“I really don’t think you’re a good fit for this group,” she’d replied in her message, “so I’m deleting your access.”
I sat stunned. The social media group had been my lifeline through tough times, its relentlessly positive and upbeat memes and posts lifting me out of my admittedly erratic mood as I struggled through the rollercoasters of the depression, anxiety, and PTSD that were the mental health conditions I dealt with daily. Via my phone, the gratitude group was the first place I checked in with in the morning, registering my intentions for the day, and my gratitude the last thing I posted at night before bed. If I was not 100% faithful about these practices, I was definitely checking uplifting posts of others. Knowing I was not alone, that someone else “got” me, made an immeasurable difference in my life. “Even though I’ve never met them,” I had thought time and time again, “they care.”
So what was going on now? What was this? I had… FLUNKED gratitude?
And I was sure I had. If this group didn’t want me, after all, didn’t that mean I was doing gratitude all wrong?
Except how could one flunk gratitude? I suppose if one were ungrateful, certainly. That wasn’t the case here, though. Rather, the founder of the group and I had a disagreement over the way mental health conditions were dealt with in the group. I remarked that, from the beginning of my time in the group to several months from my enrollment, it seemed as though a good percentage of the memes and posts, not about what people were thankful for in their daily lives, but about their “gratitude philosophy” in general, seemed to be saying things like, “Choose happiness. ” “Choose joy.” “Decide to be happy today, and happiness will follow. “
Because the group uses included a , “No complaining EVER,” rule, the way these memes came across to me was, “Your happiness is completely within your control, regardless of your genetics or your life circumstances. Just practice gratitude and you’re all set.” While I believe wholeheartedly in practicing gratitude, and its practice had brought me to sustained joy on more than one occasion in my life, it’s a little more complex in its workings for me, and I suspect, for many of those practicing it who also deal with with mental health conditions.
I first started a gratitude journal over three years 6at the urging of my therapist, who I believe saw it as an intervention of sorts for my (at the time) negative mindset. The moment she told me she wanted me to find five things to be grateful for daily, my jaw literally dropped. “Oh yes,” she mentioned, “they needed to be different things every day. No repeating. You can vary things, shade things you’ve already written, but no exact repetition, mind you!”
Well, my dropped jaw slide, I did the work, and was quite surprised to find that the intervention worked. Slowly, my outlook on the world turned from negative to positive. I started to smile more, needed fewer antidepressants, was more social, and all-around a more pleasant person. Gratitude was a sure winner!
There were those times, though, when my antidepressants stopped working so well, or I had situations in my life that were extremely challenging. I didn’t stop practicing gratitude, it’s just that, just as other coping mechanisms in my life became less effective, so did gratitude. Eventually, I hit that rock-bottom point in my depression where my “happy ” playlist sounded horrible, my food tasted like it was all Brussels sprouts, and though I kept up my gratitude routine, it cc’d wasn’t producing results. Was that it then? Was I doing it all wrong? Had I flunked? Flunked? Flunked life, for that matter?