Every New Year for as long as I can remember, I have always resolved to be ‘happier’ in the upcoming year. The year would always pass and I’d find myself right back in the same spot I was in exactly twelve months ago, wondering why, despite all the great things that had happened, I felt as though I once again fell short of being happy. Did I not try hard enough? Did I just not get it? Why, despite my circumstances, did I still feel like a dark fog was always lurking no matter what happened to me? I could never understand what was wrong with me. People around me thought I was negative and ungrateful. Honestly, I BELIEVED I was negative and ungrateful and therefore a horrible person.
I spent New Year after New Year reflecting and resolving to do better. I’d manically party and believe whole heartedly the upcoming year would be MINE for taking on the world and finally succeeding. Other years I’d party and get extremely depressed about my failures and cry myself to sleep only to wake up freaking out about the seemingly impossible task of achieving happiness. What I never realized until just recently is that it should never be about happiness in the first place. Happiness is based on emotions and circumstances, both of which are unpredictable, always changing and can often lie to us. Now I understand it should be all about gratitude, and not just FEELING grateful, but BEING grateful. I know my feelings lie to me. My brain often tricks me into feeling and believing things that are simply not true. I know when I’m trapped in depression, the last thing I want to do is consider what I have to be thankful for. That’s something that over the years, after being diagnosed and treated for bipolar, I have learned how to deal with, and yes it’s difficult, but possible with practice.
When I am able to focus on everything I have been blessed with, believe it or not, it often carries over into times I don’t necessarily feel like being grateful. Quite often now, because I am finally open to it, I experience God placing just the right thought into my mind that will help pull me out of whatever struggle my mind is battling. If I feel hopeless, God places on my heart His promise to use my hurts for good. When I want to curl up into a ball and disappear, all of the wonders I want my kids to experience pop into mind and motivate me to press on for them. Opportunities to step out and share my story suddenly appear out of nowhere and before I know it I’m no longer consumed with what I’m feeling.
Often I hear people who have dealt with something traumatic express gratitude for the trauma and declare they are a better person because of it. To me that always seemed so absurd. Now I’m not so sure that it is. This year God has taken me completely out of my comfort zone and has me doing things I only once dreamed of. Sharing my experiences and being honest and raw was a huge risk for me, one I thought I’d never have the courage to take. But that’s the funny thing about God and what trusting Him can do. My struggles with this illness have provided me with amazing opportunities to write and interact with others who need to know they are not alone. People have divinely been placed into my life at just the right moment to help me and teach me important lessons. I value my husband and kids more and appreciate their love and support so deeply, no longer taking it for granted. If I am struggling I am able to force myself to keep going which in the end always works out for the best as I discover something beautiful I would have missed had I given in to the darkness. And most of all, my relationship with God has been growing and becoming more meaningful every day. If I never had to deal with the pit and the peaks I would never realize how much I need God and how fulfilling having a relationship with Him can be.
Seeing His hand orchestrating so many miracles throughout my life is what I am most thankful for. And yes, I am even thankful for the illness because without it, I wouldn’t have witnessed the miracles, the deliverance and the depth of appreciation I have for my life and the people who are in it. So this year the only thing I resolve to do is practice gratitude, especially when I really don’t feel like it. And you know what? That means I am going to have to ask God for help with this. I guarantee I can’t do it on my own, but I have learned that God is always faithful so this will be an incredible opportunity for me to grow a little more, trust a little more, love a little more and experience God’s love which I now realize is the greatest gift of all.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give
you a hope and a future.” ~~ Jeremiah 29:11