Gratitude can’t always scare off your depression – and that’s ok

Gratitude.

It’s a very powerful thing – in fact, it can be the momentum you need to keep you moving through the days you feel too tired to continue; tired of the mental illness trying to pry away the big and small things we rejoice in.

But sometimes we are unable to feel that gratitude, even though we try and we know we should, and that’s completely ok.

Depression is particularly cunning at breaking down our gratitude, which is terrible because from there it’s an easy shot at our positivity and hope, and the despair sets in.

Sometimes when I am depressed, I make lists of everything I’m grateful for. I spend a lot of time, on my own, trying to stir up the deepest feelings of appreciation for my loved ones, the weather, even my comfortable and expensive linen – but most of all, appreciation for what it feels like to simply exist.

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It’s really the only effective way that I can defeat my depressionsometimes.

Other times, however, it doesn’t work. 

Sometimes when I am depressed, I try with everything I have to adhere to Tumblr templates for gratitude journals and I attempt to find the motivation to even think about what I like about my life or existence in general, and I can’t.

Sometimes depression takes the ability to feel grateful from me, and I get angry with myself. I beat myself up and ask myself why I can’t be like all the other mental illness success stories of people filling mirrors with sticky notes about appreciation.

I feel disgusted and frustrated with myself for being so ungrateful, and tell myself that I need to get it together. I feel as though it were my choice to be so sad and moody because  I can’t look on the bright side.

nathan-dumlao-592015-unsplashBut I wanted to tell you that sometimes it’s ok to not be grateful. Sometimes it’s okay to not feel appreciative or positive about anything. It isn’t your fault.

When your mental illness exhausts you, cripples you, calls you mean names, it often does it in the disguise of yourself. You tell yourself you’re useless or ungrateful or weak, but, as anyone experienced in the art of overcoming mental illness understands, mental illnesses lie to us.

So don’t beat yourself up over things you can’t feel and things you do feel. Your mental illness is already doing it for you, you don’t need to help. Sometimes there are things you just can’t help but feel – or not feel, and that’s completely ok.

Ride it out, take your medication or do your yoga or scream into a void – do whatever it is you do when you’re knocked over by a bad wave, and you feel as though you’re drowning. Don’t waste energy being angry with yourself for not being able to just pull it together or find the silver linings to lift your mood.

Sometimes it just isn’t that easy, and some days you’ll feel as though there isn’t anything to be grateful about. Don’t let that make you bitter, because you know it is temporary, even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

Be easy on yourself when your mental illness isn’t – give yourself some slack when your mind won’t. You deserve it.

 

-Steph

Idle Hands, Busy Work and Fighting Off Depression

As a writer, the most important thing I can do every day is, well, write. After all, they say a writer is someone who wrote today, and by that measure I’m more of an ass-sitter than a writer.

Most days.

It isn’t to say I don’t write; even if it takes months – or in the case of 22 Scars, years – I will eventually get things out. But on a day-to-day basis, I more often sleep and procrastinate. I’ll often lie in bed, daydreaming about where I want my writing to go, or thinking of what to write for the evening’s blog, but in the end nothing gets done.

Depression’s a bitch.

The thing is, the less I do, the more I feel depressed, and the more I feel depressed, the less I do. It’s a cycle I’m sure many of you are familiar with. And that cycle, for me, breaks when my bipolar upswing takes effect, and I write feverishly for perhaps a week or two, before sliding back into a period of low mood that might last for another four months.

I wrote 22 Scars – as in, time spent daily writing words for the story – in about two months. Yet I spent the previous twelve years pretending I was going to write it. A bit of planning here, half a chapter there … but nothing ever really happened.

And herein lies the biggest problem. If I aim to use writing as a method of working through depression – after all, the whole point of 22 Scars was to be an ode to my teenage despair – then I need to actually write, because otherwise I know I’ll just fall into despair.

It takes a great deal of personal and emotional effort to make yourself do anything – never mind something creative, like writing – when you don’t feel like doing anything at all. When you hate yourself, and hate your work, and want to just lie in bed all day. I love sleep, because it’s an escape from the drear of the everyday.

And most days, the energy to break through that wall just isn’t there. I just can’t see past the dark veil that clouds my mind, my judgement, and my desires.

Around this time every year I make plans and commitments to better myself, to keep writing more and more frequently, and to actually make something of myself. And in around a month or so, I’ll give up on those plans, because fuck that shit.

But I can’t say it’s all for nought; two years ago I decided I would finally sit down and make my young adult novel come to life, and lo and behold – I did it. It took a few months of very, very hard work – during which time I nearly imploded with the weight of the depression that the story brought out of me – but I made it happen. I published it in late 2017.

Last year, I made the same commitment for my fantasy work, and got my third novel out there a few months ago.

So what does 2019 hold?

I have plans for a new novel, one that takes on mental illness again, but in a slightly different tone. It focuses on several characters, and their journey through a life of music, misery and angst. I really, really want to make it happen this year – as in, write it in the early months, publish it in the later months.

But it’ll take more than just a commitment to writing the novel. If I want to keep myself well, if I want to vainly prevent the dark slide into the abyss, I’ll need to write here, too.

