the gratitude myth.

After the week (and to be honest, weeks) I’ve had, I’ve decided that when I go in for my 3-month checkup with my doctor I’m asking for a higher dose of medication. It’s hard to admit this. I worry that it sounds like I’m giving up/in and announcing I’M WEAK AND CAN’T COPE.

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I have to remind myself: strength is found in being brave enough to ask for help. 

But at the same time, of course, I’m wracked with guilt: you aren’t depending on God enough; you’re being ungrateful; if you were filled with the Spirit, you’d be filled with joy; peace is found in God not medication, etc. etc. But these are all lies, of course. The tempter himself twisting truths, like he does so well. As much as I cling to the cross and pray fervently, it’s not going to guarantee that my chemical imbalance is healed anymore than it would with someone with a brain tumor. Both are brain diseases.

The lie about gratitude is the hardest for me to let go of. I think, in part, this is because it’s so grounded in our culture–Christian or not. There are so many quotes out there about “interrupting anxiety with gratitude” or “too blessed to be distressed,” as well as a plethora of articles about gratitude being the cure for depression. But for someone with a mental illness–a brain disease, like any other–that type of rational thinking does not compute. Of course, I practice gratitude, but what I’m saying is that that doesn’t make the depression (of the chronic sort) go away.

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Yesterday, following my Jesus time of Bible reading and journaling, I did a yoga video called “Yoga for Depression,” and, at the end of it, we were invited to meditate on five things we were grateful for. But, to be honest, I felt more at peace when I was in the midst of sun salutations rather than in the quiet moment of reflection. My mind started racing. And then the guilt started flowing.

Objectively, I am extremely blessed. And I am very aware of this. I’m not ungrateful. I live mindfully; I give back; I focus on the important, essential things. But at the end of the day, my depression is still there, and has been my constant shadow as I’ve gone about my day–my black dog, a phrase that Sir Winston Churchhill popularized concerning his own depression.

All of this to say, if you wouldn’t tell someone with a brain tumor to just be more grateful and their pain will go away, then don’t say it to someone with chronic depression.

Our pain is real. 

Gratitude is a part of my lifestyle, as is prayer, worship, meditation, along with outdoor activities, academia, and homemaking. All of these things help me to manage, to stay afloat, to get by during the waking hours.

But at this point in my life I feel like I’ve been doggy paddling for hours and I’m spent.

When you reach a point where you look forward to sleep because your mind is quiet, and you aren’t suicidal but you wouldn’t mind being dead, gratitude isn’t enough to counter that sort of oppression.

Keep going, friends. Seek help. The world needs you, and so do I.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. | Isaiah 43: 1-5, 18-19

 


If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.

5 thoughts on “the gratitude myth.

  1. Gratitude was my key to unlock my decades-long depression. Not an intellectual ascent to the idea of gratitude, but a deep heart-peace after investigating what was preventing me from entering into Joy. And for that, I had to examine some very very hard things, relationships, and belief structures. I wonder if it’s different for everyone? I wonder if the things that trigger us need more examination?

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  2. Diagnosed with moderate to severe depression since 1997 (age 21).

    Enter year 7 of marriage, year 6 with kid(s) and finally out of diaper-stage, fully into messes, homeschooling, moving for the umpteenth time, dead-end jobs for my (brilliant, yet exhausted) husband, and I’ve run out of my own strength at keeping it all together. It’s all NOT together. I’m feeling very alone, as if even God Himself is actively cheering-on my impending nervous breakdown, throwing stones in my path, and at that point, I don’t even dust myself off after falling. Falling looked like an anger/rage-monster. My extroverted 2.5 year-old and a barely 6 year-old introvert coped, but thoughts of me leaving them in better hands were becoming very strong.

    Enter family therapist. Assignment #1, list 10 things you’re grateful for. Took about 6 full days to think of ONE. I was so deep in my abyss… but the turning point was gratitude. I *hated* gratitude, at first. I didn’t want to be thankful for anything, I wanted relief, I wanted out. I wanted to talk about why I was so miserable and didn’t really think gratitude was something I could ponder for long.

    God sent me a lifeline and it looked like reconnecting with how I feel in the sun, when I walk near a lake… the little mercies in life. Then I could move-on to being able to really, really embrace – and being deeply grateful for – even the trials and torture chambers that I once lived in. I’ve grown more and more ever since and it’s changed me tremendously. I know when I need time-out, and I take much better care of myself. And Josh bought me a horse, so that helped a bunch, too 🙂

    Gratitude keeps me grounded, above the water, and humble. You just can’t fake gratitude well! xoxo

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    • omg thank you so much for sharing this! i suppose im still in the blah blah gratitude phase but it is definitely something jm working on. i know i need to actively practice a certain mindset and not just rely on meds. your testimony gives me hope! ❤️❤️

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