I’m not [dead], but I’m not well: am I a fraud?

It’s no surprise to anyone around me that I suffer from depression. “Suffer” being the key word. On a good day, it’s simply difficult to get out of bed. On a bad day, it seems like life is all downhill from here, and that I might as well end my life while I still ahead.

Financial stability plays into that too. The things I want to do with my life are either extremely lucrative, or not at all. In my case, it’s always been the latter. Money gets tight and I tell myself that I don’t have the resources to play around with writing if it’s not paying the bills. I need to make sure I’ve paid rent and have food on the table. And that instability leads to doubt about whether I had to skill to make it to begin with.

I feel like a fraud some days. Most days, maybe. I started a blog about facing fears, and yet, I am deeply afraid. Maybe that’s why it made sense. I made a blog about facing fears because I had so many to face myself. I may very well be an expert at being afraid, but I am far from an expert at dealing with those fears.

Throughout all of this silence these past few years, I’ve gotten more afraid, but I’ve also gotten better at facing fears, too.

I get afraid of what people will think of me if I can’t post consistently because of my depression, and that fear turns into the depression that causes the very thing I was afraid of to begin with. It’s a vicious cycle.

I’ve learned, though, that I have to talk about it. Because if I don’t, I can’t deal with it, and the thought of other people coming up with their own reasons for why I’m floundering just compounds the issue.

My biggest fear, the one that’s hard to admit, is that I’ll never finish writing a novel. Either my depression will get in the way, or I’ll find some reason to freak out and sabotage it, I’ll have to spend my time working real jobs and not have the time and energy for it. etc. But those are bullshit reasons. This year, I’ve promised myself that I’ll finish a book that I am proud to put my name on.

I’m not going to start posting here a lot. Not because I don’t think it’s valuable, but because I need to face my biggest fear. I need to put all of that energy into the book that will free me from my doubts.

I just needed you to know.

P.S. If you want to follow my book writing adventures, I’ll post short updates via @MattTrotterXIII on Twitter.

Gratitude And Facing Fears

I mentioned in my last post that I had started keeping a gratitude list, or gratitude journal. You’re probably familiar with the concept since it’s been popularized by a number of studies in recent years. The basic idea is to write down 3-5 things, at least, that you are grateful for each day. Studies have shown that an “attitude of gratitude” can have a wealth of positive physical and psychological effects, from reducing stress to decreasing the number and severity of headaches.

I’m certainly no stranger to the concept, but finally started thinking about gratitude with more seriousness after devouring Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage in about two sittings. There, tucked away in his section on “The Tetris Effect”—a name he gives to our tendency to see the things we practice frequently everywhere in our environment—was the ever looming suggestion to keep a gratitude list.

Sharing gratitude

One thing that Achor suggested, and which I’d never seen anyone suggest before, is to share the responsibility of keeping a gratitude list with one or more other people. This suggestions is genius on so many different levels. First of all, it leverages the sunk cost fallacy, because you don’t want to renege on your promise to keep a gratitude list with your friend, partner, or family member. Second, seeing what your partner in crime is grateful for gives you an instantaneous jolt of happiness. Third, seeing the other person’s list will give you ideas of things that you should be grateful for. And fourth, by focusing on the positive, you improve your mood and the relationship you have with that person.

So that’s what I did. I asked my partner to start keeping a gratitude list with me, and she agreed. Every day, in my email, I get a list of the things she’s grateful for, and it always makes me instantly feel happy, and it always inspires me to find more things that I’m grateful for. Plus, it gives me lots of good things to talk to her about that I may not have known otherwise.

The logistics of sharing gratitude

How you share is up to you, but there are a number of ways that you could do it. If you’re sharing the gratitude list with a partner, family member, or roommate—that is, someone you live with—you could just share what you’re grateful for over dinner, like the Japanese business man that Achor mentions in his book. Or you could have a physical notebook that you both write your gratitude lists in.

If you don’t live together, you could email your lists to each other, or send it via text message, or use one of the many online gratitude journals that have popped up in recent years.

What I don’t like about the email or text solution is that you don’t have easy access to the previous days’ entries. They’re still there, unless you delete them, but there’s no grace to the presentation.

And the problem that I find with most of the websites that cater to gratitude lists is that they aren’t designed around sharing the responsibility. They are either completely private, or everyone can see them. I did try Happy Rambles for a brief moment, and it definitely has an attractive interface, but you have to share each individual entry rather than sharing every entry with a single person. That’s just way too much work, and the increased difficulty increases the odds of failing.