Because writing, ultimately, is about communicating. And whilst writing a novel is one way of doing so, it’s a lonely, solitary process. And if I can reach out to a community of people who believe in and support what I do on a regular basis, it might just provide me with the motivation I would otherwise be missing.

So here’s to 2019, and here’s to all of you – because without you, I would be nothing.

Resolutions Undefined

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It’s that time again, time to list resolutions for the year ahead, defining a “new” start, a “new” year, a “new” you. Well, pardon me if I say, forget that noise. Don’t get me wrong, I believe setting goals and working toward them is healthy in all aspects of life, however I do not believe success or failures of your “list” should ever define you. Life has unexpected events, twists and turns, hardships and successes, and we are not given the play by play of what the next chapter will bring, so while we strive to be better every day, let us strive to accept who we are as enough.

That list, and whether or not we stop even looking at it in a week or in a few months does not define you, and is not the judge or jury on your track toward living your best life, but it can be a reminder. For me, I will be making a list of goals because I feel it’s important to visualize our dreams, but in the process I will also remind myself that this list is only a guide on the path of continuing to be the best version of me for the present moment of each day, and not a list that defines me, because while…

I will make healthier and realistic choices for me, my weight/body type, food choices and gym time do NOT define me;

I will make smarter financial decisions for me and my family, my wealth or material things do NOT define me;

I will strive to turn my “job” into my dream, my title does NOT define me; and

I will make attempts to forgive myself and those who have hurt me, my past does NOT define me.

These reminders not only allow me to see what does not define me but what does, and that is the love in my heart, the kindness I share and the peace in my soul. I am enough, and I wouldn’t trade this me for a “new” me any year, because this me is pretty darn awesome no matter where I am in the journey of this life.

You are enough, every little quirk, every scar, every smile, every choice and every piece that makes you, you. Set your goals for you, work to accomplish them for you, but always remember what truly defines you.

Reflecting on 2018, I am grateful for every lesson, fear overcome, goal reached, and connections made and look forward to each in the year to come.

Much love and happiness for the new year!

Lisa J.

Gratitude–a Game Changer

According to Google Dictionary, A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.”  Gratitude, for me, was such a thing as I struggled through deep depression from bipolar disorder.

While we are looking up definitions, why not take a look at Gratitude?  This is defined by Google Dictionary as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Could something as simple as being thankful, really be a game changer?  I will attempt to illustrate just how this worked in my life.  Who knows?  Maybe you will find it to be that “ace up your sleeve” that will help you turn a corner in your recovery from significant depression.

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my most recent episode of bipolar depression caused me intense mental pain and a feeling of being in deep darkness.  I also had many physical manifestations of my depression.  I had excessive weakness and fatigue that caused me to wonder if there was a serious physical medical problem going on.  To say that I felt overwhelmed by what I was experiencing is an understatement.  I was emotionally drowning in tidal waves of hopelessness.  I felt completely inadequate to handle what was happening.  I finally got on needed medications and this helped to just take the edge of of what I was feeling, but I was still suffering.  On top of this I felt very negative about who I was.

Everything was terrible.  It was too hard for me to bear.  I would never make it through.  There was nothing to be glad about.  These were my thoughts at this time.

I went on like this for a period of months–I don’t remember how long now.  But then, as I have recounted before, I had a moment where I realized something had to change.  I had to change.  I didn’t know how long this would be going on.  Would my circumstances stay like this for 5, 10 years?  Maybe the rest of my life?  I certainly didn’t know.  I just knew that if this was going to be a long haul, I wanted to do my best to be happy.

I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could change me.

I had an epiphany, of sorts–I decided to try cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  It was difficult, at first.  I had to look deeper than I was accustomed to looking.  I decided, that my way of cultivating an attitude of gratitude within me would be to say a prayer of thanks, any time I noticed something good in my life.  I have heard others say that having a notebook handy to record a positive occurrence in your life, works as well.

I would acknowledge any good thing, no matter how small.

For example, I recall a time I was headed to the dentist, but I was running late.  I had green lights at every intersection which sped my arrival.  Now, in the past, I might had overlooked that, but because I was really trying to notice something–anything good–I saw positive things I would have missed otherwise.

Here’s another, more recent example.  I had a short window time to do a little shopping.  I headed to the thrift store–a hobby of mine– and found an armful of things.  When I got ready to purchase my items, I realized that I was going to be late picking up my son from preschool, unless I had a very fast checkout.  There was a problem, though–every line was long and each person in line seemed to have as many items to purchase as I did.  I inwardly groaned.  Thankfully, a new register was opened right next to me and I was invited to check out there.  My checkout process was quick enough that I made it in time to pick up my son from school.  Definitely something to be grateful for!

Now, maybe you are thinking–noticing a couple of good things isn’t going to do anything for me.  And you might be right.  But if you can start to notice and record all the little things going right each day, at the end of the day, you will quickly realize just how long the list is. It won’t be just one or two measly things, it will be dozens of small things that add up to this: there are many things going right in your life.  That is what happened for me and I can assure you that you will notice the same!

