I Give Myself Two Thumbs Down

Think positively.

Look on the bright side.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Don’t worry; be happy.

Yeah; my brain’s not getting that memo. Despite hearing the merits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or sitting through counseling sessions advocating positivity, I seem determined to stay stuck.

Negative thinking is easier. I’m used to it. I deserve it.

Let’s say a good thing happens, like a job promotion. It’s easier to remind myself of a few “facts:”
-No one else was available and that’s why I got it
-It probably wasn’t as high of pay as someone else would get AND I should get paid less
-Just wait till my boss sees how I perform; he’s likely to demote me again
-The company may collapse and I’ll be back where I was. I’d better not get comfortable.

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Cognitive Behavioral Thinking and methods like it are designed to break the ease and habit of negative thinking. I don’t know about you, but I’m terrible at breaking habits. I am so accustomed to seeing the dark side of life that I just do it. I would rather do it.

Further, as I said, that’s exactly what a person like me has coming to her. I am not smart, talented, good, or hard-working enough for the good stuff. Or -here’s the funny part- if I am, then I need to look around and acknowledge that I’m stealing that from someone else who deserves the goodness more.

Guilt.

Criticism.

Insults, even.

They are all designed to keep me in some pit of self-loathing so I do not ever rise up and see what’s possible.

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Why? Besides the ease, habit, and entitlement to rotten rewards; I’m afraid. I’m afraid of failure and disappointment. As terrible as I feel sitting around in my Venom cloak of darkness, I am convinced that situation is far better than risk. Depression must be better than hurt from expectation.

Right?

A few, happy balloon-like humans floating above the pollution say, “No.” Do I listen? Do you? If you’re anything like me, you ignore them. Sometimes, you pull out your trusty Nega-sniper and try to pick off a few. Why do they get to be happy when you know all the awful things sludging around us?

Yet, some part of me envies them. Some part of me wants to fly.

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Photo Credits:
Image by moritz320 from Pixabay
Glenn Carstens-Peters
Yanny Mishchuk
Jonathan Borba

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Talking to People is Getting Easier

I often struggle with talking to other people. I hate small talk. I don’t like talking to strangers. Once I get to know someone, I’m willing to talk to them, but not much. It takes a while to feel comfortable with people. If I had the choice, I would only talk to a couple of people. I’m told this is not healthy behavior. Part of it stems from my lack of trust in others. I have a few thoughts when someone approaches me. “Why are they talking to me?” “What do they want?” I immediately assume the worst.

This isn’t so much a lack of trust in all people. I’ve had the misfortune of being around people who wanted to use me as a means to an end. That’s been my experience when dealing with others. I assume everyone is trying to get something from me. I’m still baffled when someone says they enjoy my company. It’s hard for me to believe them. In trying to change this behavior, I started telling myself that it didn’t matter if they used me as long as I got something out of it too. I did feel used, but I enjoyed other’s company while I was used.

It was easier to think this than to feel used. It was a coping mechanism. I had to think of a benefit for myself to avoid the negative thoughts I often had. I fail at this sometimes. The biggest issue was not having someone to confide in or with which to vent. Sometimes that’s all I need to feel better about a situation. If I don’t feel close to someone, I don’t feel comfortable sharing my troubles with them. It’s a hard place to live. I’ve finally found a few people that care about me and want what’s best for me. I’m still not used to this.

I find myself having small pointless conversations with strangers and not feeling uncomfortable. Is this how normal people interact? Is this socializing? I’m never certain. I have yet to find someone that I immediately become friends with. I’m still distant with others until I get to know them. I suspect I always will be this way. My main point is it’s getting easier to talk to people, both strangers and my friends. I’m not sure if I’ll ever become a sociable individual. I’ll keep working on this, but I also like my solitude. I enjoy not talking to others. Will that ever change?

I Gave the Demon a Name

Recently, one of my closest friends told me I had many friends. I half-jokingly said she was the only one I liked, and the rest were crap. Her reply to that was unexpected. She told me I needed a daily mantra. Before going to bed, she said I should look in the mirror and say, “I like myself. I love myself. I deserve good things.” I promised her I would try. She told me to say it three times. She then assured my that Bloody Mary won’t get me. I said I’d summon Bloody Mary and we’d both say the mantra.

