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The 3 Words That Helped Me Find Gratitude Amidst My Depression

Gratitude is a beautiful feeling. It connects us to the people and things in our lives in a way that can be hard to put into words. It allows us to show compassion for those who don’t have the same things to be grateful for and a little bit of it can go a long way.

Normally, I use Thanksgiving to recount all of the things I’m grateful for. I don’t make an official list or anything, but I look back on the year and give silent thanks for the people and things in my life. This year, though … well, it has been anything but normal.

It goes without saying this has been a rough year. Obviously, it has been far harder on some than on others, but I don’t think 2020 will be getting a “Best Year Ever” mug. Certainly not from me (though if anyone knows where I can send a strongly-worded letter to the universe, please feel free to pass that information along).

As manageable as my depression has become over the last few years, this time of the year is always a little extra tough for me. Add to that a global pandemic and an election for the ages, and the last couple of months have not exactly been all rainbows and puppies.

When I sat down with my Thanksgiving meal this year and tried to come up with what I was thankful for, my mind was instead flooded with negativity. Just a few weeks ago I was struggling to find any kind of joy in my life. If joy was barely within reach, how was I supposed to manage gratitude? Maybe if the idea was to list all the things that have helped make this year such a train wreck, that would be far more doable.

So, that’s what I did: I let the negative thoughts and memories fill the space in my head I was trying to save for gratitude. I thought about the things that had caused me pain. I recalled numerous times I had cried and plenty more when I was this close to crying. I remembered heartache, grief, frustration, anger … I probably could have gone far into the night if I’d kept at it, but at a certain point, I found myself thinking, “Well yeah, that sucked, but…”

That’s when the lightbulb flickered to life. “Hey, wait!” I thought (or likely said aloud to myself). “I bet there’s a ‘well, yeah, but…’ for a lot of these things.” As someone who often encourages others to look for silver linings, it seemed like a good time to follow my own advice.

With this in mind, I came up with a number of “well yeah, buts” to offset some of the gloom and (plot twist!) they look suspiciously like gratitude. For example, negative thing: My Grampa passed away early in the pandemic. It wasn’t the coronavirus (COVID-19), but coronavirus is what kept me from going to see him or my family. I was trying to do the safe thing by staying at home and I lost track of how many times I changed my mind about what to do. I also lost count of the emotions I went through. It wasn’t easy to process.

Well yeah, but … the facility Grampa was in let immediate family visit before he passed, and my mom was able to give him my love for me. Ultimately, he was with people who loved him, which is the most important thing of all. And as for me, I will always have my memories of him and the knowledge he loved all of us so very much.

Negative thing: I started seeing someone in January, before the world went crazy, who I fell for — hard. We had this amazing connection and so much in common, and I felt so good when I was with him. I thought he felt that way, too. Until he decided to move across the country. Even then, I held out some hope, at least for friendship. Two weeks later, he unfriended and unfollowed me, and didn’t even text me to explain himself until my best friend called him out. It all made me question everything he’d ever said and everything I thought I’d felt. We haven’t had contact since May and it still stings to recall.

Well yeah, but … we really did have some amazing times together. (If it hadn’t ended so poorly, those memories would be a lot rosier, but I digress.) Even if the connection wasn’t real to him, it was to me. So, theoretically, I could find a connection like that again with someone for whom it’s mutual and who will respect me and communicate with me. That was also the strongest I’d felt for anyone since my divorce and it’s nice to know maybe there’s hope for me to feel that in the future.

Negative thing: Seasonal depression hit especially hard this year. I didn’t really feel it coming on so much as I suddenly realized that I just didn’t care about doing anything and that I would rather nap than anything else. Eventually, it progressed to crying myself to sleep with no idea why I was feeling so awful, breaking down midday for no apparent reason, and even more naps.

Well yeah, but … with a little encouragement, I reached out to my doctor to ask if an increase in my antidepressants would be an acceptable path forward. I got the green light and it hasn’t been long, but so far, so good. I also have an awesome therapist who is able to talk me through some of what I’m dealing with and offer some suggestions to help. And I have amazing friends and family who check in on me and have reached out to me when they felt I might need a hand. 

Negative thing: Self-quarantining/staying “safer at home.” I’m introverted to boot, but I used to visit my parents probably once a month (or once every other month, at least) before this. During the pandemic, I have seen my mom twice and have only seen my dad briefly via video chat. I live alone (except for my two dogs) and work from home, so staying home means being alone (as was the case this Thanksgiving). I can count on one hand how many people I’ve hugged since March, and I had to cancel two separate trips to visit my two best friends. Basically, it all sucks.

Well yeah, but … I’ve managed to stay healthy through this, as have many of the people in my life. Oddly enough, the pandemic has made me more social in some ways. I now have regular video chats with friends and family and have been particularly active in a few Facebook groups. I miss hugging people and spending time with them (especially my parents), but I find some comfort in knowing I haven’t somehow contributed to the spread of the virus and I’m doing my part to help keep everyone as safe as possible.

In the end, I came up with a fair number of “well yeah, buts” to counter the negatives, and I’m pretty grateful for that. Things look more than a little different this year, so to those who have been struggling with gratitude or counting their blessings as I’ve been: Try looking for some “well yeah, buts” to help put a spin on things. You might not be able to come up with much or you may feel afterward it was just a waste of time. Well yeah, but … at least you tried.

Unsplash image by Valerie Elash