cognitive reactivity

Eight Steps for Getting It Done When You’re Depressed

Myriad and LovelyI LOVE my dog. I adore her. But walking her – especially first thing in the morning and right before bed, is a huge pain in my ass. I’m an adult. I know the rules. I have a dog so I have to walk her several times a day.

Similarly, if you have a body you have to bathe it. If you have teeth you have to brush them. If you have a job you have to get dressed and get there, every day that they expect you. What should we do when these simple tasks are SO hard?

  1. Don’t take it as a larger sign. I do this ALL the time. “Ugh! I can’t even get it together to walk Bebop! This is going to be a bad day. This fucking disease is ruining my life and making it impossible for me to do simple things. This is hopeless.” This is an example of the dreaded “all-or-nothing” thinking. Not wanting to walk your dog is just that, a reasonable desire to stay in bed when you’re tired. It doesn’t mean you’re hopeless.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about it. “What’s wrong with me???” It’s not your fault that you don’t want to shower. It’s the expected outcome of a dreaded disease. Remember that you’re sick, you’re not “bad at things.”
  3. Take a beat. Realize what’s going on. You’re sick and it’s making you not want to brush your teeth. That’s it. Bring awareness to your struggle. I find it helps to think the whole sentence to myself. “I’m sick and it’s making me not want to brush my teeth.”
  4. Break down the task into tiny, tiny, I mean miniscule parts. This also helps us avoid “all-or-nothing” thinking. I try not to think about how wet my hair will be after I shower and what I’ll have to do about that. I just think about the shower itself. I let what comes after be Future-Me’s concern. She’s strong. She’ll be able to handle it.
  5. Focus on (only) the first step. If I want to shower, I first have to take off my shoes. That’s something I can handle. Take off your shoes.
  6. Focus on the second. Walk into the bathroom.
  7. Continue to breathe as you do the task. Remember why you’re dreading it – it’s ‘cause you’re sick, not because there is something wrong with you as a person. Breathe through each little part of the task.To Do
  8. Be gentle. Be gentle with this person who doesn’t want to shower or brush her teeth or walk her dog. She’s struggling. She’s trying. She’s making slow but powerful progress. She deserves your love and your sweet, sweet tenderness.

And don’t forget to give yourself a little credit once you’ve done the task. I sometimes imagine the “Rocky” theme for the smallest things. Da-da-DAAA, she walked her dog! She is fucking ROCKING it today!

Second photo by Deni Williams on Flickr.

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Mindfulness #2: A Crappy Day Gets a Second Chance

A New Chance

A New Chance

The other day I woke up in a bad mood. You know the feeling. Bad dreams, groggy, a sense of loathing of the day to come. Shower? Oof. Walk the dog? Eugh. Fuck.

I was sitting on my back porch having a cigarette and feeling shitty about the fact that it looked like today was going to be a bad day. I was especially disappointed because the day before had been pretty good, and I was sad my streak was over.

Here is the moment.

Here is the moment when I felt my mindfulness training start to work.

I thought, “I feel pretty shitty right now. I feel like this is going to last the whole day. I’m mourning a day I haven’t had yet, but the day doesn’t have to go that way. My thoughts and fears about how my day will turn out are not necessarily true – they’re just thoughts and fears. I can, just as we do during meditation, start over. I can let these thoughts and fears pass. Notice them, note them, and let them pass. I can start over. I can have this moment, unburdened by the nightmares that are in the past, and unburdened by the workday that is in the future.”You Are Here

I thought about my body – a little tight from sleep, maybe, but not in pain. I thought about my dog on my lap. Adorable. I thought about the dawn that was happening around me and that didn’t seem to upset me.

I can’t explain it, but it worked. My day became very similar to the good day I’d had the day before. I was able to shower and walk my dog without dragging myself. I was able to get to work just fine, even a little proud. I was able to move through my day without the sense of loathing that was leftover from my nightmares, without the anticipatory dread about trouble that hadn’t arrived yet. – That? That is a BIG deal for a depressive.

I got a glimpse of what it’s like to give each moment a chance, to accept and let go.

And I’m really grateful for it.

Also grateful for: Bebop

Also grateful for: Bebop

First photo by Steven Christenson on Flickr.

I found the second image in a great blog called A Beautiful Revolution. You can find it here.

I took the third picture of my dog, hamming it up.

A Learning Menu

I found researching depression frustrating enough to just stop. But if I’m not learning about something that affects my life this much, then I’m feeling powerless to do much about it. Besides, thousands of people have spent their lives trying to ease this type of pain – I’d hate to skip their findings just because they’re hard to wade through.

I do most of my reading in a miniskirt in a meadow.

I do most of my reading in a miniskirt in a meadow while working out my core.

So I was really encouraged when a friend sent a reading list of interesting articles. Some had me nodding my head, others made me skeptical. They all made me think critically about depression – not monolithic, not all powerful, not murky with mystery. Rather, depression as a cause of suffering like so many others – a cause that dedicated people are trying to understand, a suffering that thoughtful people are trying to ease.

“How the Power of Positive Thinking Won Scientific Credibility” An article on the consequences of “dispositional optimism.” I was especially pleased to read the interviewee’s concern that patients can feel guilty for not feeling optimistic, and relieved to read his stance that disposition is most often not a decision.

“In Therapy Forever? Enough Already” This New York Times article questions the common belief that therapy can and should should take years to work.

The Sidewalk Psychiatrist A blog by a practicing psychiatrist with a casual tone. I’m still digging in, but I think it’s a source of practical perspective from an expert on depression and an expert on the ecosystem of treatment (what are the controversies in the field right now? etc.). He recommends a short book called The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Fighting The Big Motherfuckin’ Sad by Adam Gnade, which I ordered immediately.

Have You Seen a Therapist Yourself?” A thoughtful article on how we think of mental illness and the therapist-patient relationship.

How Mindfulness Reduces Vulnerability to Depression” This article introduces a very helpful term I’d never heard before: Cognitive Reactivity – the degree to which mild negative moods can result in patterns of thinking which lead to depression. Very cool.

Have recommendations? Click through to leave a comment or email me at depressionwhoneedsit at gmail dot com.