I tried this mantra that night. I looked in the mirror. It was uncomfortable. I normally have no issues looking at myself. This time I did. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud, but I said them in my mind. By the third time, I fought back tears. Why was saying those three sentences so difficult? I told my friend I did what she said, and it was more difficult than expected. She said I had to do it every day and she cried the first time. I told her I cried.

This was the first time a friend or family member told me to change how I speak to myself. You hear doctors or celebrities say these things all the time. This was a shocking realization. I discovered I didn’t like myself. Despite all the work I did for many years building my confidence and moving to a place where I thought I liked myself. I still don’t. I used to hate myself. I have improved. I have made progress, but I have a long way to go yet. I thought more about how I speak to myself and about myself.

If someone else said negative words to me, it might hurt but I’d eventually ignore them. Or I’d tell myself they’re having a bad day and lashed out. When I say negative things to myself, I accept it as truth. How do I move away from such ideas? I decided to put a name to those negative thoughts. If I name it and treat it like another person, I think I can stop listening to those words. If I separate it from myself, I’ll no longer treat it as truth. So, I gave my inner demon a name. I’m not sharing that name. That’s my personal demon and no one else’s.

I will no longer say, “I’m being negative.” It’s the demon feeding me negativity. Some days are still difficult. Sometimes you get trapped in a negative loop and can’t get out. You eventually do. Calling it something else makes it easier to fight. Easier for me anyway. This may not work for everyone. This can work with writing letters to yourself only now you can use a different name. I don’t hate myself. I hate you the demon inside me and I want you out. I want you gone! So, I gave the demon a name. Because you have to know the demon’s name before you can fight them.

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How Depression Feels

After the successful results of our last how-to article, “Depression for Dummies,” I felt a continuation of similar advice might be helpful. I may have decided this after yet another conversation with my loving, wonderful, clueless husband.

Thing is, non-crazies do not understand how we think. They are not living inside us, feeling the things we feel or thinking what we think or assuming what we assume after someone says something. They are inside them, usually feeling pretty darn good.

Lucky.

So, drag that fortunate spouse, significant other, friend, boss, or coworker over here. I’m going to teach them what it feels like to be depressed.

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First, class, you need to get really uncomfortable. Don’t shower and don’t brush your teeth for five days. At least. On top of that, I’m going to need you to roll around in some mud and let it harden in uncomfortable places. Finally, put on some clothes that do not fit right and make you think you look like a muddy, fat elephant who hasn’t visited the watering hole in five days.

Did you do all that? Good! Now onto Step Two:

During or after your five days dirtying the outside, I want you to work on the inside. Eat foods that are bad for you like candy, soda pop, Taco Bell, and Lima beans. I don’t want to go too far, so I’m not going to encourage anything harder. Simply eating poorly ought to do it.

Are you with me so far? Excellent.

Next, you need to contract some kind of virus. No one wants you actually dying, so aim for a bad cough or for that cold that’s going around.

Feeling bad yet? You only think you are.

Lastly, I want you to sit in front of a mirror and tell yourself that you are ugly. You eat like a pig. You are sick. On top of all that, you are worthless and no one likes you.

Are you feeling something now? Something sad? Congratulations! -because you have touched the surface of the ongoing mindset that is Depression. Whenever you want to say something ‘helpful’ in the future like, “This will pass,” “You have great potential; why don’t you use it?,” or “Why would you feel depressed?,” remember what all of this felt like. Maybe you’ll say a more encouraging, empathetic phrase, instead.

Maybe you’ll just listen, and give the depressed person some chocolate.

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Now, I’m not heartless enough to leave anyone down as far as we went, so you can’t leave until we reverse everything we did today. In fact, all of you people hiding in your closets and corners feeling depressed: come over here and do it, too.

First, I want you to get up, take off the uncomfortable clothes that make you feel fat and ugly, and go take the most awesome and refreshing shower you’ve ever experienced. Feel the warm water stimulate your happy nerves as you watch muddy elephant runoff slide down the drain.

Feeling somewhat better? Keep going.

