Depression Is Not A Lack of Gratitude

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
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Knowing I needed to write this post is what finally got me out of bed today – at 10:30 AM.

It wasn’t because I have to pack for tomorrow’s free trip to Cancun.

It wasn’t the deadlines and work that allow me to make my living from home as a writer.

It wasn’t the beautiful city I’ve moved to, my children that need me, or the husband that loves me.

For about a week now I’ve struggled to drag myself out of bed every day in spite of those perfectly good reasons to face the day. Once up, I’ve fought to focus on what needed to get done – and simply decided to not do much of what wasn’t absolutely critical. I’ve slogged through my days aware of the fog that chokes me, but unable to use that knowledge to break free.

But this morning, I knew I had to get up, finally, and hammer these words into existence:

Depression is not ungratefulness.

Whenever the darkness creeps in, I instinctively try to beat it back with an angry list of blessings.

“What do you have to be depressed about? Your life is great!”

I spend so much of my life focusing on gratitude and happiness now that I don’t even have to work to remember why I should be happy. I know all the places where joy can usually be found. I know about the miracle of time with nature and the power or giving thanks. Happiness is no longer something I’m searching for, but rather something I strive to embody and encourage. Happiness – and it’s precursor gratitude – are as familiar to me as the toothbrush that sits in the miniature glass vase above my bathroom sink.

But depression isn’t caused by a lack of knowledge, any more than it’s caused by a lack of wanting to be better.

Depression is not an attitude problem.

Depression is a health issue.

I’m pretty vigilant (now) about treating and managing my depression. I use a pill dispenser to make sure I take my two doses of antidepressant every day. I eat more organic and whole foods than junk. I get out of the house regularly. I listen to my body.

And sometimes my body tells me to go to hell.

Despite consistent treatment, I still have what the World Federation for Mental Health calls the occasional depressive episode.

Depressive episode involves symptoms such as depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and increased fatigability. Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities, but will probably not cease to function completely. During a severe depressive episode, on the other hand, it is very unlikely that the sufferer will be able to continue with social, work, or domestic activities, except to a very limited extent.

It’s been about three years, I think, since I had my last severe depressive episode. That was the last time I refused to get out of bed for days. That was the last time I had to have Jared come home to take care of the kids, because I just couldn’t.

I’m better than that now.

I’ve been to doctors and I take my medicine and I don’t freak out when I feel unmotivated once in a while. In fact, I’ve learned to just give in when my body and brain demand a mini staycation from time to time.

But once or twice a year, the fog creeps back in. I tell myself it’s just one of those times when I need to decompress. I remind myself that my life is great. I resolve to catch up later and just lay in bed a little longer, just this once. I finally get up, but the determination to play catch up does not come. Later, I say. Later.

I’ve been putting off as much as I can until later for about a week now.

I finally admitted to my husband last night that I’ve been “having some depression or something.”

I don’t know what triggers these episodes in a well-medicated woman. It might be the changing light or the fluctuations in temperature. Maybe I have offset the balance between greens and ice cream recently.  Maybe the moon and the sun get together and cause these flare ups. I don’t know.

I don’t know.

It’s not easy to admit that you’re at the mercy of unseen forces in your body. It’s not easy to have to constantly reaffirm that your brain and your body are fragile, and that you will suffer because of it sometimes, no matter how hard you work to keep yourself within the range of normal.

But I know that I am not ungrateful.

I know that happy, lucky, blessed people can have depression.

I got up this morning because today is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s focus is depression. I got up because I remember what it’s like to not know that depression is not a personality disorder or a character flaw. I remember berating myself for being bad, trying so hard to be more grateful.

Depression is a disease. It can be treated and things can get better, so much better. The fact that I can recognize a depressive episode for what it is now – even if I try to avoid that truth for as long as I can – is a symptom of my treatment. Depression still tries to lie to me, but I can see the untruths for what they are. I still get overwhelmed by fatigue when the fog comes, but I know that it is sickness and not laziness. Most importantly, I know that it will pass.

Because I am treating my depression, I know that I will find a reason to get out of bed again.

Today that reason was you, because maybe you haven’t learned yet that gratitude is the key to happiness for a healthy mind. Maybe you still worry that not getting out of bed when you have a great life waiting for you means that you are bad or ungrateful.

Maybe it scares you to know that depressive episodes are a recurring reality, even after treatment. It scares me too, but I’m not afraid of being scared anymore.

Depression is a treatable, manageable illness. It distorts your perception of life and yourself. It can make you tired, unmotivated and unfocused. But it doesn’t erase who you are. You’re still there, under the fog and the lies and the desperate desire to just go to sleep. You just need some help to clear away the mist.

