How I'm Finding Gratitude Even During the Worst Mental Health Storms

Tracy Riggs
·9 mins read
Woman standing under dark clouds looking out over a body of water
Woman standing under dark clouds looking out over a body of water

As I’m writing this, it’s storming all around me. Incredible winds, thunder and lightning, a small lake developing in the backyard… and I’m sitting on the screened-in porch. I had to move the table and chair close to the house and put a big shopping bag around my laptop to protect it from the blowing rain, so I could write while I enjoyed the sounds, smells and feelings of the storm.

I have had a very emotional day. I fought with a company who I feel wasn’t fair in their practices concerning a subscription service (and lost), contacted another company about charging me for something they didn’t give me (and won), filed for unemployment once again because they don’t have their act together at the unemployment office and keep messing things up, had a huge fight with my daughter, had some cool realizations about some personal stuff, was interviewed for an article about having a child with mental illnesses and did a few others mundane tasks around the house.

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So it’s been one of those days that’s a true roller coaster ride — jerky ups, steep downs, twists and turns and loops, and some places where it’s frankly pretty boring. Unfortunately, I don’t have the choice of getting on this kind of ride again. I know that many, if not most, days in my life will be similar rides. Some might be the kiddie version and some might be the latest and greatest thrill rides (even though I’m not a thrill ride enthusiast), but with someone like me who is very emotional and battles several mental illnesses and addictions, there are few days where I have the option of not riding.

However, I’m working very hard to find peace in the midst of it. And the way I’m doing it? Gratitude.

If you are in any addiction recovery group for long at all, you will hear how important being grateful is. It’s also important for those with mental illness… or the people who lean towards pessimism… or actually anyone breathing (beyond the infant stage).

Related:How My Anxiety and Mania Are Similar (But Also Different)

With everything I’ve gone through in my life, I have felt I had a reason to be pessimistic. I used it as a safety measure — after all, if I’ve imagined the worst thing that could happen and thus prepared for it, then I’ll be ready for anything.

But it doesn’t work that way. Looking for the bad in everything, consciously or unconsciously, takes its toll. I am a prime example that if you have that attitude long enough, you won’t be able to stop it.

Having several anxiety disorders doesn’t help. In fact, they may be the cause. It’s like the question of which came first — the chicken or the egg. But it really doesn’t matter either way, and last night was one of those times I decided I was going to be active to work on trying to fix it.

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It started with a discussion with my boyfriend. I was having a minor pity party over something and he mentioned I should think about being grateful within the situation (he’s also in recovery and he hears it as much as I do). The funny thing was, earlier in the conversation, he had just had his own pity party about an issue he’s dealing with. I thought I was so clever and I turned the tables on him, telling him he should also be grateful in his situation.

And then he said three little words that floored me:

“You are right.”

I was speechless. I actually wanted him to affirm my feeling that wallowing in pity was OK. I wanted him to realize that his pity party was just the thing to do. So I sat there and tried to think of a good counter-argument.

I couldn’t.

There isn’t one.

In both situations, if we each looked hard enough, we could find something to be thankful for, even though just a few minutes prior we each had thought that these issues were so horrible there was no chance of redeeming them.

So I thought about some of the other situations in my life that have been highly anxiety-producing lately — my eyesight after my cataract surgeries and my unemployment being cut off because of a glitch in the system. Both of these are very, very big issues. I’m a photographer and need really good eyesight in order to continue this profession. Every time I look around and don’t see clearly, it produces a measure of anxiety. Yes, the doctors have said they just need more time to completely heal, but there’s always that little voice saying, “But what if they don’t?”

Because of COVID-19, I obviously can’t do event photography, as there are no events to photograph. Now, you might be thinking, “But she can’t do it anyway because she can’t see — refer to earlier paragraph.” Actually, that’s not true. I could do shoots if I had to, it’s just much harder for me to work with my eyesight the way it is, and I can’t continue in this job long-term if my eyesight doesn’t get better.

So I’ve been really relying on those unemployment checks to get me through this time until events start back up. The government already has an ending date of July 25th and I know events won’t be started up again by then, so I need every week’s amount to give me some savings for when the PUA benefit stops. So the two issues I’ve had with unemployment the past few weeks could mean I won’t have any padding, or even enough to make it through July.

Either issue alone could make even the most optimistic person worry… and the anxiety multiplies if dealing with both at the same time.

So how could I be grateful for those things? I can understand accepting them as “things I cannot change” (from the Serenity Prayer), but going another step and being thankful? So I thought hard about each situation (this is where my ability to see the worst in every situation became an advantage).

I used those same skills I always use when I can find the worst in even a good situation… and flipped around to trying to find good in the bad. These are just a few of the things I realized:

Concerning my eyesight: I can be grateful the surgeries are over and I don’t have to dread them anymore. I can be thankful this happened during COVID-19 and I was able to recover without having to do photography shoots even if my eyes weren’t healed or clear yet (which I was going to have to do when I first scheduled the surgery the early part of the year). I can appreciate that even though I can’t see clearly yet, I can see so much better without correction than I have since I was a preschooler and right now I don’t have to deal with glasses or contacts.

Concerning unemployment: when COVID first came on board and I started losing work, as a freelancer I thought I wouldn’t get unemployment and I had no idea what I would do, so getting anything was a blessing. Because of these latest issues, I figured out that what I thought was unemployment overpaying me was actually a back payment for a miscalculation on their part, so I do have more saved up than I thought. I have learned a few things that could come in handy later — like an app that auto-redials (the only way I was able to get through the couple of times I finally managed to get a human in the unemployment office). I was able to pass along some of what I’ve learned through trial and error to some friends who are experiencing similar problems and hopefully helped them out.

Concerning the bad parts of today: I’m grateful that even though I lost money over the subscription issue, at least I noticed I was being charged as it could have gone on for much longer before I realized it. The fight with my daughter made me realize a few things about myself I need to work through. I was able to get through to unemployment the third time I tried (by far, a new record!) and hopefully was able to fix one of the issues.

So though life might be storming around me while I’m riding that dang roller coaster (aren’t they supposed to shut down rides during storms?) gratefulness can lead to calm in the midst of it.

Image of plants hanging in backyard while it's raining
Image of plants hanging in backyard while it's raining

On a side note, the storm whirling around me when I started this post has now completely stopped. The sun isn’t out, but there’s blue sky peeking through the clouds. The birds are singing. The wind is barely blowing. It’s nice and cool for a late June afternoon in the South. I loved the ferociousness of the storm, but also love this peace. Maybe being grateful for the positive aspects of each is the key to enjoying whatever comes — storm or calm.

(As if this experience wasn’t wonderful enough already, a local cemetery that plays “Taps” at certain times of the day just played it. I have never heard it from my home before. Hearing that from so far in the distance during this enormous quiet after all of the sounds of the storm and this emotional blog is the icing on the cake of what I’m now calling an amazing day.)

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