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To Those Who Think Depression Reflects a Lack of Gratitude

The first time I remember experiencing passive suicidal thinking, I was 11 years old.

I was standing on a bridge in cold darkness as snow fell silently. I can’t confirm what compelled me to jump or what stopped me. I sauntered home while sobbing from somewhere deep within that was beginning to surface.

My mom could tell something was wrong when I walked into our trailer with the invisible “black dog” by my side.

She wanted answers.

So did I.

Over the past 19 years, I have found many of my answers and a few more questions. I have learned how uncomfortable people grow when you try to open up about this kind of illness — how it seems easier to keep quiet and power through. Until one day, it’s not.

When I wrote about experiencing depression attacks, I did so in hopes of helping those who feel they don’t have anyone with whom they can confide. I accomplished this. I heard from dozens of people who could relate. They thanked me and some even suggested I research bipolar “mixed states,” as they saw an overlap in our symptoms.

What I regret, however, is that I forgot a piece of the puzzle I was trying to present. This piece is called “gratitude.”

You see, after publishing my post on depression attacks, I had a sinking feeling I had given out the wrong idea that I am ungrateful to be alive — that I am ungrateful for my life and its many blessings. I almost regretted publishing something so personal, despite hearing how it has helped other people struggling in silence.

I began to think about that and the guilt associated with depression in the first place. I mean, isn’t it the case that if we just change our attitude, focus on the important things and slow down to smell the roses, we’d be “normal?”

Yeah, I need to clarify — not as much for those of us struggling with depression, but for those of you who love us, know us and tolerate us.

We are not ungrateful. We are not unaware of the many blessings in our lives. We do not take any day for granted.

If anything, struggling with depression for the majority of my life has made me evermore grateful. Evermore aware. Evermore appreciative.

I wake up each morning and thank the creator that I am here — that I have another opportunity to live. That I am alive, no matter how dull, numb or heavy I feel. This is me. This is who I am underneath.

Why am I sitting here on my Sunday morning typing this to you? Because you may not be the only one who associates feelings of depression with a lack of gratitude. Because I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about me, depression attacks or passive suicidal thinking. Because I want you to know that a lack of gratitude, while understandable during a depressive episode, does not cause the episode.

We are not experiencing depression because we forgot to be grateful and we are not automatically ungrateful because we experience depression.

For many of us, the depth of our depression has taken us to places of great introspection, which has helped us develop a sense of purpose to persist. We are the ones grabbing onto goals for dear life. We are the ones with the dedication to endure against the odds. We do it every day.

And because of the darkness we live in so often, we grow into the ones thanking the sun and the stars and the strangers online who get us. We are grateful. And we are depressed.

If you know someone who is experiencing depression, please pause before you tell them to be grateful for all the goodness in their lives. Gratitude cannot cure depression. It helps, yes. But cures? No.

Suggesting as much equates depression to feelings of sadness and this is dangerous rhetoric. It makes the person experiencing depression further doubt themselves, internalize blame and retreat from help. It makes them feel they are being grateful in the wrong way because surely, such practice would have cured them by now.

Please try to understand passive suicidal thinking for what it is: A life-threatening symptom of a fluctuating clinical disorder. It appears, it retreats. It appears and then retreats again.

We persist. Ever grateful to be alive. #mentalhealthawareness.

Getty Images: LENblR