It became my quest to look for the good things happening in my life.  It still is.  Being able to really look and notice the good, shifted my perspective from one of negativity and self-pity, to one of deep gratitude.  Just imagine what it could do for you–if you could make it your quest to notice positive occurrences in your daily life.

I still had depression.  I still struggled with negative thoughts and feelings.  I still had difficulty coping with my life, but I was able to do so with gratitude.  I could see the good.  My attitude had changed and I endured with greater patience and greater peace.

Have you had experience with this?  I would love to hear about it.

Before I conclude, let me share some things I’m thankful for today.  Right now, I am really grateful that my son took a nap this afternoon, so that I can have some quiet time to myself.  I am thankful I had hummus and veggies for lunch because it’s one of my favorite foods.  I am thankful I got to go the gym today and use my favorite machine.  I am grateful a good episode of “Fixer Upper” was on while I used the elliptical because it helped me get through my workout.  The list can go on and on and on–It’s all in your perspective.

What will you notice today?

My mental health coping skills (and a story!)

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I read a post that James, the creator of this blog, wrote a few days ago. He listed out his top coping skills and how they’ve helped him navigate through various challenges. Today, I will be listing my top coping skills; but first, a background story.

Prologue

Two weeks ago, I was excited for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. I was only supposed to work a half day that Friday before leaving for the three day weekend. Fifteen minutes before I was supposed to leave, the HR person called me into her office. She began by explaining that the agency was continuing to experience some financial issues and that a decision was made to eliminate my position as a result. I was laid off with two weeks severance pay.

My top coping skills

  1. Giving myself time to process before reacting: As I listened to the HR person explain the lay off, I’m pretty sure my brain went into auto pilot. I was somehow able to communicate as if the sudden loss of income wasn’t an issue. I packed up my office and texted my wife the simple message, “I just got laid off.” I knew right away that I needed to allow myself to enjoy the long weekend as planned before beginning the job search. Living with an anxiety disorder, my tendency is to react rather than respond; however, this usually leads to me making impulsive decisions, becoming very anxious, and/or experiencing increased panic attacks. Allowing time for it to sink in was best.
  2. Positive self-talk/ reframing: I also sent an email to my licensure supervisor (a person who oversees my clinical work until I get my full counseling license) notifying her of the lay off. When she asked, “what happened?” I was able to state the facts while also becoming aware of the positives of the situation. First, I hated my job and dreaded going to work every day. Recently, I’ve been having more panic attacks than usual and there is no doubt that my job was a primary trigger. I reframed this lay off as an opportunity to find something better. I reminded myself of my strengths and talents. This gave me the confidence that I would need to go out and find a better job. Also, two weeks of severance pay? What I heard was, “two weeks paid vacation!”
  3. Music: Music has always been a coping skill for me even before I knew what a coping skill was. It’s a chance to listen to someone else’s story, to relate, and to turn your mind off for a while. My go-to album as I drove home from the office that day was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
  4. Binge watching TV: Being that I was temporarily unemployed, I had a lot more time at my disposal. While I don’t recommend making binge watching a lifestyle, there are times when it’s therapeutic. Like music, diving into someone else’s story is a way to take your mind off of your situation, to laugh, and to pass some time. Ugly Betty is my go-to TV show for any occasion.
  5. Exercise: I’ve written in the past about how exercise is a great mental health coping skill. In fact, as I write this, I’m on a stationary bike at the gym. Exercise makes me feel energized and confident.
  6. Sleep: Sleep is something I have been trying to make a priority in recent months. I’ve noticed that my anxiety and mood are best managed when I’m operating on at least 8 hours of sleep.
  7. Blogging: One of the things that I disliked about my job is that I was underutilized. I’m trained in mental health but would often be left with a lot of idle time. That is actually why I started my blog, Perfectly Imperfect. It was a way for me to interact with the mental health community. In the idle time at work, I was able to write several posts that not only gave me something to do, they made my idle time more meaningful. Being able to talk about things that I’m passionate about has been very therapeutic for me. In the past two weeks, I’ve used some time to interact with the WordPress community, to share ideas, and to get new ideas. It’s been great.

Epilogue

Obviously coping skills alone didn’t make my problem of new-found unemployment go away. After allowing myself the three day weekend to chill and to process the situation, I hit the ground running on Tuesday. I applied to a ton of mental health positions on Indeed. Fortunately for me, being a black male in the mental health profession is helpful trait in securing employment (There are very few mail POC clinicians and therapists where I live). Within 24 hours of starting my job search, I was on my way to an interview. I got several interviews last week and this week. When it was all said and done, I accepted a clinical director position that conveniently starts right as my two weeks of severance pay runs out. Oh yeah, and the job pays $10k more annually than my last job! I knew from the beginning that the lay off was an opportunity for me to find something better. I am grateful that I was able to find a job so quickly without any financial disruption, as I know this isn’t the norm.

Conclusion

As always, thanks for reading! This is the first time that I’ve shared about the lay off situation in writing and it was helpful to both process the past two weeks while sharing the coping skills that have been most helpful to me. Feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Zyon, my dog. He’s enjoyed having me home during the day, as he’s usually alone while my wife and I are at work.