So this is the time of year when I'm supposed to say what I'm thankful for. To list all of the things that make me happy to be alive. And yet. It hasn't been an easy thing to do. Those of you who have kept up with my blog over the years have no doubt noticed two big things about it:
- I list something I'm thankful for at the end of each post.
- I blog regularly, rarely skipping whole months at a time.
This year has been different. Let me tell you why.
In June, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. It wasn't a surprise. I had been feeling worthless and hopeless and lonely for several months leading up to that point, and . . . What can I say, really, but the truth? There were plenty of times when I didn't want to be alive. When I daydreamed of scenarios in which I was rushed to the hospital, though everyone knew it was too late.
There's no way to describe the utter sadness that is depression. I thought I had an idea because I tend to be somewhat melancholy, but I didn't truly know how dark the world could seem under a cloud of depression. The darkness seems to come out of nowhere, too, and you think you're going crazy because one day you find yourself kneeling on the floor and sobbing your eyes out because again, you feel worthless and hopeless and lonely. Normally, you would "buck up" and go out with friends, pick up a forgotten hobby, or fill your life with busy-ness. Normally, you would have a strategy for finding a solution to the problem at hand. But this time––this time you don't want to see anyone, you lose interest in the parts of life you used to find joy in, and the most difficult part of the day is getting out of bed in the morning. This time, you find it nearly impossible to think clearly. For me, that meant no writing on my blog and no "Thing I am thankful for." It was hard enough just to be thankful for life.
Why am I saying all of this? Why am I admitting to this . . . awful thing? Because I've thought a lot about gratitude lately and what, exactly, I'm grateful for. Well, more than anything else––more than desserts and a home and a job and a car and clothes and family and religion––I'm grateful for people's attention. I'm grateful when someone asks me how I am and listens to the answer. I'm grateful when someone says, "How was your day?" I'm grateful when someone remembers something I mentioned a few weeks ago and follows up. I'm grateful when people take an interest.
Sometimes I tell people about my depression, and they say, "What can I do to help?" Here's what you can do––with me and with everyone, depressed or not:
Take an interest.
Take an interest in the lives of the people around you. Ask them questions and listen to the answers. Don't spend valuable listening time thinking of the next thing you can say. Just listen. Ask about people's hobbies and work. Ask them what they've been thinking about lately. Ask them if they've got any exciting vacation plans coming up. Ask them about their families and their lives.
The world is full of people who don't realize that the most important things in life aren't actually things––they're people. People who are closely connected to you, as well as people who are not.
I am grateful for people who take an interest in me and who make me feel like I am an important part of their lives. That if I vanished, they would notice.
Addendum: The point of this post was not to subtly request praise or words of love––though I do enjoy both of those things. ;) It was, however, a request that you pay attention to the people around you and take an interest in their lives. If a friend tells you he had a bad day, ask him about it. Pay attention to the people in your life, and make them feel loved by showing interest.