I hadn’t even seen my aunt and uncle or most of my cousins and their kids in years, and yet, they welcomed us in with open arms, and I suddenly remembered what it was like to have a family, to be accepted as I am, to not be judged and condemned because of perceived imperfections. I left feeling so incredibly blessed and happy.

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Sunday was a good day, as well. I got to play a beautiful arrangement of What Child is This/Coventry Carol on my flute at church. That night my kids and I read a couple of Christmas books, then read about Christ’s birth straight from the scriptures. My six-year-old even shared his first real testimony of Jesus with us which had my heart swelling with pride and joy. I’ve always loved staying up on Christmas Eve to wrap “Santa” presents. Yet, after I’d finished and put everything under the tree and sat there looking at it all, I felt sad and alone again. I had no one to share in the joy with, no one to go to bed with. I felt cold and empty inside. Then I looked up at the picture of Christ above the tree and remembered my Savior, remembered all He has done for me. Again, I was overwhelmed, thinking of how blessed I am for the hope I have in my religion. I do believe that Christ was born for us, that He suffered and died for us, and that He lived for us—to give us an example of how we should live our own lives.

Some people might think that belief or faith in a religion will take something like mental illness away. It doesn’t. Just like it doesn’t take any difficulties in life away. Bad things happen in life—sometimes for no reason other than that that’s simply a part of life, just like sometimes good things happen for no reason. It is all a part of our experience here on this earth. But for me, my faith and hope in Christ does bring a sense of peace and comfort, a light and warmth that gives me reason to keep going even when I’m sad and lonely, even when life gets dark and depressing.

I think life is a roller coaster for everyone, full of constant ups and downs. Sometimes it’s a steady rise or decline, other times it’s a speedy ascent or sudden drop-off, but the one constant for myself is my Savior and my Father in Heaven. For that, I am always grateful.

Dark and Light

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Sometimes it feels like the whole world is collapsing in on you, like anything that can go wrong does go wrong. When it rains it pours. And then, sometimes, right when it feels like it can’t get any darker a ray of light breaks through and shines down on you. Then another and another until your world is filled with light again. It’s not that the bad things have gone away, but it’s easier to deal with them because you can see again. I wish I could thank the people who have brought this light back into my life, but some people do kind things without feeling the need to be known or praised. Anonymous friends have blessed my life lately. I thank them for the light and strength they have given me. I hope I can do as they have done for someone, someday, as well.