Why I practice Gratitude

For the first year and a half after moving into our new home – joyous, momentous life event that it was – I was horribly depressed. I like to imagine that I know a lot, about a lot of things. For instance, I knew that maintaining a house that was 4 times larger than our first apartment wouldn’t be too hard. I also knew that it couldn’t possibly cost much more on a monthly basis, for utilities and repair. And, sure, grass grows really fast… but I knew that mowing the yard as an almost-thirty-year-old wouldn’t be any different than my 16-year-old-self sharing lawn duty with her two teenage brothers.

That first year taught me a lot about what I didn’t know, and it wasn’t a something I took gracefully, or with much dignity. In fact, I fought the Universe tooth and nail on just about every point. Those who know me might not be surprised to hear this: I am a stubborn sot.

But as if Being Stripped of All Preconceived Notions weren’t enough of a trial, I was also dealing with Unidentified Chronic Pain, Being Far Away From my Framily, and Trying to Maintain The Household on One (Small) Salary. If there’s any validity to the addage that It Never Rains But It Pours, this period could have been called Kathryn’s Suburban Monsoon of 2013. (Thankfully, there were no casualties. That’s probably why you didn’t hear about it on any of the major news networks).

I was upset! I was angry! Indignant, even! This was more than any mere human could be expected to cope with! Everything sucked! And there was no end in sight! I was a wreck – but worse, I felt absolutely validated in my high levels of anxiety, anger, and lost-ness. Feeling validated, while also being open to solutions, is an amazing thing. It can fuel personal empowerment, and help you connect with your support group. Feeling validated, while simultaneously looking for more reasons to feel upset, is like adding gasoline to a fire. Not my wisest move.

I’m happy to report that there was in fact a turning point. At first, I started getting tired of my own bullshit being angry at everything, all the time. That’s a very tiring way to live! From then on, though, the change was more gradual. It took me a while, but I started realizing that Yep, for the time being my circumstances weren’t going to change… but maybe my perspective could.

I was sitting on the bed last August, blubbering into a sodden wad of toilet paper. Money was tighter than usual, and I was terrified. Plus, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Until this last setback, I’d been feeling a little better about things. This just wasn’t fair! How was I supposed to roll with this??

Well, here’s a funny thing about your Subconscious. If you ask it a direct question, it’ll always answer. Seriously, try it! If you find yourself stuck on some problem, stop saying, “I can’t possibly…!” and start asking, “How can I…?” Then create quiet spaces in your busy life in which your quiet Inner Voice can break through, and hear what it has to say.

So, I asked, and I got an answer – beautiful in its simplicity. “Feel thankful”. That was it. It hit me powerfully, but there were no trumpets, no angels singing. Just… feel thankful. So, I looked down at the wad of toilet paper in my hand and said, “I’m thankful we could afford toilet paper this month”. Yes, out loud. And then I felt thankful that no one else was around to pass judgement on how much I resembled a Crazy Lady just then.

And that’s where my Journey of Grattitude began. It seemed small, and even silly, at first – but it really was a dramatic act of defiance. In the face of all the negative emotions my depression was trying to heap on my plate, I said No More. I said, Sometimes all that crap is true, sure, but you know what else is true? That I have good things in my life.  By feeling thankful (truly feeling it in my bones, not just rattling off a list like a worn out catechism), I was stealing ammunition from my Depression’s arsenal, to be used against it.

Noticing the good things in my life hasn’t magically erased all the crap. Money’s still tight, bits of my house are still falling apart despite our best efforts, and I still get (insert unsavoury emotion here) from time to time. The ways Gratitude has changed my life have been more subtle than that… the bad stuff doesn’t feel as awful when I remember that it’s not the only stuff going on. That in turn helps me realize that not everything is worth getting upset about. And I’m more prone to looking for solutions, when I’m less stressed out by what I choose to deem the “little things”.

I challenge you, dear Reader, to practice gratitude frequently, all year long. You’d be surprised how much such a seemingly small act can ease depression.

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