“Count your blessings, it could be worse…”
I’m sure someone has said that to you at some point in your life, or perhaps you’ve even thought it yourself. When I was recovering from a long depression one year, I started reminding myself of this throughout the day. It came from a place of joy and good intentions. As I slowly began to experience happiness again I marveled at all of the daily activities I encountered. Even simple things like taking a shower or going for a walk became things I looked forward to. I remember looking at everything in a new light. For example, I would find joy in walking not just because I finally had the energy and desire to do so, but also because I realized it could be much worse. What if I was missing an arm, or a leg, or was paralyzed? How wonderful to be able to walk in the sun on my own two feet!
Counting your blessings can be a great way to keep your perspective and to be thankful for what you have. There is nothing wrong with reminding ourselves of this, especially when we experience things that could be classified as “First World problems”. Such as, the annoyance you might feel when the waiter gets your order wrong. Isn’t it truly a blessing to even be able to afford to eat at a restaurant? Or to have food, period?
I tend to remind myself that it could be worse when I’m having trouble being thankful. Like when I get frustrated with little things like clutter in my home or the dent in my car door. At least I have a home and a car! At one point I had neither.
So it can help us to appreciate the little things in life. However, with this admonition that life could indeed be worse, I’ve found there are two ways it can backfire on me.
The first is that it can minimize mental illness. This phrase is rarely said to people with physical illness or ailments. For example, if you visit a friend who broke their leg, you wouldn’t say, “Well it could be worse. You could be paralyzed!” But for some reason when people address mental illness (specifically depression it seems) they remind us that it could be worse. “How so exactly?”, I’d wonder. With despair so deep in my depression I had often prayed that God would just let me die, I can hardly imagine feeling much worse.
Of course, there most certainly is much worse pain in the world, I’d imagine. However, when you are dealing with emotional and mental suffering, it doesn’t help to compare yourself to others. Instead it minimizes the pain you are feeling and can even make you feel worse. Particularly in depression, I’d end up just feeling guilty when I remembered that people were dealing with worse things.
The second problem I found with this idea is that imagining much worse scenarios can actually set me up for a panic attack. Since I also have obsessive compulsive disorder, the ensuing anxiety and compulsions can quickly take over. One moment I’ll be sitting contentedly counting my blessings and the next I’ll be having a full blown panic attack. Attempts to reassure myself then create a cycle of compulsive behavior or thinking that can eat up literally hours of my time.
I am now learning to be thankful for what I have and leave it at that. No need to dredge up scary scenarios that are admittedly far-fetched. And if my mind tries to go in that direction anyway? I simply notice it is happening and acknowledge it is something my mind tends to do. In some way I believe it’s really a self-preservation mechanism. Though ultimately misguided, it is the part of me that believes it’s helping me to be prepared in case of disaster, instead of being blindsided.
But living my life in constant terror of what could happen only causes me to miss out and what is actually happening – the countless daily blessings that are all around me – enjoyed much more through the lens of love instead of fear.
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community