The solution I found that works best for us is to just keep a private blog. In this instance, Blogger was a great option since we both use Gmail and it’s pretty simple to set up. I simply started a new blog that wasn’t listed in the directory or in search engines, and then I set it up so that it was only viewable by authors—she and I. I also made sure that each time either of us posted, it would send us an email of that post, so we’ll instantly get each other’s gratitude lists in our inbox. It also serves as a great reminder to submit our own gratitude list if we haven’t.

The benefits, and facing fear

Studies have found numerous benefits to what many call the “attitude of gratitude.” And keeping a list of gratitudes helps to foster just such an attitude.

When we spend the end of our day in review, compiling a list of things which we are grateful for, it puts the focus on the positive and pushes out the negative. As we get in the habit of keeping our list, we spend more and more of our day looking for all of the positive things that we can add to it. When we have such a great focus on the positive things in our lives, we’re more likely to see opportunities in our jobs and in our relationships that we wouldn’t see if we were merely neutral or negative.

Ultimately, we get caught in a positive feedback loop: the more positive we look for, the more opportunities we find, and the more opportunities we find, the more we have to be positive about.

Researchers found that keeping a gratitude list for one to three weeks not only reduced stress right then and there, but that test subjects continued to have reduced stress throughout their 1, 3, and 6-month checkups, as compared to a control group. Not to mention, smiles are literally contagious, so friends, family, and coworkers are going to love being around you. Gratitude is one of the easiest ways to help your personal and business relationships flourish.

I’ve noticed the effect. Remember the interviews I mentioned in my last post? I went into them with more confidence than I’d ever known, and I went into them smiling. My interviewers smiled too. They couldn’t help it. And what am I projecting? That I’m competent, confident, and a generally fun person to work with. That’s what gets the job.

Job interviews are scary. Especially if it’s for something we care about. Start a gratitude list today, and take the edge off. Take the edge off of any fear you’re trying to tackle. An attitude of gratitude puts you in control.

What are you most grateful for today? Have you ever kept a gratitude list before? What benefit did you derive from the practice? Put your answers in the comments below.

Starts and stops

I’m happy, and it’s not just because I’ve been keeping a gratitude list (though, from a neurobiological standpoint, it certainly helps.) I’m happy because I’m emerging from a set of challenges feeling stronger and more prepared than ever before.

Running a website isn’t free. And rent doesn’t go away when you decide to start blogging full time. So, I went back to my old company. Why? Because it was my safety net. It was the thing I knew I could count on when the circumstances dictated that I get a regular 9 to 5 again. You always have a safety net, and there’s no shame in using it. Sometimes we forget that. There’s never any shame in taking a break and recognizing that each part of your life—health, wealth, relationships, etc.—is going to demand your attention at different times.

Now, I’m interviewing again. In fact, today I talked to person #8 at a company I’m really excited about. And you know what? Person #8 had actually checked out this very blog when they were looking into me. This blog demonstrated a competence in skills that my “real jobs” never did, and it’s the reason I’ve gotten to this point in the interview process.

Our dreams and a day jobs don’t have to be different, but even if they are, they can often play off of each other. The things we learn from our jobs can provide us with the knowledge and skills necessary to better achieve our dreams, and tackling our dreams can provide us with the experience and confidence to move into a day job that isn’t too far removed from the dream itself.

I’m excited and hopeful about my new job opportunity. Not only does the company profess a great work-life balance, but the commute is shorter (plus, I’ll be making enough move even closer), and so there’s a really good chance that I’ll be able to start writing more while I’m working. It’s a win-win. This is all hypothetical until I get a definite yes, of course, but it’s looking like all the work I’ve done since my last post has been paying off, and now I’ll be able to start sharing more of what I’ve been doing with you all.

The take home lesson, I suppose, is to expect starts and stops. Expect challenges. Take them as opportunities to grow, and don’t be blinded to how your dreams can help you face your challenges and vice versa.

In other news, do you remember the date I mentioned in passing in the post before last? Well, I’m still seeing her all these months later, and we even had a really nice holiday celebration together. And that gratitude list I mentioned? It’s something that she and I are maintaining together, and it’s really doing wonders to relieve our stress and remind us of what’s going well in our lives, despite any challenges. You’ve probably already heard that you should be keeping a gratitude list, and it really has been a transformative experience. I plan to write more about it in the near future.

I made it to 2013, and not just barely. I’m glad for the challenges and experiences I’ve had over this past year, and I’m glad for the growth I’ve experienced as a result. I’ve found more happiness, more social connection, more life satisfaction, and so much more as a result of everything that’s happened. And for those of you who’ve kept me in your RSS readers, waiting for the day that this post would come along, I want to thank you for being part of that growth. I owe you a lot, and I only hope that my words are payment enough.

Have you grown in the past year? Have your dreams improved your jobs, or your jobs improved your dreams? Share it in the comments!