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

What’s the Make, Model, and Year of Your Mental Health Struggle?

Hi, I’m Chelsea. I drive a minivan.

I didn’t want to drive a minivan. When people learn that I do drive one, they start assuming other things about me. They also assume: I drive slow, am distracted, have no taste in vehicles, have children, will make a bad decision whilst driving because I’m probably turned around yelling at said children, and that I shop at Costco every day.

Now…. some of those things might be true. But, guess what? am not the minivan. I just drive it. am a person. My name is Chelsea. I am not slow, distracted, tasteless, children, bad decisions, or Costco. I am a human and I am also worthwhile.

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When you go out into the world, what sort of vehicle do you drive? Van? Jeep? Truck? Bicycle? Bus? Sedan? Train?

Are you large, difficult to turn, and roomy like that van? Are you fun outside but hard on the joints over speedbumps like a Jeep? How about pushy and a bit too high off the ground like a truck? Maybe you can’t really afford much in life or are environmentally conscious like a bicycle.

Our mental health struggles are our vehicles.

Say that you go out to the workplace after a difficult morning, only to snap at someone because they echoed a mean thought your Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder chugged and chugged and chugged. That wasn’t you, though. That was the OCD you have to take to work.

What about the night that Depression was your ride? That dark interior, battered trim, and iffy transmission was only how you got to the party, not who came inside.

And let’s not forget the lunchtime meeting you had with Anxiety. Your mechanic still shakes his head over the number of ‘strange noises’ you swear it kept making, the sudden stops, and its refusal to even start when you were at a traffic light.

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Thinking about mental illness as a vehicle might make you say, “Well, then, why can’t we just get another car?” Money, mostly. Circumstance. What your insurance will cover. What you need for your size of family, parking space, parking expenses, and (again) budget.

That’s not to say you’re stuck forever in your quirky transport, nor that you can’t address some of its more-limiting issues. In fact, you really need to address them.

-If you are repeatedly blocked from getting the engine to even start

-If you are constantly arriving late

-If you cannot seem to ever get out of the seatbelt when necessary

It’s time to see a mechanic -er, a therapist or mental health doctor of some sort.

No matter the age or condition of the vehicle, they can always help. No, your car will not be the same as when you first unknowingly signed that crappy contract and drove it home -but, do you want it to be?

And, sometimes, you do get a different ride. Sometimes you have no choice. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse. But, the car you drive is still not you.

You are you. Most importantly, you are always the driver. Never forget that.

Photo credit:
Rodolfo Mari
Pixabay
James Sullivan

I’m not “too sensitive.” I’m mentally ill.

It hurts when people erase us – our struggles, our scars, our victories, our invisible battles, a part of our lives that shapes us and our paths in ways others will never comprehend.

It hurts when people erase our mental illnesses.

gabriel-762937-unsplashIt’s like being told that everything must be your fault, a result of your flaws and weaknesses and choices; that it’s inconceivable that there is an invisible destiny carved into our bones by genetics and external factors of trauma or tragedy, leaving us learning every day the forever-evolving face of our mental illness and how best to get through the new day.

How many of us have at some point been told that we can be a little “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “too involved” ? How many of us have felt that we’re being told that our pain, our exhaustion, our hopelessness, our control over our minds slipping through our finger tips, are our fault? Our choice, even?

For me, I’ve heard it countless times.

“You need to toughen up.” “You’re too soft for this world.” “You can’t be so sensitive and expect to be treated right.” “You shouldn’t let things affect you this much.”

And in my head, with internal hot tears of anger and hurt at the erasure of my pain, of the war I have battled without complaint or surrender for as long as I can remember, all I can think when I hear that is, “thank you! So! Much! I am cured, of my depression, of my anxiety, and finally, presented with the easy to make and simple choice of “tough” or “sensitive,” I can continue my life with contentment and joy, never again to be pestered by the whisperings of my own mind! Bless you, kind sir!”

miguel-bruna-503098-unsplashI’m a little angry about it, I guess. And I should be. Because, when I’m at rock bottom, at my wits end, my life falling apart, my mind urging me to figuratively hit “quit without saving” on my existence, when I’m crying in the shower and in the elevator and in the moments no one is watching, when my hands are shaking as I desperately count the pills from my doctor and the consequences of absence from work, from relationships, from the world, are knocking on my door demanding that I attend to responsibilities even though I can barely attend to myself –

You telling me I need to “toughen up” and not be “so sensitive,” is erasing my mental illness, and you’re erasing the victories I win every single day with them, and you’re erasing the fact that mental illness is ugly, real, and that I am so so much tougher than you could ever imagine, because I face their hideous faces every morning.

It’s not that we’re “too” anything. It’s called mental illness.

Mine are called Depression and Anxiety. Whatever yours are called, kudos to you for fighting quietly or loudly or neatly or messily. However you win your battles, even on the days you lose, you’re not too sensitive or emotional or self involved or at fault. None of it is your fault. Call it what it is, and don’t let people who don’t understand convince you to agree with the shady voice in your head that tries to convince you it’s all on you, because it’s not, and I hope this is your daily reminder of that.

–  Steph

Mental Illness Labels

My list of mental illness labels is a long one. I have been diagnosed with postpartum depression, bipolar 1 disorder with rapid cycling and mixed episodes, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder and I am a suicide attempt survivor and a former self-harmer (cutter). The labels used to define my mental illness are a mouthful, but they are only labels. Words used to diagnose a person (me) who is so much more than this long list of words and labels. Those words helped treat my mental illness, but they should be used for nothing more and nothing less.

I must always remind myself how my mental illness labels helped me become a better person. They taught me so much more about life. I learned more about living and dying, and life and death from living with and surviving my mental illness labels than I could have ever learned in any other way.

My labels taught me to look for the positives in life and to appreciate the smallest of pleasures. Those labels helped me see another side of life and people I could not have learned without the labels I was given. Those labels helped me see the good in people.

My mental illness labels showed me how strong I really am. They give me the strength and understanding to know I can conquer anything I put my mind to. Those mental illness labels helped me to be resilient and persevere in ways I could never have ever imagined and in ways most people could not even fathom. Those mental illness labels helped me become the person I am today and reach new goals in my life.

I am happy and thankful to be alive. I appreciate the newness of my life. I appreciate having a new beginning and a chance to start over. I must make a positive difference and become a better person—the person God always intended me to be.  I am on my way. Thank you, God.

The labels I prefer to use for myself are:

  1. Mother (my favorite)
  2. Christian
  3. Survivor
  4. Sister
  5. Friend
  6. Aunt
  7. Daughter
  8. Cousin
  9. Former Special Education Teacher
  10. Mental illness advocate
  11. Writer
  12. Blogger
  13. Good
  14. Kind
  15. Compassionate
  16. Honest
  17. Resilient
  18. Healthy
  19. Well
  20. ALIVE

Can you think of any other labels? What labels do you prefer to have or use to call yourself? What labels best help to define or describe the great person you are?

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