I’m sure we’ve all heard it a million times: when we’re all pessimistic and depressed, people tell us “It could be worse” and “count your blessings.”
Have you ever tried to count your blessings? I have. In my experience, it only actually makes you feel good if you were feeling pretty good to begin with. When I’m feeling depressed, the list starts to look like, “Well, I don’t have my health, so not that. My parents are still alive–and I’m living with them. I have money for food–but not to get my own place. I have green in the spring–but it’s fall now–and squirrels and birds and… welp, I’m out of ideas.” When something really bad is hanging over me, it seems like that one big bad thing tends to overshadow fifty blessings and make them all look really small.
Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?
Not to mention, if you have clinical depression or anxiety caused by brain chemicals, no amount of counting your blessings will get rid of those problems. They may get you into a better frame of mind, which may help, but counting your blessings isn’t a mental-health cure-all.
This morning my pastor preached on Thanksgiving, and it was something he said at the end that really got to me. He gave us some homework:
- Think of the thing that is bothering and exhausting and upsetting you the most in your life right now.
- Try to think of how God might be using that thing to bless you.
Now, clearly this approach requires a belief that God uses everything to bless you (fellow Christians: refer to Romans 8:28–“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”). However, plenty of religions believe something like this, and plenty of people who don’t consider themselves religious believe “everything happens for a purpose.” I’m phrasing it this particular way because I’m a Christian, so that’s how I’m applying this.
This approach says that when you count your blessings, you don’t start with things in your life that are obviously good. You start with the thing that is the absolute WORST.
Like cousin Ted. The WORST.
If you can figure out a way that the worst thing your life may actually be a blessing, you’re set.
I also recommend you write it down somewhere. Hand-writing it is better than typing: studies have shown that we internalize and learn things better when we write them by hand. But I’m also going to type mine here.
- I’m depressed.
- I can’t find full-time work, which means I’m worried about money, my future, getting my own place, and getting some independence.
How they may be blessings
- I was HORRIBLY depressed a couple of days last week. It was AWFUL–probably the closest I’ve ever been to actually thinking about suicide. I think in retrospect it was a hormonal issue–because both times, it went away pretty quickly and completely after a few hours. Maybe God is teaching me that no matter how bad things get–with my depression, my other health issues, my life–they can and do always seem to get better again. I’ve known a few people who have had Lyme so badly that they thought they were going to die, but then they got a lot better and are now basically healthy. And actually, looking back, that also happened to me with my first big Lyme onset in college: I genuinely wondered if I was going to die. But I got better. It took time, but it happened, and I’ve never been that sick since. God is teaching me to have hope.
And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us (Romans 5:3-5a, Amplified Bible).
Insert requisite Monty Python reference here
- A former grad student came back to speak to us once about her search for non-academic work after grad school. One of the things she said was that it was a good idea to take a little break and decompress after graduation before going back to work. I kind of scoffed at the idea at the time. I mean, that’s fine for people who have a financial parachute, but not everybody can take time off like that. And I, for one, am the kind of person who is anxious about everything, so of COURSE I was going to look for a job right away! But I said to my therapist this week that I think part of my depression has been shock at leaving school. Even though I took a year off of school between undergrad and my master’s program, I knew for most of that time that I was applying for and would be going back to school. So for literally as far back as I can remember, I have been in school. And now I’m not. And that’s been weird. So maybe the reason why I haven’t found a full-time job yet is because I DESPERATELY needed a vacation–and God knows I was going to be take one of my own volition!
Now that I’m finally beginning to accept that even my curses may be blessings, I hope I may be able to put into practice the advice I saw on an old cross-stitch recently:
Relish with content what Providence has sent
NO, NOT THAT.