How Gratitude Saved My Life
The Indiscriminate Cruelty of Depression and Anxiety
Many people think they are immune to mental health problems, or that they are merely a bi-product of horrible life events. More often than not, though, depression and anxiety pop up out of nowhere. I was 12 years old when they reared their ugly heads in my world.
My life was going great at the time. I had awesome friends, I enjoyed and excelled at sports, and my family was extremely loving and supportive. I remember getting a journal for Christmas around that time. I kind of enjoyed writing down my thoughts. It was something new to me, and it allowed me to express myself in ways I couldn't to the people around me. Unfortunately, looking back at those entries, I found that my head at the time was full of confusion and worry.
When Passions Become Burdens
From then on, I just kinda went through the motions...
Throughout my adolescence and most of college, I loved sports. I idolized Michael Vick until the dog thing happened, emulated Kevin Garnett until he left the Timberwolves, and watched ESPN daily until my parents got rid of cable. I'm told I was a pretty good athlete. I certainly did spend most of my time playing sports.
So you can imagine I was incredibly frustrated when I slowly started losing interest in those sports. It started with baseball in seventh grade. I had a pretty good arm and was a decent first baseman. I just started to find it incredibly boring and that didn't bode well with my anxiety. So I switched to track, which somehow became a stress reliever throughout the years.
In ninth grade, I started losing interest in football. I played quarterback, a position which matched well with my good arm. But one thing about quarterback, it's not a fun position to play when your line doesn't block well. I got a couple concussions after being blindsided, and told my coach I wanted to switch to wide receiver. From then on, I just kinda went through the motions.
Then came basketball. And this one hurt the most because it was my passion. I have a couple memories that displayed my decreasing interest in hoops. I remember standing at the free throw line during a game and feeling a massive amount of anxiety despite shooting thousands of free throws prior. It didn't make sense. The summer before tenth grade, I worked my ass off every single day to be the best basketball player I could be. Coincidentally, I started getting incredibly manic and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The medicine they put me on evened me out, but dulled my athletic ability. And completely destroyed my interest in sports.
Professionals Can Only Do So Much
My treatment might have worked better had I listened to these guys more...
Throughout high school and college, I saw the same therapist and psychiatrist. My therapist always told me the same things. Think before you act. Don't let your emotions take control. Get a good amount of sleep. Don't drink. My psychiatrist switched my medicine around somewhat, but mostly I was on the same drugs for a long time.
My treatment might have worked better had I listened to these guys more. I did try to control my thoughts and emotions, but I got sick of it sometimes and just kind of let myself go. I spent a lot of time in high school listening to depressing music and many nights in college binge drinking and smoking weed. While these aren't extremely unusual activities for high school and college kids, they are extremely detrimental to someone with mental health problems.
My mental health gradually deteriorated over the years, until I found myself drinking half a bottle of vodka every night after work and eventually not working at all. I've moved back home with my parents several times after college, and this last time did not turn out well for any of us. My destructive ways eventually led me straight into a telephone pole at 60 mph and subsequently into inpatient treatment.
You Have To Fight It
Gratitude has without a doubt been the driving force behind my recovery...
I was absolutely terrified to go to inpatient treatment, and fought it tooth and nail. But once I got there, I quickly found out it wasn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be. The food there was amazing, a lot of the guys were like me, and most of the counselors were very attractive. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies. The counselors challenged me to dig deep and figure out why I'd made such destructive decisions. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
But it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I decided that I was indeed addicted to alcohol, that alcoholism goes hand-in-hand with mental illness, and that a lot of people suffer like I have. I awkwardly struggled through the process, and somehow learned some amazing tools for fighting my co-occurring diseases.
The best of these, although far from the only, was practicing gratitude. Gratitude has without a doubt been the driving force behind my recovery. Where depression and anxiety do a great job of bringing self-defeating thoughts to mind, gratitude does an even better job of bringing uplifting thoughts to mind. Every morning and every night, I write in my gratitude journal on my phone. And I try to remain grateful throughout the day despite any disappointment or frustration.
My mental health isn't perfect, and it never will be. But I can say with 100% certainty that it's better than it has been for many, many years. And I owe that in large part to gratitude. I'm very grateful for my ever-supportive family, the counselors at in-patient, the friends who stuck by my side, and all the people who helped me get to this better place in life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
© 2017 Chad Allen