Shifting a Depressed Brain Toward Gratitude

With the uncertainty of when the COVID-19 crisis in our country will resolve, making plans is difficult.  My husband, friends, and I have canceled an international trip twice, for which we spent months planning—something I’m sure many can relate to.  The evenings and weekends are blank squares on the calendar, except for an occasional hike when the weather cooperates.  Between my brain chemistry pushing me into a depressive episode and what feels like hopeless circumstances, I have been falling back into the hole of depression.  Then when I got yet another negative pregnancy test, that hole got much deeper.  And I was stuck.

Looking into the future, I see nothing but disappointment.  Life is hopeless.  And hopelessness is lonely.  My critical voice is telling me You’ll never make it out…you don’t have the strength to claw your way out of the hole this time.  And I find myself questioning if I even want to try.  There have been many tears of hopelessness, but the voice of apathy is the most alarming.  It convinces me not to care.  You won’t be able to beat it this time anyway, so just let yourself be consumed by it. This is what the voice of depression sounds like.

And then there’s fatigue—overwhelming fatigue that makes it impossible to make any strides forward.  I just want to sleep.  The couch and my bed are the only comfort.  My back is aching like never before from the constant attempts to take deep breaths, because with depression comes anxiety.  My head is aching and my stomach is in a near-constant state of nausea.  This is what the touch of depression feels like.

To the outside eye, I look lazy.  I spend hours at a time on the couch and still take a 4 hour nap in the middle of the day.  The dishes are piling up in the sink.  The laundry is still sitting in the basket.  I have no motivation to take care of anything.  My appearance is unkempt.  I haven’t been out of pajamas in days; and forget about taking a shower.  My eyes have cried more tears than what seems should be possible, and it shows in their puffy, red appearance.  This is what the sight of depression looks like.

I don’t want to be the depressed, unstable girl who wallows in self-pity, looks at the glass half empty, and brings a negative energy to every room she enters.  I want to be the girl whose light shines bright, whose strength carries her through even the hardest of times, and whose empathy and charisma allow her to connect deeply with the people around her.  And then I remember those wise words from my therapist: You are not your depression.  It does not define you.  It is not who you are.  Wait, I am that girl shining bright.  Depression may dull my shine temporarily, but it is not who I am.  I will fight every day for the other girl.  She is why I persist, time and time again.

So here I sit this morning, looking through my Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) book yet again, searching for the skills I need to build the ladder that will help me climb out of the deep, dark hole.

The goals of DBT distress tolerance are to:

  • Survive crisis situations without making them worse
  • Accept reality by replacing suffering and being “stuck” with ordinary pain and the possibility of moving forward
  • Become free of having to satisfy the demands of your own desires, urges, and intense emotions

Often out of periods of losing come the greatest strivings toward a new winning streak.

-Mister Fred Rogers

Sounds easy enough, right?  Trust me, I’m being facetious.  There are may skills in DBT to help with the above, so comment if you’d like more information.  But for today, while the hole still seems so deep and dark, I am going to focus on gratitude in an attempt to turn my mind away from hopelessness and apathy and toward willingness to work my way out of this to find hope once again.  It’s in the darkest times that gratitude is most important, yet hardest to access.  All thoughts are clouded by depression.  I can rationally understand that I have plenty to be grateful for, but the emotional mind doesn’t allow me to truly believe it.  When I was in a partial-hospitalization program, we journaled twenty gratitudes every morning and every night.  I’m no math whizz, but that’s FORTY gratitudes in one day.  So the challenge is to list twenty things you are grateful for today. Will you take the Gratitude Challenge?

My husband Penny, my french bulldog My sweet niece My comfortable home Puzzles My mama The Office Reality TV My brother and sister-in-law My friends Schitt’s Creek Coffee My therapist DBT Writing Anticipating stuffing for Thanksgiving The dishwasher working again Steady income Health insurance Cranberry juice

Gratitude is expressing appreciation for what one has.  According to Psychology Today, psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems.  I don’t think gratitude is going to solve all of my problems or rocket me out of this depressive episode.  But I do think gratitude is a manageable way to take a step in the right direction.  After all, that’s all we can do, right?  Keep moving one foot in front of the other, and walk the path of recovery one step at a time.  With gratitude, I have one more weapon to arm myself in the battle against depression.  If I keep building resilience, I will win.

“We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands. For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

-Brené Brown

Enter your e-mail address below to get new posts delivered straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading and I hope you can find something to be grateful for today ❤

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