A depressed person knows just how insidious internal "talk" can be, and how hard it is to ignore. Indeed, it often appears to be the wise one in the relationship. From the existence of copious evidence to the contrary, to the "knowledge" that the thinking is somehow inaccurate, it feels impossible to ignore. A depressed person can easily state "I know it's wrong, but..." and go on to describe how bleakly they are thinking.
These thought constructs, or narrative life stories that compel our thinking are often so well rehearsed as to become almost hard-wired. It takes time, assistance, and internal effort to create new ways of thinking, but it most certainly can be done. It starts with sharing the negative thinking.
2. Do the opposite of what "the voice of depression" tells you to do.
Wachter suggests, while acknowledging how difficult it is, to do the opposite of what you are being told to do by your depression narrative. "Isolate yourself" - go out to dinner. "Don't bother with breakfast" - eat a healthy one. That kind of thing. The effort of will this takes is formidable, and depression does zap one's energy. I suppose key here is not to be hard on yourself if you can't make it each time. To know that you are attempting the opposite may make the voice stronger for a time - and that means you're winning. Know that. If the "voice" becomes more intense, it's because you are threatening it. Be kind to yourself if you don't get there. Be realistic with your goals, and allow yourself to be proud of those small wins.
3. Don't open virus-infected links.
I like this one. Just as we all know not to download a zip file that is attached to an e-mail from someone we've never heard of, so too can we learn not to follow the self-undermining links in our own narrative. Wachter states:
'If you know that a certain link will tell you "I am a loser," decide to download the "This is what's okay about me" message instead. Instead of opening the "My life sucks" link, you can choose the "These are some things that are good about my life" podcast. Avoid the virus that says, "Everyone has a better life than me" and download "Here are some things I'm grateful for."'
With assistance and practice, and a real desire, you can learn to become aware of these links, and avoid opening them.
4. Upgrade your mantras.
A mantra is a repeated simple phrase that takes on incredible power in the human mind. For many, the mantras of their lives are so pervasive as to have become background noise. There they are at their most damaging and have the most authority. A person who lives with depressive symptoms will be familiar with mantras such as "There's no point finishing that because you're a failure." or "I'm just hopeless so of course I have no partner."
In Narrative therapy, and also something you can do yourself, we would identify those mantras. Note them, state them, be aware of them - bring them into the light to weaken them. In the process of weakening these negative mantras we would seek out positive mantras and strengthen them, building new narratives into your life. You can begin by noting the negative mantras, and replacing them with positive ones that feel right to you.
5. You are not alone.
I suspect this oft-repeated phrase may by now go past without a glance, or even a cynical "yeah right. I am." For feeling alone is a hallmark of feeling depressed, and the negative narratives and mantras feed off this existential fear deeply rooted in us, taking it to terrifying heights. Indeed, as Wachter says, talking with people who don't understand, or who are not equipped for the kind of conversation you may find helpful, can actually make you feel more alone. Had the experience? Terrifying?
This is where friends with patience and empathy are key, and where a good therapist can be critical. This is not a place for medication, it is a place for empathetic counselling or psychotherapy with a person trained to hold that space with you. It is powerful, and with time and training, healing. Mindfulness training is a vital part of controlling your sense of self,and Narrative therapy can take your life story and understand your aloneness in an historical, current, and socially embedded way. It, and you, will be understood, and a new way to be can be co-created. You really will not be alone.
6. Something needs to die, but not you!
Since the days of Freud we have been taught that there is a core "self," an indivisible, baseline "us" that can somehow be sought. However, a dynamic and flexible concept of who we are is generally more useful, and more fulfilling. We can be our "work" self, our "home" self, our "on the train" self - as many selves as there are ways we interact with our universe, bound together by our values and decisions in those moments. All of those selves are who we are.
A person living with depressive symptoms can have selves that are toxic and self-sabotaging. Their aim is to humiliate, to maim, to hurt, and to disable. It is those parts of us that can be rooted out and banished. You are not "depression." It can be separated from you and it can be disabled. It can die. The other "yous" can thrive. This separating of a problem from you is a fundamental practice of Narrative therapy, which seeks to not only address problematic symptoms, but to discover those parts within you that can be encouraged, fed, and freed.
7. One chapter is not the whole book.
Wachter points out a common thread that I also experience with depressive symptoms in therapy - that people feel their life as a static thing that is not destined for change. Now is all there is, and all there can be.
However, as you begin to alter the ways of thinking, your ways of being, your relationship with depressive symptoms, you will notice a shift in your perception of the world. Happiness is not a symptom of a particular job, or money, or any external thing - it is an internal, kind, loved and nurtured state. And it can be learned. As well as having many selves, you also have many and varied interactions with the world around you. Perceiving events in a new way creates a whole new reality. You can re-build your universe.
Which of these points resonates most strongly with you? Have you tried to implement any of them in your own life? Comments are welcome below.
I invite you to read the full article in its full articulate honesty here.
Header Image - Christian Hopkins - https://www.facebook.com/captaintruffles