Tending the Temple

The Sunlight of Gratitude

I used to suffer from depression. Most of the time it was a mild, low-grade depression that simply sapped me of energy and joy. 80% cloudy, with occasional showers and occasional sun peeking through the clouds. Or maybe a better way to describe it is a morning fog that didn’t always lift. Fog is a good analogy, because I truly was walking around in a fog, unable to see the beauty and joy right in front of me.

My depression lifted a few years ago, mostly because I willed it away. I know this is not possible for everyone who suffers from depression. For many, many people it is a biological and chemical issue that has absolutely nothing to do with will power. I’ve had that kind of depression too, following the births of two of my three children, so I understand the powerlessness that we can have over our minds and spirits. But my low-grade blahs were not chemical. They were a choice. They were a place that I could go and feel safe. I know that sounds a little strange, but when I was in the fog, it was totally acceptable to sit still and do nothing. I didn’t need to summon the courage to take chances or to face fears. It was justifiable to wait until the fog lifted. And wait. And wait. And wait.

Eventually I got tired of waiting, and thanks to a very heated argument with my spouse in which he accused me of using my depression as a crutch, I had the motivation to walk out of the fog. I knew he was right the moment he said it, and I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I slowly began to make changes, and I’m happy to report that I’ve been depression-free for about two years, except for a few moments when the fog rolls back in.

I believe occasional fog is completely normal and natural. But in my case, I know there will always be a sick part of me that wants to stay in that fog, because it’s safe. This morning was one of those mornings. The circumstances of my life today are filled with hope for the future. Some exciting career prospects, absolutely wonderful clients, healthy and happy children, and a social life I used to dream about having. But enjoying and pursuing these things takes courage. It requires facing fears and letting go of them. So when a little fog rolled in this morning, it was a very natural response for me to welcome it.

Thankfully there is more “healthy” than “unhealthy” in me right now. Alarm bells went off, and deep in my gut I did not want to be depressed. I wanted sunlight to burn off the fog.

The best source of sunlight that I’ve found is gratitude.

Perhaps you’ve heard of making a gratitude list when you’re feeling ill at ease. Perhaps you’ve rolled your eyes or groaned. Perhaps you didn’t believe it would work. Perhaps you felt resentful of the idea. I’ve had all those responses to the idea of being grateful, but none of that crap made me feel any better.

This morning it occurred to me to make a gratitude list. What a great idea, I thought! I’m brilliant! I didn’t even have to be told to do it, I just came up with it on my own! Boy, was my ego stoked!

A word to the wise . . . you actually have to make the gratitude list, not just think about making a gratitude list, in order for it to work. You can’t think yourself into right action; you have to act your way into right thinking. Yes, really!

So I sat down and started. I filled the whole page with random things for which I’m grateful. And the fog in my heart has lifted.

It really does work. I dare you to try it.

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