There have been numerous studies and research that support the benefits of practicing gratitude. However, even if it is a proven fact that people who practice gratitude are happier, it can be counterintuitive to force this philosophy on someone who is not able to hear it. For instance, telling someone in the throes of depression to find gratitude in their current situation will most likely not bode well.
If you are not in a place to be grateful because everything you are dealing with in your life at the moment is challenging, that is okay. The practice of gratitude should be used to your benefit, not your detriment. Have compassion for yourself in whatever stage you are in. Allow gratitude in your life in whatever way it serves you. If you are having a hard time finding things in your life to be grateful for, start small.
An important thing to remember is, gratitude should never be practiced in a way to compare your current situation to others. You get to feel as terrible as you feel about whatever you are experiencing. It isn’t productive to compare your happiness, or even your pain to anyone else’s.
During the last couple of years, people would feel guilty for being grateful or happy, while someone else was either suffering or dealing with impossible situations. My coach shared her perspective on this, which I found extremely helpful. She said that when we feel joy, we are bringing more joy and peace to the world; we are not increasing the suffering of others. And we don’t decrease the suffering of others when we suffer alongside them.
Sometimes we aren’t able to find gratitude when we are currently in a difficult phase of our lives, but we usually can when we subsequently take time to reflect. Looking back at the beginning phases of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I remember being frustrated with the constant attention. I frequently felt suffocated because of all the restrictions that were enforced on me, first by the hospital staff and then by my family. In hindsight, I know it was done out of both love and fear. They were keeping me safe from myself and the dangers of this unfamiliar illness.
It makes me emotional when I think about how fortunate I was to have had the love and support from my parents and siblings when I was dealing with my mental illness, in the early phases and even through my latest episode over 9 years ago. I was incredibly lucky to have parents who didn’t care how much hospital bills or therapy costed. They did whatever it took to get me the help I needed. They were always all in. I look back at those times with so much love and appreciation towards them.
I wasn’t the easiest person to deal with during those times and I know it was very challenging for my family to understand this illness. We were all trekking along, trying to figure out this mysterious diagnosis together. I am so grateful they stuck by my side because I know I wouldn't have been able to get through it alone. If you are suffering from any kind of mental illness, I truly hope that you have the support you need because no one should have to deal with it alone.
These days, there are times that I forget that I live with bipolar disorder. But at the end of each night, when I take the single pill that helps me have a healthy tomorrow, I am reminded of my mental illness. However, I am now able to accept it and have gratitude for this medicine that allows me the ability to live a healthy life and minimize my risk of relapsing.
Everyone has their own views on medication as it relates to mental illness and that is to be respected. For me personally, I learned the hard way with my own internal battles with medication. Because I didn’t want to be dependent on it, I fought it for many years.
Someone shared an analogy with me that was eye opening. They asked if I had a heart problem and relied on medication to stay alive each day, would I have any issue taking it. If the answer is no, why is it different for me with my bipolar disorder. It is a serious mental illness that could have detrimental and life threatening effects if I don’t treat it. This did create a different perspective for me. But I was finally able to give up my fight with meds when I saw the importance of staying healthy and stable for my two sons.
I can now speak about gratitude from this place of mental wellness. I am very grateful for the person I have become along the way, not in spite of my disorder, but because of it. I would never wish this mental illness on my loved ones–or anyone for that matter. But if given the choice, if I could go back and live my life without it, I would decline that offer. As excruciating as it was at times, living with bipolar has forced me to be, stronger than I ever thought I could be; tougher than I thought was possible; and more appreciative of the life I have now.
In our lives, moments come and go, people come and go. How you choose to experience each, is all up to you. As the famous saying goes, “After every storm, there is a rainbow.” It may not be evident if you don’t search for it, but if you really look, it is always there. What is your rainbow after the storm?