Gratitude and positivity: These were poisonous words to me not so long ago.
I mean it in the way that loud music and bright lights are abhorrent to someone with a hangover.
When you’re suffering from depression, you don’t want to hear it. Overly happy people make you cringe. Motivational memes are as appealing as a hot poker in your face. People reminding you to be grateful for what you have makes you want to shoot someone. Then you feel bad for being such an ungrateful douchebag that you get even more depressed.
Know It All
At that time, I already knew the theories about mental illness and associated treatments. (I’d done a lot of psychology classes and read extensively.)
I also attended cognitive behavioural therapy sessions where they try to force positivity into your head by telling you to think differently. Just like that.
Occasionally, when I read articles saying, “When you’re having a lousy day, smile. That action will trick your mind into being happy,” I would make myself try it.
I would genuinely gave it a shot.
But it would be like, geez, you look like an idiot.
I knew the supposed solutions to depression. But depression splits your mind. You think:
- I desperately want to be fixed.
- I’m scared to be fixed because I don’t want to change who I am.
- I’m terrified to find out that I’m unfixable.
As much as I knew I should, I was unable to respond to lessons on gratitude and positivity.
Appreciating and feeling thankful for all the good in your life and life in general.
Focusing on the good so you don’t get dragged down by the bad; choosing happiness over sadness.
Easy peasy? I knew I was just one mindset away from the shackles of depression, but it was as good as a giant leap across the Grand Canyon. It’s easy to be grateful and think positive when you’re already happy or, at least, feel some sort of contentment. Not so when you’re depressed and angry.
So, what happened to me? Because one day I woke up and found that I’d made that leap overnight, probably in my sleep.
Crossing the impossible chasm
I believe I got tricked into it. I can’t think of a better explanation for how I went from wanting to die to being happy in a matter of two days.
I’ve already explained everything in this long post so I will just summarise now. One day, I came across this product called SELF Journal and tried it out of curiosity. This is what it did to me almost immediately:
- Gave me a sudden sense of purpose as I went to work on some short-term goals I’d decided on.
- Working on goals made me forget to be depressed and angry.
- Being forced to write six things I’m grateful for (very tough, this one) tricked my mind into feeling grateful.
- Writing down what I did well that day forced me to love myself a little.
- Writing down how I can improve something from the day made me believe there’s hope.
Here’s what my first day looks like. Pardon the scraggly handwriting; my first journal was a PDF on my iPad using Apple Pencil to write (very challenging).
My first day didn’t go very well and I had a morning meltdown. Still, I tried to salvage the day, and filled in the journal dutifully at the end of the day.
The next day, I woke up feeling ridiculously happy and excited.
I can’t even explain it adequately. It was like magic.
Maybe it’s that physically writing down things I’m grateful for flicked a switch in my mind akin to drawing the curtains in a dark room. I think physical writing was key here because I had tried being grateful in my mind, in the past, but it never worked when I was depressed.
It’s been 53 days since I started using the SELF journal, which means I have written down about 400 things I’m grateful for (I try not to repeat things). And, I think, day by day, this exercise is drawing the curtains in my mind wider and wider. Maybe the curtain has even been ripped off completely, leaving me in perpetual brightness.
I feel actual happiness these days. Even joy.
I won’t claim that practising gratitude cured my depression on its own. I think what it did was made me receptive to outside help. I’d always shouldered pain on my own and tried to solve problems myself because that’s how I felt comfortable. So it was a huge surprise to learn how good it feels to have help and support.
It was even a bit magical the way things came together seamlessly:
- I found the journal, which has a support network in the form of a community of friendly and helpful people, everyone focused on self-actualisation.
- I had my bestie, Workaholic Wen, to whom I showed the journal and who was so enthusiastic about the idea that we decided to start doing it together, and keep each other on the right track.
- At just the right time, my GP referred me to a self-management coach who figured out the one book I had to read to start healing the main thing that was causing my depression.
- I had a loving husband who’s always supported me through all my short-lived obsessions, never judging when I lose interest, but offering full support for the next obsession. I now realise that his patience allowed me the space to find myself, in my own time, in a safe environment.
There have been several times in my life when, after a long series of challenging events, things would fall into place suddenly, magically, and I would walk into an outcome I could never have imagined.
As much pain and suffering as I’ve gone through in my life so far (and might still have to go through), as much as I’ve wanted to die so often, now that life has brought me once again into a wondrous end of chapter, I see that I am blessed.