Next, I want you to make the healthiest food that you enjoy and eat it. I’d go for an excellent, nutritious sandwich or shake. Whatever you choose ought to have whole foods, a few food groups, and definitely vegetables.
Brush your teeth afterwards and revel in the minty fresh taste of your smiling mouth.

You’re still with me, right? It gets better:

Go visit a doctor or take some over-the-counter medications to help with your cold symptoms. I really am sorry I recommended that you contract one; they’re the worst. Rest and breathing exercises help as well.

Did you do all of the steps so far? We’re nearly finished!

Get back over to your mirror and sit down. With a nice amount of natural light around, I want you to apologize for saying nasty things. I want you to say the following, instead: “I am good enough; I am smart enough; and doggone it, people like me for me.” Pull up some good Cognitive Behavioral Therapy programs on your phone and run through a few.

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I’d say you should feel right as rain about now, but I’m more honest than that. If you followed all of the recommended steps then I am certain you feel a lot better, but I am also certain that you remember how you felt when you were depressed.

That’s because, during Depression, we tell ourselves some pretty damaging things; things that don’t wash down a drain or disappear when we turn on the light.

But they do diminish. Some days, they almost disappear. With the support of our (now) less-clueless friends and significant others, you will get better. And that’s worth fighting for.

 

Photo Credits:
Miguel Henriques
Jordane Mathieu

Why Do We Do What We Always Do?

I’ve been a little down lately.

For anyone who ever feels the effects of depression, that’s code for: crying sporadically, feeling worthless, and avoiding people in general.

On the plus side, I’ve been doing some thinking. How? A detached, more logical human often steps aside from the involved, emotional creature on the floor and studies her like an anthropologist.

Here are some of my observations:

  1. When feeling bad, I try to feel worse.
  2. I really just want someone to love me, so I hurt anyone who gets close enough to even talk.
  3. Although self-care and routine would help, I intentionally do not sleep and avoid cognitive behavioral therapy-like activities.
  4. I often think nothing will get better, though a hormone shift completely alters my perspective.
  5. Despite knowing to avoid vices, I dive right in.
  6. I tell myself mean, cutting, disparaging, rude, abusive, sarcastic, reproachful, cruel phrases that I also say are all true. They’re not.

In short, mein patient, I haf observed that I not only shoot myself in the foot; I also get the arm, gut, and a hopeful shot near something vital. Why?

Fear. Self-protection. Habit.

Fear? I fear change and the unknown so much that I sink back into habits and negative feelings because they are more familiar. I do not know the outside.

Self-protection? What I do know of the outside is painful. People are rude and hurt me, even by not paying attention –especially by not paying attention. Things I hope for will not come true, I will feel sad, and the world is full of disparity.

Habit? Besides those reasons, I do not have enough motivation to believe that the small steps others (including myself) recommend will make a positive change. I inch a toe out just a teensy bit toward a better habit, see little or no difference, and crawl back to my mud.

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So what’s a person to do?

In actual practice, I repeat my ingrained cycle over and over. I avoid self-motivation by constantly blocking ways that might help. I deny outside help, even shutting the door on physical interventions as simple as a hug. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for in doing this.

Yet, occasionally, the outside observer and the person on the floor become one. I blink, look around, and realize this isn’t such a great place to be. Others may have this happen the morning after a night of drinking or doping, the moment sedatives wear off, or at that terrible time of early morning when you still can’t sleep and know any effort to try will not be enough.

No wonder we’re depressed.

I believe what I’m waiting for is an outside intervention. I’m hoping that a knight in shining armor will show he cares enough for me always, perfectly, consistently. Motivation is his noble steed. His blade is The Real Truth, and his shield The Defender of All Who Might Hurt Me. He never gives up, never takes, “No,” for an answer, and is never distanced by the rude things my inner voice says.

And, until he charges up to little, fat, depressed, muddy me; I am determined to keep up the bad habits.

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This expectation is not reasonable.

So, what’s a person really to do?

*Sigh* I think I need to cut out the crap. In some cases, literally; like not giving into unhealthy vices. I also think I need to really commit to the cognitive behavioral therapy stuff. I talk about it, endorse it, and encourage others to do it. Then, I …don’t.

