Updated: Aug 17, 2020
Well, 2020 is turning out to be quite the shit show, isn't it? If the pandemic wasn't enough, we've now got horrific and preventable explosions in Beirut, an official economic recession and even locust swarms in East Africa. This stuff is biblical. Seriously, HAS ANYONE SPOKEN TO SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH?! I feel sick with worry.
Given our inability to socialise as much as we usually would, social media has become a lifeline for us all to feel and stay connected when we can't be together physically. However, it has its flaws. There are some things you see, as you're scrolling through for the 60th time that day, that triggers you. It ignites a fury inside of you and you're pretty convinced there is an increasing amount of smoke coming out of your nostrils and you're expecting the fire alarm to go off any second. That happened to me recently. I saw a post telling people to be 'more grateful for what they have', especially if they have a roof over their head and food to eat. Now, I'm going to tell you why I would stick two fingers up at someone who think it's okay to share that (whilst wearing a mask and keeping my distance, obviously).
At a time when the world feels like it is falling apart (quite literally when you look at the storms we have been having over the last few days), I understand and agree that it feels more important than ever to prioritise recognising what we are thankful for, wherever and whenever we can. However, for some of us who have depression or may be experience a depressive spell, it simply is not that straight forward.
Let's get one thing straight - no one chooses to be depressed. If you truly believe that, you're clearly privileged enough to have never faced such a horrible disease. That's right, for the person at the back who didn't hear me, IT'S A DISEASE! As someone who has had depression and hasn't been feeling her usual silly, sassy self recently, I can tell you I most certainly didn't and wouldn't choose to be depressed. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love being happy - after all, who doesn't?! To me, there is no greater feeling than having a full heart, a genuine smile on your face and that bubble of excitement you feel when you're just so pleased to be alive. So, with that in mind, why would I 'choose' to feel the opposite? That's right, I bloody wouldn't.
Depression isn't simply someone choosing to live a life that is seeped in ceaseless darkness and emptiness. Depression is a psychological and biological disorder where the serotonin levels in your brain are reduced - sometimes quite significantly. Like any disease, you have to have treatment to manage it. Just like you wouldn't tell someone to just shut up and walk if they broke their leg, you shouldn't tell someone who is depressed to 'stop being so negative' or to 'be more grateful'.
On a personal level, I try practising gratitude on a daily basis. I have a lot to be thankful for in life and I like to take the time, at least once a day, to recognise that. However, when you're depressed or going through a depressive spell, it is really hard to do this when you don't feel anything at all.
Let me explain what depression feels like, for anyone who has been lucky enough to dodge that bullet. You're wrapped in a constant state of numbness, completely depleted of energy. You feel nothing at all. You get no joy from the things you usually take great pleasure in doing and simple activities seem like insurmountable tasks. It is when you're in this state, when your brain and even body won't let you feel or do anything at all, that gratitude is so incredibly difficult. When nothing makes you happy, and you feel completely hopeless, it's hard to see what good there is in life. That's not to say there isn't anything to be thankful for, but you simply can't see it. It's like a constant cloud hanging over you, blocking the sun.
Telling people who are depressed that they 'have so much to be grateful for' or that they 'should be thankful' is beyond the stages of unhelpful - it's damn right uncompassionate. Robin Williams was one of the world's most successful comedians. He had a wife and three children he loved and who loved him dearly. With a fortune that was believed to be worth up to $100 million, you could argue that he had it all. Did that stop Robin Williams from taking his own life in 2014? No. Depression blinds you and no amount of money, security or love from family members and friends is sometimes enough, on its own, for people to see the beauty that surrounds them. Like any condition, depression needs treatment and the patient needs care and support. What they don't need is unsupportive, tone deaf comments from a know-it-all (and who doesn't dislike a bloody know-it-all?).
When you're depressed, you want to be anything BUT depressed- trust me. I spent a lot of time, when I was at my worst, blaming myself for what I was experiencing. I'd spend every hour of every day battling all the dark and often terrifying feelings I was experiencing, and with any energy I had left, I would pyschologically beat myself up for feeling the way that I did. People would make stupid comments about how I had so much to be thankful for, further pushing me down a hole of self hatred and worthlessness - talk about kicking someone when they're down. I felt ashamed that I wasn't strong enough to silence the voices in my head that told me I was pathetic and would be better off not being here anymore. I was so frustrated and even disgusted with myself for letting this happen and for not being able to appreciate what I had, like so many people were telling me to do.
How do we encourage people to get the support they so desperately need, support that could save their life, if we are constantly shaming people into believing they caused the disorder that is now such a significant burden in their everyday life? We, very often, don't blame people who have physical conditions for the situations they find themselves in, so why are we still doing it when it comes to mental health?
I'm not knocking the importance of practising gratitude, as I've said. There is a lot of really crazy and sad shit going on in the world at the moment and to be able to take 5 minutes out of your day to recognise the good things we do still have is important (if you're able to do that). However, please recognise that for some people, right now, practising gratitude is one of those insurmountable tasks I mentioned earlier.
Now, more than ever, is a time for us to come together and support one another. We need to be kind. All I ask is that you bear this in mind going forward: just like people who exercise on the regular still get depression (because exercising alone simply isn't enough to cure moderate to severe cases of depression), practising gratitude isn't going to cure depression either.