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When Counting Your Blessings Amid Depression Is a Bad Idea

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

The Façade

Soon after my husband Joe was diagnosed with schizophrenia, years after his delusions had grown worse and more frequent, I slogged through sleepless nights of tear-soaked pillows, sinking into a deep depression.

When I confided my distress to friends at work and church, people often told me to “look at the bright side of things,” “count your blessings,” and “stay positive.”

I told myself it could be worse. At least Joe wasn’t violent, addicted to drugs, an alcoholic, or self-destructive. I shouldn’t complain.

I tried to be brave and keep a positive outlook on life as I mothered our children while wading through Joe’s delusions.

Abundant Blessings with Guilt à la Mode

I was grateful — for many things. I had a job, and we had food to eat, a roof over our heads, and lots of books and toys.

Our boys had good friends and devoted church leaders. Parents of children on their sports teams and music groups provided rides for them.

We loved to go to the lakes and play in the sand or throw the Frisbee to our dog, Mandy. Everyone was healthy — well, except for Joe.

I created a habit of writing my blessings down in a journal, saying affirmations, meditating, praying, and thanking God for everything I could think of.

I got really into it. Ink in my pen, distilled water in my iron, the last lightbulb in the four-pack, waking up without a toothache (all of the mornings). I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those.

It finally dawned on me that I could be thankful and miserable at the same time. I felt ashamed and guilty because I was so blessed, but all I could think about was how I could end my life without risking discovery, hurting someone else in the process, or leaving my kids and Joe thinking it was their fault.

When You Need Real Help

After my suicide attempt, my doctor put me on an antidepressant. I lovingly call it my “happy pill.”

I’ve tried to wean myself off four times, all with unfortunate consequences.

Holes in walls, bent doorknobs, shattered mirrors, and broken appliances attest to the mistake it’s been to think I can go without my meds.

The next step was getting signed up for therapy. Counseling always helped, enough that I once decided to quit taking my happy pills because I felt so much better.

The therapist didn’t tell me to, but I felt weak and broken when I picked up my prescription each month.

Finally, a loving church leader helped me see that taking an anti-depressant isn’t any more shameful than wearing a cast on a broken arm or using a knee brace to play sports. Many people experience depression and benefit from the right care.

I’m still grateful for many things, including wise counselors and coaches, medication, my family who supports me 100%, friends, co-workers, and ministers who listen with compassion while withholding judgment.

Gratitude Doesn’t Eliminate Sadness

Don’t resist sorrow. It’s a natural human emotion. Don’t try to bury your anger under the guise of patience. Snuggle up to your challenges and feel your feelings without regret or self-criticism.

When I acknowledge my feelings, cry a little, or mope around, I get to embrace my muffled existence instead of fighting it.

Counting your blessings won’t drive away negative emotion. Recognizing the good in your life is healthy and beautiful, but it doesn’t always create enough serotonin to make up for what’s missing in your body.

Wallowing in self-pity doesn’t make you a bad person. You’re infinitely lovable no matter how you feel or what you do.

I sent a text to my friend for help with a tech problem the other day. I was in tears and ready to throw my computer out the window. Yeah, I’d had my pill that morning.

My friend immediately sent me a voice recording saying, “Take your right hand and place it on your left shoulder. Take your left hand and put it on your right ribs, just behind your armpit. Now squeeze. You deserve that hug. You’re doing great.

And here’s what you need to do to download that image from Canva.”

My tech problem was fixed; I knew my friend loved me. She didn’t gloss over my problem or tell me I should be more positive. She gave me a virtual hug and needed help.

I’m so grateful for people who care, medical miracles of psychotherapy, and antidepressant medications.

You aren’t damaged goods if you need help, love, attention, and happy pills. You’re a valued and worthy human being, just like everyone else.

Photo submitted by contributor.

Originally published: July 1, 2021
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