Beautiful autumn colors around Starved Rock, Illinois.


It’s hard to believe that today is Thanksgiving. The months have been going by so fast. I know for a lot of other people, time has been dragging, but I could almost swear yesterday was New Years Day. 2020 has been quite the year. I don’t need or want to recount all that’s happened over the course of the past 330 days or so, but we can almost all agree that it’s been rough. Now here we are at Thanksgiving, and it’s made me think once more about what all I have to be thankful for. Living with depression, PTSD, and anxiety for over a decade has often led me to feel there’s nothing to appreciate in this life, no reason to move forward. At these times, I spiral into a short but intense personal pity party—until I remember some advice my mother gave me.

My mother always says that one of the best ways to keep going is to not feel sorry for ourselves, and one way to do that is by reminding ourselves that no matter how bad we have it, there’s always someone out there who has it worse. She also told me to always find the humor in any situation, which led to some really twisted thoughts, but it works. The stories she told me of her life helped give me more perspective, especially when she let me know that through it all, she didn’t allow self-pity to sink in because she knew there were people who were suffering even worse than she was. I came to tell myself the same thing, and it’s helped me escape my victim mentality. After all, I have the luxury of being able to enjoy a warm bed and a full stomach while so many people out there struggle to find shelter and their next meal. There was even a time when I didn’t have the comfort of knowing I’d be able to eat, but even then, it could have been much, much worse—and I knew it.

The danger with this mindset, however, is that sometimes I don’t allow myself to believe that things could also be better. Much of the time, when I allow myself to hope, I’m just let down. So, I’ve come to expect only the worst. The problem is, I allowed myself to do this long enough that I started focusing only on the bad—how bad things were, then how bad things could be—making it even harder to pick myself up. Our focus often determines our reality. That’s another nugget of wisdom from my mother. I’ve realized that when I focus only on bad things, I subconsciously sabotage myself. I was looking at my mother’s advice the wrong way. Instead of just focusing on how bad things could be, I should be acknowledging how good they are. I’d forgotten some other advice of hers: “Always look on the bright side.” I’ve been trying to pull myself into a more positive mindset, but while I’ve succeeded in some ways, I have a long way to go and I often relapse.

Furthermore, this mindset has sometimes led me to tolerate toxic situations, even when I didn’t have to. Many times, we’re just stuck between a rock and a hard place. We have to make do with what we have until we successfully make or find an opportunity to rise. The mindset I discuss has been beneficial to me in these times, when I don’t take it so far as to become pessimistic. However, there have been other times when I did have the power to pick myself up and chose not to out of fear of making things worse, which killed my motivation. That “it could be worse” became a disempowering personal threat, leading me to put all my focus into doing nothing rather than moving forward. I’ve found that situations often get worse anyway, even when—and sometimes because—I do nothing.

Taking all this into account, I’ve learned there’s a balance that must be struck. So, now when I repeat “it could be worse” to remind myself to be thankful for what I have, I also try to always remember to add, “But things won’t stay this way, either. One day, they will be better, and you can help make that happen.” This way, I empower myself to act; I take control away from any external force holding me back and I give myself a positive, inspirational message. I remind myself that while all decisions are a risk, I do have the power to make ones that can actually help me.

For this Thanksgiving, there’s a lot I’m thankful for, and there’s a lot I hope for. This blog post was more a message to myself than anyone else, but maybe whoever is reading this can find some value in it, too. I know times are tough for many people, but if you feel like there’s nothing at all for you to be thankful for, look harder. I’m sure you’ll find something positive, however small. I hope you do. Sometimes it takes going out and getting perspective by seeing how even less fortunate people live to realize what all we have; other times it takes losing it. My Thanksgiving wish this year is that we can realize all that we have to be thankful for, hopefully without losing it first, and use that realization to empower ourselves and be happier for it.

Happy Thanksgiving!