On Depression and Gratitude

I’ve been doing this 21 days of Gratitude thing as a hoot, but I just considered that I got this as a part of therapy.  In other words, if you are depressed, being grateful for what you have is supposed to make you feel better.  But does it?  If you’ve never had clinical mental illness, you probably think it should make everything better.  You probably apply logic to situations.  But that’s just the thing.  Depressed people can SEE logic, they just can’t act on it very well.  Here’s one example.  A dirty house makes you feel bad, yes?  Cleaning it would make you feel better.  Therefore (x + cow = red) you should get up and clean your house.

Get up, Mr. Sad Face!  Just whistle while you work!

Get up, Mr. Sad Face! Just whistle while you work!

snow white sad face bang

As you can see, Mr. Sad Face wasn’t too impressed with Snow White’s chipper attitude toward cleanliness, though blowing her up with a magic wand did bring a smile to his face.  That’s always nice.  More on that in a bit.

Gratitude journals are supposed to work the same way.  But here’s the thing. There are different stages of Depression.  It’s never “cured” but you can have times of mostly remission, as long as you take your meds and / or go to therapy or whatever it is you do to cope.  But if you are in the really down stage, someone telling you to be grateful is only going to make it worse.  For example:

Man I'm bummed I don't have Barbie's life with money and house and stuffs.

Man I’m bummed I don’t have Barbie’s life with money and house and stuffs.

What's this?  A rainbow of good things in my life?  Who knew?

What’s this? A rainbow of good things in my life? Who knew?

Yay I have no home or car or foods but there are bunnies and flowers and sun!  I am happy!

Yay I have no home or car or foods but there are bunnies and flowers and sun! I am happy!

It goes a little differently with the depressed brain.

I don't live like Barbie.  Life bites.

I don’t live like Barbie. Life bites.

What the heck is this?  There better be some skittles coming next.

What the heck is this? There better be some skittles coming next.

My life bites cause it's not like Barbies.  Also cause I don't appreciate flowers and stuffs.  And cause of gratitude journals.

My life bites cause it’s not like Barbie’s. Also cause I don’t appreciate flowers and stuffs. Or gratitude journals.  I suck.

So you see the difference?  It’s not that the depressed person is trying to be obstinate, that’s just how our brains work.  We already KNOW we have good things in our lives, and sometimes that us feel even more down.  Just because you have depression doesn’t mean you don’t have gratitude.  It means you have a chemical imbalance, and possibly some other sucky events have happened in your life.  Your brain sees through a different lens when suffering depression.  Like the drug commercial we know so well – this is your brain on depression.  This is your brain without it.  There’s a difference – it’s even visible on brain scans, so it’s not made up stuff to let depressed people lie on their duffs and take no responsibility.  No matter how much it seems that way – even to the one who is depressed.

Now gratitude is a good thing, and when you’re out of your darkest days, it’s fine.  But please don’t push people to be grateful when that is just one of the many things they wish they can do but can’t.  It causes guilt, not happiness.  Coming out of depression takes time, and hard work, and the right kind of therapy and meds.  It’s not a quick fix.  But there is one thing that is – even if the fix only lasts a few minutes.  Humor.  Humor helps.  I’ve been in the hospital, and I’ve seen it work with other “mentals”.  It is possible to laugh in the midst of suffering.  And that’s part of why I blog.  I love humor, and I hope my somewhat bizarre form of it helps people, whether they are sick or not.  Remember that rainbows don’t appear during the worst of the thunderstorm.  They come after.  But during you can always use an umbrella.  Until that blows away and you just hide under a taller person.  Or – I lost track of my metaphors.  Anyway, this is Alice signing out, hoping your brain has a good day.


P.S. I hope you found humor in how Snow White has kind of a Joker grin (not really intended).  Why so serious?


18 responses

  1. Yes! I am so happy to see you blogging again. I will always read what you write. Humor saves, like we discussed last night. I have plenty to be grateful for, but with depression, it is hard to focus on all of that.

    1. It is hard, especially when you are kind of cynical already. Also there’s the whole “must be humble” lest someone point out that “Hey, you don’t actually look like the real Alice in Wonderland. She’s not 38 years old.”

  2. I thought this was absolutely amazing, and you’re so spot on with everything you said (love the pics too!). When Ive spoken about my battles with depression before, I’m always told to get over myself and focus on all of the good things I have in my life. I agree with you and the lovely Mer, it’s not that I don’t know and appreciate how lucky I am, but that doesn’t remove how I feel about things at that particular time… Awesome post!

    1. I have a friend whose daughter has been sick with various illnesses (so far no concrete diagnosis) all her life and the one time she complained a little, someone suggested she go be a candy striper and visit sick kids in the hospital – you know, don’t focus so much on yourself constantly sick child who does way better than any adult who would probably be lying on the floor moaning right now. People.

  3. This really is spot on. While in deep depression, you WANT to see the positive side of things, you want to focus on the things in life that you are grateful for, but depression makes it so you can’t, or maybe you can, but it’s really hard and takes more time than it does for normal, not depressed people. I hope if you are going through the darkness now that you get through it quickly.

    1. I have been going through darkness but I think it’s getting better. A little of the one step forward, one step back. Being able to answer comments again (which I love) is a good sign. Thanks.

  4. Great post and cartoons. Gratitude makes me feel guilty. I have all these wonderful things that other people don’t have. I am thankful for them, but I still feel like rubbish….which makes me think maybe I don’t deserve them or anything because I can’t be happy. Thanks for explaining this to the world.

    1. Exactly! Like what’s wrong with you? People are starving and you just ate 3 donuts! Now you are a glutton and a meanie who doesn’t notice the starving people. Look, I would give them my donuts but they’d be stale by the time they got there!

  5. Mr. Sad Face is now my hero. “BANG!”

    1. I do like Mr. Sadface’s style.

  6. If we don’t laugh we’ll cry, and who wants that?

    1. Not me. I’ve done enough of that to have my own river. River sadface.

  7. Yup. It’s when you can’t crack a joke that I get Really Worried about you. Great post!

    1. Thanks, friend. I get Really Worried then too. Though thankfully my mind is twisted enough that I can find funny in places like mental hospitals, so I guess there’s that.

      1. I am less worried when you can find the funny.

  8. I can understand this. It’s tough enough to get out of bed some mornings without people piling on guilt about saying “but think about what good things you have” (as well as what good Things you have). Yes, we know we’re a lot better off than a lot of people – like, there’s a roof over our heads, etc, but the Depressed Brain would actually take that to mean “there are people out there living in cardboard boxes and I can’t even get out of bed. I must be a really bad person” which makes things a million* times worse.

    Love you, Alice, even when you’re having a shitty day. (It’s a pity we can’t take the metaphorical shit and put it on the garden to make the roses grow, right?)

    * not an exact estimate.

    1. It’s like when you get lemons, make lemonade! Only when you get shit, you make – something very gross.

      1. Indeed. And as it’s only metaphorical shit, you can’t even put it on the vegetable garden.

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