anxiety, blog, depression

Latent Lollygagger: When Gratitude is Hard

This month’s theme is Gratitude and Appreciation

On the surface, having a gratitude practice seems simple. And I suppose it is, simple, but that doesn’t make it easy.

On the surface, having a gratitude practice even seems easy. Even on the hardest days, the sun rises and sets, there’s a bite of tasty food or the first sip of hot coffee—regular things that may not blow us away but are still comforting things that are important not to take for granted.

The reason gratitude is hard sometimes is the same reason that it works at all: it pulls us out of our own monkey brain, chattering away nonsensically, and plants us back in the moment. Back into the world around us.

black and white monkey with mouth open, chattering, standing on someone's outstretched arm
Photo by Tj Kolesnik on Unsplash

So then, gratitude gets hard because anxiety and depression tend to pull me back into myself, out of the moment and out of the world. It becomes impossible to see outside myself. I can find gratitude if I think about it and with some consternation, which is why writing down three things every night becomes important: it’s a ritual that reminds me to practice, the ritual pulls me out of myself for just a second, long enough to think about three things, which is better than nothing.

Gratitude gets hard even when I perform the nightly ritual, because depression and the anhedonia symptoms prevent strong emotion from being elicited. So it’s this odd detachment from the gratitude, a thinking I feel grateful rather than actually feeling grateful. It becomes difficult to keep up a practice that doesn’t, in the moment, make me feel better. There’s this borderline “what’s the point” attitude that becomes hard to shake when I’m really feeling depression hard.

Sometimes, I notice that when I sit down to write my three things, I get annoyed with myself that I don’t remember what I was grateful for throughout the day. Like, what stopped me during the day, and why can’t I remember that now? Maybe I didn’t stop during the day to notice—oh that’s not good, Erin, you’re supposed to do that. Why can’t you remember these simple things? So I’ve now suddenly turned the nice nightly ritual into a test to see if I can remember what I was grateful for earlier in the day, which probably totally defeats the purpose because then it’s another chance for me to tell myself I’m doing something wrong, instead of seeing it as yet another opportunity to think about things I’m grateful for, a chance to add even more to my gratitude practice. The whole point of stopping throughout the day to notice gratitude isn’t so that I can perform well on my test later in the day, the point is to do the stopping and noticing in the moment. The point of writing down three things at the end of the day isn’t to relive the moments I was grateful, but to reflect on the day and realize what I’m grateful for and have at least one guaranteed moment of my day when I can practice.

Finally, gratitude certainly resonates with the part of me that’s outside of my depression. But the parasite that is depression wants to take over, to avoid doing anything that will help the real Erin and instead keep itself alive even if that means turning its host into a zombie. So it tries to dampen the feelings of gratitude, to convince me that there’s nothing to be grateful for or that it doesn’t matter. The depression is pretty convincing when it tells me that I don’t deserve feeling grateful because I don’t deserve to feel better. These are the nights when I can maybe write one thing down, maybe not any, and stare at an empty page and sigh and feel like the things I’m grateful aren’t big or important enough and I’ll feel dejected as I write down mundane things.

But it’s easy to be grateful for big things. If I only let myself be grateful for big things, then life will become an impossible task because nothing can meet my expectations for what deserves my gratitude. As long as I can still be grateful for that first sip of coffee, the extra blanket on a cold night, the little birds chirping in my backyard, then I know the basic core of me is still there, still human (not a zombie), and still in the moment part of the universe.

How do you practice gratitude and appreciation in your day-to-day life? Comment below or on my Facebook page.

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