Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 19 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Gratitude is possible

Let me say this, I'm grateful I am grateful. Gratitude is a relatively new concept for me. Prior to getting sober 13 years ago, I really had no idea what it meant to be grateful. If I throw out those first 2-3 years of sobriety, when I was still trying to figure things out, it means I've only practiced gratitude for the last 10 years or so. That's not even a quarter of my life!

Fortunately, I did figure some things out. And fortunately, gratitude became a part of my life. It feels good to be grateful. Awareness of the blessings in my life carries me through a slew of difficulties. When I'm having a crappy day, practicing gratitude gives me a chance to collect myself. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, or scared, reminding myself of that for which I am grateful dampens the emotional intensity. And when I'm being smothered by the hopelessness of depression, making a gratitude list allows me to catch my breath, to move forward, and to continue the fight.

A recent blog post by Therese Borchard has me thinking about gratitude. In her excellent post, Therese quotes from the book, What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker. Apparently, Dr. Baker believes one can't be grateful and experience fear or dread (hmmm...depression symptoms?) simultaneously. What?? Therese points out that has not been her experience. It's not been my experience either.

Even in my darkest times, I have not lost sight of the good in my life. Due to depression's blunting effects, the good may have seemed distant or have been difficult to fully experience, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate it. According to Dr. Baker, that practice should have, in essence, cured my depression. He argues, "During active appreciation the threatening messages from your amygdala and the anxious instincts of your brain stem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex." I'd like to see the randomized, controlled, clinical data backing up that statement!

I have to say, I was unfamiliar with Dr. Baker's work, or perhaps more accurately, his thoughts. Therese's post sent me on a little Google expedition, and I was reminded exactly why I was unfamiliar with his work. He is the author of the type of book, the oversimplified self help testimonial, of which I generally detest. You know the book: if you just think this way, take these steps, or wear this color you'll be happy, beautiful, rich, and illness free! Oh, and don't forget the abs of steel and fabulous sex... But I digress...

Yes, Dr. Baker has some good thoughts, but to suggest that feeling grateful will block negative feelings and lead to happiness is just wrong. Am I a failure because I still have depression despite practicing gratitude? If I just practiced harder, would I achieve happiness? So I don't really need this medicine? It's a dangerous message to a person struggling with mental illness, especially to the person who already believes the mis-education and stigma, in other words, the person who would be picking up this type of book.

I agree, being aware of and practicing gratitude is a useful tool, no matter what ails you. It certainly has helped me. But I don't think gratitude cuts off negative thoughts and emotions. It doesn't need to exist in a vacuum. And I certainly don't think it guarantees happiness.

I'm here to tell you, despite feeling grateful for the blessings in my life, I still have depression. It is possible to experience the negative thoughts and emotions of depression while simultaneously feeling appreciation. Oh,and I'm not a failure.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Need to think about this. I'm glad you came to the conclusion you did since it aligns with mine. I've told all of my therapists that I don't trust happiness; it's too fleeting. My depression, on the other hand, is always around the corner.