Gratitude Is A Powerful Healer

Photo credit: Larm Rmah

In the clutches of a downward spiral, a tiny sliver of conversation caught my imagination … and then everything changed after that.

It was intuitive and spiritual development coach Gigi Young talking on a podcast that my boyfriend was listening to, and the words that caught me were ‘You can create your own emotions from scratch through meditation’.

And that was a total revelation to me.

Ever since my diagnosis, I had been working with various doctors and psychiatrists to treat my bipolar as naturally as possible. I was on meds, but I was on a mission to avoid having to take the more ‘hard-core’ meds as much as possible. So I put a lot of my focus on lifestyle management – things like low GI eating, exercise, routine, and sleep (everything’s about balance).

I started learning to become more conscious of my swings, and when I felt a high coming on, instead of falling right into it, I would try and manage it (especially by trying not to stay up for days) – because as one doctor said, the higher you fly, the deeper you’ll fall.

For the most part, I was doing ok with all that.

But then grief and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) knocked my bipolar for a loop. For an entire year I found myself suddenly rapid cycling (I had never rapid cycled before), swinging from hypermania to depression in a matter of weeks, sometimes even days … God, sometimes it even felt like hours. And then, finally, it settled into the longest, most debilitating depression I’ve ever had since my diagnosis.

Everything was suddenly whacked out of sync. My healthy eating, exercise, routine, sleep – all of it – was in turmoil. And no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t pull all the corners back into place.

What I had done before wasn’t enough anymore. I felt like a walking chemical factory. I felt out of control. And so Gigi’s words about being able to create emotions from scratch were like a song to me.

She wasn’t talking some ‘fake it till you make it’ bullshit. She was saying that we don’t have to be victims of our emotions, that we don’t have to be completely powerless to how we feel, that low emotional states could, through mediation, eventually become ‘fleeting contrasting colours that rise and fall with time’.

I hit Google and found the most divine article (Anatomy Of The Emotional Body) where she writes that ‘peace, gratitude and other loving emotions are the emotional states that are the most resonant with our soul’ and how loving emotions are the highways to our healing powers.

It was so beautiful. So empowering. I wasn’t a walking chemical factory. I was spirit first. How the hell did I actually forget that? So long living with the disorder and I had only focussed on the science of it. I read Gigi’s words over and over for days.

And then I started creating a mental gratitude diary every day before I dragged myself out of bed. Cuddled up to my dogs in the lateness of cold winter mornings, I centred my energy on all the things I knew I was grateful for. In the midst of a depression, it was, at first, purely an intellectual exercise.

In theory I knew what gratitude was, but I was so dead and dark inside I just couldn’t feel it. It wasn’t that I had never felt gratitude before, it was just that I couldn’t access any positive emotion at all. It was like trying to bake a cake without any ingredients.

But I trusted that it was there. I would reach out to the gratitude even though I couldn’t feel it, stretching the fingers of my heart out towards it. And I trusted that my emotions were shifting, that it wouldn’t always be like this. And even if I only managed to shift my emotions by 0.001%, it was still a shift.

And eventually on the days when I did have the energy to get up, to shower, to write and create, to walk on the beach, to be able to gaze at a flower and actually feel a flicker of appreciation, I would expand my gratitude even more, feeling it as deeply as I could, drinking it all in because that just shifted the energy even higher.

It slowly led to greater things. New realisations, more space to heal, different opportunities.

I kept taking my supplements, but I had slowly weaned myself of all the meds that my body was telling me made me feel shitty (please don’t do this without talking to your doctor and your psychiatrist first).

I started meditating again. Just short ones at first. Sometimes on my own, and sometimes with guided meditations. Sarah Blondin’s Life is Kind meditation on the Insight Timer app is soft and gentle and exquisitely beautiful (I listened to that one a lot).

And finally, after several months of depression, I was starting to have more up days than good – it was enough of a shift that I optimistically started tracking my progress, marking the up days and down days on my fridge. And there, in black and white, I started seeing how gratitude and meditation were slowly pulling me out of my depression.

In the depths of misery, a suicidal Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, ‘In the deepest part of me an immovable black melancholy holds sway. I am exerting every ounce of self mastery. Unless I can find the alchemical trick to turn all this muck into gold I am lost.’

Gratitude had started to change my muck into gold. And I am no longer lost.

Read next: Finding Happy