Shortly after I was diagnosed with BPD, I came across the idea of keeping a Gratitude Journal. I’d been researching different types of therapies that I could do by myself at home and discovered Journal Therapy. Though truthfully, it was more of a re-discovery. I’d kept a journal religiously as a child and at a few points during adulthood, so I already knew it was quite therapeutic, I just hadn’t known it was an organized style of therapy.
The suggestion to keep a Gratitude Journal kept popping up in several locations that touted the healing effects of Journal Therapy. I’ll admit, though I read about it several times, I kept dismissing the idea. And the reason why seems rather silly to me now. In a nutshell, it sounded too simple. I thought: how can keeping a list of things for which I am grateful make that much of a difference in my life? It just didn’t seem possible. Well, of course not. When you’re stuck in a negative thought pattern, virtually nothing sounds promising – basically, you can’t see the forest for the trees. It makes sense. How do you make yourself feel grateful when you’re not? Sometimes you’re just too depressed to feel any gratitude at all.
At a time when I was more depressed than I’d ever been, I thought the answers to my problems somehow couldn’t be as simple as keeping a list. I didn’t feel simple. I felt very complicated, uncertain, perplexed and convinced, of course, that nothing could make me feel better. How to get away from those negative feelings then just had to be elaborate! Ah, the ironic joy of hopelessness!
Staying stuck in the same old rut had its rewards. If I thought the answers had to be terrifically complex, then I could avoid helping myself and stay a victim forever. And the fun in that? Well, you get to keep throwing yourself one pity party after another.
But one day I decided to try it. I figured even if it did absolutely nothing for me, it couldn’t cause any harm.
At first, I wasn’t that motivated, so I didn’t keep a “real” list - a legitimate journal. I’d just scratch out one or two things on a sticky note, the backs of envelopes and receipts, or even next to an inspiring paragraph I read in a novel. But at some point, I realized it was helping. I felt better, more positive, less depressed, when I concentrated on feeling grateful. With that awakening, I moved to whole sheets of paper. Oooo! Ok, so the migration didn’t improve my organization, not right away. I’d often write something down at odd angles and just circle what I’d wrote, so the result was a bunch of text-filled bubbles on a plain piece of paper. One day, though, I noticed that these sheets were adding up. Instead of writing one thing on Tuesday, six things on Friday, and perhaps two on Sunday, I was adding several items each day. Whoa! That’s when I sat down and really thought about the difference it was making. It had become a habit and a good one at that. I did feel better, no longer quite so hopeless, hapless and helpless. I took a leap then and went out and bought myself a pretty bound journal. Since then, I look forward to filling one up and starting another. They help me stay positive now, but even better – maybe someday they will inspire my great-grandchildren.
Following is a sampler, a partial list of benefits I’ve uncovered so far. A year ago, I never could have imagined so many. I am actually grateful for gratitude. If you think about it, that’s pretty powerful.
- Keeping a Gratitude Journal helps me stay focused on the present. Zen mind. It keeps me from spending too much time thinking about the warts of the past and the bunions of the future. What’s in front of me or within me, right this minute, that I can appreciate?
- Over time, the journals have increased my overall awareness, period.
- They have helped me slowly establish positive thought patterns instead of negative ones. Oh sure, I still get downright pessimistic sometimes, but instead of despair-dwelling for ten hours at a time, or even several days, I will feel contrary for a few moments – maybe an hour. This is obviously a major improvement. Looking for the negative in anything and everything used to be the norm for me, but now I find that more frequently I’m automatically looking for something more optimistic.
- I say “thank you” more. The more I say “thank you” the more my family appreciates me and says “thank you” back. It has helped improve my relationships.
- Finding things to be grateful for has reduced my feelings of anger considerably. I don’t even think I could measure the difference. It’s hard to be mad when you’re feeling grateful for something!
- The more grateful I am, the more grateful I want to be. A wonderful ripple effect in place!
- Gradually I’ve learned that I don’t need STUFF to make me happy. I can be grateful for things like air, sunshine, water, clouds, my own breathing and even the spotting of a lizard scampering happily (I’m assuming) in my garden. I am happy now with things that don’t come in shrink-wrapped packages. I don’t need a shopping fix in order to feel better.
- Quite naturally, I take less for granted. I think about the gift of electricity, as an example. I can curl up on the couch at 9 pm, with a hot cup of peppermint tea, and write in my Gratitude Journal – electricity makes this possible. It’s so much easier to form letters sitting next to light bulbs. Yes, I’ve tried it by candle light, just to get a glimpse of what it might have been like to write at night a few hundred years ago. The ambiance is lovely, but penning in my journal is a bit on the difficult side.
- Establishing this one good habit motivated me to create more of them. From the simple act of being grateful, I’ve been able to trash many of my maladaptive coping strategies and replace them with adaptive coping strategies.
- Keeping track of what I am grateful for has allowed me to reduce the intense sting I’ll feel when I think I’m being rejected. Of course, being Borderline means I can be quite sensitive to rejection, but whenever I feel that way I can pull out a Gratitude Journal and remind myself of positive events – times when I was accepted in some way. After reading a few pages, I am back to coping in a healthy way.
Obviously keeping a Gratitude Journal is not a magic pill. There is no happy fairy dust. But it helps, tremendously. I am far less depressed. As more proof of its power, I offer this: I don’t take any psychiatric medications. I used to, but I don’t need them anymore. Of course, keeping a Gratitude Journal isn’t the only way I have learned to manage my moods (more posts coming soon) and it’s not the only way that I was eventually able to table the pills, but I encourage all to take that leap of faith and give it a shot, it really helps that much.