I got out of bed this morning to tell you that.

  1. daniel says:

    You have to be aware and acknowledge it to deal with it and not get stuck. It can be scary to admit to yourself, let alone somebody else. A applaud you for doing so publicly.

  2. Momo Fali says:

    Tears! I could have written this post (though, not nearly as well as you did). I’m proud of you for getting up. *swings feet over the side of my bed*

  3. Claire says:

    Thank you x

  4. Misty says:

    I’m thankful you got out of bed to write this, because I really needed to hear it today. Thank you.

  5. Nanna says:

    Thia made me cry. I KNOW! I KNOW! An yet I forget. And fall back into the same things, trying to find a reason, because if I can find a reason, then i can FIX it, and then it will stop. Because it sucks. And it’s scary. And you forget that you will ever get out of it.

    Thank you for this today, chica. I love you.
    Nanna’s most recent post: The hallmark of a good Nurse Practitioner

  6. red pen mama says:

    God bless you for talking about this so honestly. I don’t suffer from depression (medically speaking), I tend toward anxiety and panic attacks, but I am so glad to hear you talk about how even blessed people can be at the mercy of biological forces inside of ourselves.

    My favorite line is “I’m not afraid of being scared anymore.” My younger sister has struggled with mental health issues her whole life. And I think she, too, reached that point, like: Okay, I’m mentally ill, I’m lucky and grateful for my life, and I’m going to relapse sometimes into a very dark hole. And that’s okay because I am safe and loved.

    I’m always glad when someone talks about this stuff online. I bet, even if you don’t get a comment from him or her, you helped someone today by getting out of bed.
    red pen mama’s most recent post: Thinking Aloud: Preaching Politics

  7. Megan says:

    I have the hardest time figuring out if I’m having an episode because of my brain chemistry or because of my allergies, which cause fatigue, which over time can cause depression.

    The worst of it is that I get so frustrated with myself. I know I should be kinder, but all I want it for it to pass.
    Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week 10: Taking My Turn

  8. most excellent post. i hate that i can’t help you, but i love that you know that what you feel is not your “fault” (hurts when i see people with depression blame themselves).

    i love that you were able to so beautifully write this. and that you got out of bed on a rainy day to do so.

    incredible picture, too.

    xoxo
    hello haha narf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

  9. Sorry to hear it was a rough day- hope you are doing better & have a fabulous trip!
    Amanda @ Click. The Good News’s most recent post: ss: Retreat

  10. Kent says:

    I am so glad that you got out of bed to tell us this.

    I am going to pass this on to a relative who lives with depression. He can’t get over the shame that is so often attached to it. This will help.

    Thanks for being inspiring and making a difference.
    Kent’s most recent post: Shit Goes South in Shanghai

  11. Dee says:

    You know what? I _didn’t_ know this – I didn’t know about depressive episodes even when you’re medicated. I feel like I should have – I also think it explains a lot.

    I feel somehow like you’ve given me permission to admit that right now I too don’t want to get out of bed – and that it’s not because I’m being lazy. That fog is there, the lack of focus, the disinterest. Your post has turned a little key for me. Thank you.

  12. Nicole P. says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m not medicated and I try to manage my depression and episodes as best I can, but I do have days where getting out of bed and just doing the minimum takes a huge effort. I’m so grateful for you for writing this. It’s good to remind ourselves that depression is just a jerk and the episodes can happen for no reason, that we didn’t do something to bring them on.
    Nicole P.’s most recent post: Nearly Wordless Wednesday

  13. Thank you for getting up and speaking up. So many of us still feel like we can’t and need to believe we can be happy even to get through this.
    Nancy at Spinning My Plates’s most recent post: Coming Clean

  14. D. Marie says:

    Yes. A thousand times, yes. This was the whole of September for me. I don’t know how you do it, but there you go writing pages from my brain. I would put you in my pocket if I could.
    D. Marie’s most recent post: Monday Mix: Girl Groups

  15. Tracie says:

    Depression is a liar.

    Thank you for getting out of bed and reminding all of us who fight it that we are not alone. That is a huge thing. I hope your fog and mist clears soon.
    Tracie’s most recent post: Hope Fills My Life

  16. Darla says:

    Exactly.

    {hugs}

  17. joanna says:

    Beautifully written. Truly.

