It’s fair to say my life has had some drama in it. Much of it was beyond my control but I must admit that much of it was self-induced.
Life was hard but I made it harder than it had to be. I took things personally and I felt indignant. I wanted more than I had and regarded myself as either a failure or a victim if I didn’t get it.
I was hard on myself and others because I spent much of my life afraid that people were judging me or trying to take something from me. I was in a perpetual state of defensiveness.
There were also chemicals rolling around in my brain that cut off the feel goods and rained down depression on me when the stresses of life pressed in too close but my pride wouldn’t let me take medications to adjust the balance.
So, like Sisyphus, I woke up each morning and began the arduous task of pushing my rock up hill.
I had terrific motivation. I had two beautiful girls who needed me to do my best and so I did. Some days, my best was better than others.
There were times when the girls were not home that I felt like a marionette puppet whose strings had been cut. I had no power to get off the couch until they retuned.
Later, the important person who motivated me to live was the man in my life. Same deal, when he was there I was up and on but when he was not the strings were cut and I slumped into a state of lethargy.
I was caught in a trap that I didn’t know how to get out of but I was determined to try. I read self-help books like other people read the newspaper and I practice applying every bit of advice I could glean from them.
Some things worked better than others but after all was said and done – here is what I learned.
The single most important thing to practice on a daily basis is an attitude of gratitude.
I’m not talking about starting your day with affirmations.
Saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggonit people like me” when you don’t really believe it isn’t going to do jack to turn your head around in any real way.
Saying “Life is beautiful” when you know that people are blowing each other to pieces all over the world isn’t going to work.
I learned that the only way to help myself was to accept myself as I am- the darkness and the light. The only way to improve my life was to see my life clearly and not through the lenses of self-pity or anger or fear and then, to genuinely appreciate what I have.
I began to practice every day. I started my day with the facts of life. I opened a notebook and wrote what was in my head, unfiltered. I let the hateful thoughts; the hopelessness and the fear have their voice. I called it emotional vomit and it made me feel better immediately.
The second step was to sit still. Every day after writing out the poison, I sat in a quiet space for 10 minutes and attempted not to think at all. Nothing. The tapes that were constantly running in my head, telling me what was wrong with me, with the world, with everything were slowed down and I attempted to get in between the words to the quiet places. Just 10 minutes. At first I failed miserably but after a while I noticed that I was able to sit calmly for more than 10 minutes without even trying.
The third step was what I called “The Good Book.” It was a notebook that I kept by my bed. Every night I wrote in that book every good thing I could think of that happened in that day. At first I wrote things like “I didn’t get fired,” but soon I was noticing when people smiled at me for no reason and I made a mental note to put it in the good book. Before long I was writing long lists at the end of every day and I found that I was sleeping better, eating better and feeling better without trying.
What I was doing, without realizing it, was training my brain to think in a way that would serve myself and others instead of in a way that reduces us all. Doing so has made a world of difference in my life.
Gratitude became the key to unlocking my life from the grip of depression. Gratitude became my mantra and my medicine.
The people of this nation have a tendency to feel entitled 364 days a year and then, for one day, we sit down before an obscenely large meal and take a minute to be thankful.
This year, as I sit with my girls, I am going to be thankful that I learned the practice and the power of appreciating.
I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, every minute of every day.
Nancy Murray is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and the Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. She is a playwright who as enjoyed full productions of her work at Fells Point Corner Theater, Silver Spring Stage and the Montgomery County One Act Festival where it was selected as The Best of Festival. Most recently she has been enjoying participating in the Submit 10 Series as both a playwright and as a performer.