As a New Year’s resolution this November day, I am going to check out some free resources and get on it. If you might possibly relate to fear, self-protection, and habit-driven behaviors, I recommend coming along, too.

I am worth better than this, and so are you.

Let’s keep fighting.

The Cure for Depression: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It’s that time again: time to cure our depression. Way back in May, I proposed that curing isn’t exactly possible -BUT I listed 11(ish) ideas that will help a bunch. We’ve talked about 8 or 9 others; like connecting with people, eating right, talking to a doctor or therapist, medicating, and doing happy things.

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Today, I’d like to get into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At least, I thought to get into it. I opened my hand-me-down laptop, typed that big, impressive-sounding word into a search, and then thought, Holy flipping crap! (Yep, I don’t swear often.)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is LEGIT. It has its own, lengthy Wikipedia page.

Aaaaand I’ve just barely heard about it.

Hopefully, that means that all of YOU readers are nearly as clueless as I was, and will be completely impressed and amazed at the paltry light I’ll be shedding on this topic.

In order to type fewer words and to start your education: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often abbreviated to CBT.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (hereafter referred to as “CBT,” for the laziness of the writer) is simply a bunch of exercises to teach our brains better habits.

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Let’s say you’re a little kid playing with a hose out in the mud. You, sweet little unsupervised thing, have full command of an entire patch of mud and have decided to make trails and paths and mountains and mudpies. It’s a glorious, messy afternoon!

Using only the best sticks you find laying around, you begin digging waterways. The hose water follows. You’re a kid, so are not quite the best at design and such. Some of your water pools at places, overruns its banks at others, and ultimately empties right into the neighbor’s back fence and washes away their freshly-planted flowers.

Oops.

Your counselor/therapist/doctor comes over to help. “Let’s turn off the water first,” s/he says. “Now, my good friend and trusted colleague, CBT, is going to gently help you with mud-forming.”

You aren’t exactly sure what a colleague is, or CBT. You just want to play in the mud, and get the neighbor to stop yelling at you about a little water. You shrug, and watch what CBT starts doing with your mud. CBT builds up a turn, repairs an overflow area, and (most frequently) digs new paths into less destructive directions.

What’s more, CBT is telling you what it is doing and how you can do it, too.

My paid friend keeps telling me that my brain has learned behaviors (almost all negative) and I need to stop and complete them with the more-positive truth when negative thoughts come up. Psychologists refer to these learned behaviors as cognitive distortions. Like the mud and water analogy, our mind forms automatic reactions to situations or thoughts or feelings in order to handle them next time; and, like our first, unguided attempts, they’re not always the best.

These automatic reactions are like cringing when hit in sensitive areas, crying when our nose gets hurt, or kicking our leg when the tendon below our patella is hit.

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CBT is training to get over knee-jerk reactions. It’s still having the jerking, but toward somewhere that doesn’t actually kick someone and, especially, leaving us feeling happy that we kicked our leg instead of then kicking ourselves for doing it.

Doesn’t CBT sound fantastic? I think it sounds a bit difficult, myself. How do we get started? Can we actually change how we think? I am not very successful at self-run things, and (yep) I tell myself that I’m not very successful.

First, I highly recommend getting someone professional to run this for you. CBT is the most common therapy of its kind. However, like many major startups, it has spawned subgroups of more specific subjects, die-hard zealots of original teachings, and side-therapies of similar names run by leaders who couldn’t get credit for starting the first one. Some professional navigation of these twisty roads will help you.

If you’re poor, shy, or just starting out, there are self-help options. A blog I somehow found recently lists online worksheets. Other sites exist, as well as books you can purchase.

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CBT really does help. My counselor is of the camp that minor mental issues are wholly the result of years of negative thought processes and reactions. Other doctors advocate for mostly medical measures, no matter how minor. I think the farmer and the cowman can be friends and meet us halfway.

Most health professionals agree that medicine and therapy, together, are the winning combination for fighting mental health issues.

Our bodies become resistant to medications and substances. Our hormones and brain chemistry change with time and stressful situations. Our motivation becomes dependent on that boost we get from outside stimuli, like prescriptions, drug overuse, and stimulants.