  18. Amy says:

    Thank you for writing this. I just started taking antidepressants last week, because I’ve finally given in to the fact that this cloud that has followed me since toddlerhood is just not going away. And I’ll be honest, it scares me to hear that you’re in treatment and still have depressive episodes. But you have given me hope that it can at least get better. I hope that for you, this episode passes soon. Thank you again for your words and your perspective.

  19. renee says:

    Thank you

  20. Poppy says:

    Did you see that CNN is featuring several stories about depression today?

    Such an important topic…

    (Putting the link in a separate comment.)
    Poppy’s most recent post: yes, I love him this much

  21. Bre says:

    Britt,
    I remember being 12 and homeless with my mom and siblings and telling my mom that I knew I was depressed. She shrugged me off and told me basically that I was too young to be depressed. At 18 I remember exactly what you’re talking about: wanting to sleep for years and years. I was driving home to my efficiency apartment when some proactive announcement came on the radio about free depression screenings at Allen Hospital. I sobbed the last three blocks of the drive, because I knew I have depression and knew I had to go talk about it.
    It IS scary, like your mom said.
    And you’re exactly right about it lying to you and consuming your spark.
    I’m so glad you wrote this. I’m so glad you speak freely about it. People HAVE TO KNOW that depression is OK to talk about.
    I’m blessed to have been medication-free since I became pregnant with Jude. That doesn’t mean I’ll never need an antidepressant again; just not right now.
    I admire and commend you for this post.
    Together, our generation(s) can fight the stigma and advocate for mental health. Because nobody deserves to feel inadequate, when a feasible treatment is under their nose.
    Brava.
    XO
    Bre

  22. momma says:

    Poppa’s 92 year old auntie who we always brag about because of her singing torch songs every week in an Irish pub around the corner; who sang for the troops in WW2; who is beautifully made up and stylishly dressed including high heels every morning and every day at 4 mixes coctails for everyone including herself is just NOW battling depression. We are so sad there is NOTHING we can do for her. NOT FAIR!

  23. Becca says:

    Thank you for the reminder, because sometimes I get so tired of reminding myself that I’m not bad or just wrong for being depressed. Thank you.

  24. June Tiegs says:

    I can identify with this. I’m 78yrs. old and struggled with depression most of my life. I was only diagnosed in ’95 and began treatment. That was trial & error for awhile, but doing good now on med. Mine was complicated with anxiety, as well. I’m a Christian and being able to finally come to some stability has allowed me to grow in my relationship with God/Jesus. The past three years have been these most content and peaceful of my life. I am so thankful!!

  25. Dee says:

    Weirdly, I responded to this when you posted it, but it doesn’t seem to have saved.

    I _didn’t_ know that you could still get depressive episodes while on medication, and it explains a lot. I’m struggling again right at the moment: the lack of motivation is just overwhelming. I’m achieving nothing. I’ve been delaying lodging the paperwork to finalise my separation, as well as avoiding the hard decisions. I’m not as sharp as normal, either… Britt, I really needed to read this post right at the moment because as much as I don’t want anyone to every suffer from depression, it makes me feel somewhat normal to read about someone else’s struggles. Thank you.

  26. Still, after all these years, depression is misunderstood by those who have never suffered from it. I have Seaonal Affective Disorder. I grew up in Alaska and suffered greatly until I finally got help. I moved to Arizona for 7 years and never had an episode the entire time I lived there due to the constant light and sunshine. Fast forward to 4 years ago when I moved to Washington state. I had to buy a “light box” and it helps me tremendously. I tried medication but couldn’t live with the side effects. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting it so eloquently that depression has nothing to with a person’s station in life. I’m so glad you got up yesterday. It’s not easy when everything in a person’s body simply won’t move.

  27. You are a beautiful and smart women Britt, please don’t get caught up in the “story”. I know the story oh so well myself. Your post scares me because I believe you believe this will always be your story. Britt you know happiness is a choice. It doesn’t mean you have to choose it every single day. I am having one of those same struggles as I write. My depression is a result of a severe back injury. As I said, this very moment I am having those struggles but reading your post confirms to me that I do have a choice. I choose to make this day a good day. Thank you so much for sharing your honesty. Today you made a huge difference in my life.

  28. Liz says:

    I always seem to come to your place at the right time.

    I’ve been having my own kind of “depression or something” lately. Mostly it’s born out of a frustration of being in so much pain and so dependent on others these last few weeks, but I also blame the changing of the season and my own stupid chemical imbalance. Stupid, stupid depression. It still catches me off guard.

    I’m learning to just roll with it, to take it as a sign that I need my own little break.

    I hope you feel better. <3
    Liz’s most recent post: Raccoon on an Expedition

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