CBT is very nearly the silver bullet of therapies. It empowers YOU. It teaches you how to better handle your own brain -which is great because that’s what you’re stuck with all the time! Even doctors, as empathetic or sympathetic or knowledgeable as they are, cannot EVER understand exactly what you feel and experience. They have their own brains, not yours.

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I’m running a bit long here, even with shortening Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to CBT so many times, but can’t leave without some practical advice for all y’all. Here’s one type of CBT method you can run through, from wikihow:

  1. Notice when you’re negative.
    My therapist had me make a list what I know about me. It was about 80% self-critical and even the positive items were less-complimentary.
    Or, meditation is an option. Take at least ten minutes without distraction and pay attention to where your thoughts and feelings go.
    Think about a situation in the past that was negative.
  2. Recognize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.
    Obviously, if you were dropped from a speeding airplane by members of the mafia into a boiling volcano, you had little control over feeling dead afterwards.
    But most situations, even sucky ones, do not cause our bad feelings at the end. WE cause them. YOU cause them. Your natural, poorly-designed mud paths caused the overflow of emotion.
    See the connection, and tell yourself that you felt bad because you had bad thoughts.
  3. Notice automatic thoughts
    All during the day, stuff happens. Automatically, we have some sort of reaction to the stuff.
    Let’s say I went to the store and realized I forgot my credit card. It’s back home in the freezer or whatever. An automatic negative thought from my brain would be, You’re always forgetting things. Further, I would think, Now you have to put all the groceries back. You should never come back to this store again.
    ALL THOSE are not good.
    I need to stop, drop and roll -er, *ahem* I need to stop that thought, way back when it started. Then, I tell myself it’s negative. Finally, I decide to tell myself something more like, Oops! I’ll look for some cash. I’l ask the cashier to hold these for me while I look, or drive home. Heck, I’m not the first person to forget payment; they’ll work with me.
  4. and 5. Talk about core beliefs. Specifically, about tying the automatic cognitive distortions to faulty internal beliefs.
    I’m not in favor of this step, because it’s self-analyzing. Getting into my terrible self-esteem and my potentially-damaging childhood without assistance sounds like a worse idea than the ones my mind comes up with.

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  1. Identify cognitive distortions. This may help with stopping the negative thoughts. Like, you can tell yourself, “I’m not a terrible person! I’m just overgeneralizing. It’s a typical misconception.” Common distortions listed on wikihow are:
    -Catastrophizing by predicting only negative outcomes in the future
    -Having all-or-nothing thinking
    -Discounting the positive
    -Labeling something or someone without knowing more about it or them
    -Rationalizing based on emotions rather than facts
    -Minimizing or magnifying the situation
    -Having “tunnel vision” by seeing only the negatives
    -Mind reading in which you believe you know what someone is thinking
    -Overgeneralizing by making an overall negative conclusion beyond the current situation
    -Personalizing the situation as something specifically wrong with you

Hopefully, this first method of 6(ish) steps works as a starting place for you. The wikihow article lists two other methods as well.

Besides these suggested steps, I’m a big proponent of creating an initial positive environment. I feel like I’m constantly in a negative haze, self-protected and negatively-pressured to the point of not sticking a toe out into the world.

A suggestion from my counselor was to think back on a time when I felt happy or good. Then, I was to keep asking myself, “Why?” until I traced it to a core emotion. For example: I said I’d felt happy driving to the appointment. Why? It was sunny and warm outside and I was alone. Why did that make you happy? I like feeling warm and comfortable. -Holy crap! I like being comfortable. Comfort was my core emotion.

One may also repeat a mantra each morning and evening. Something like, “I am of worth. I love myself;” or reciting an uplifting poem.

Morning meditation is good as well, or prayer.

Whatever activity you do, the goal is to create a positive atmosphere. We want to start our thoughts in a better direction and keep them going that way. Over time, your brain will form better neural pathways. You won’t flood anyone’s flower beds. You’ll have the practice and skills to handle past habits and fight new triggers.

And don’t get discouraged. You’ve had your entire life to build these habits; you can’t change overnight but you can change.

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unsplash-logoArtem Bali
Pixabay
Pixabay
unsplash-logoSharon McCutcheon
Pixabay
Wikimedia Commons
unsplash-logoTyler Nix