I'm reading The Depression Book by Cheri Huber. It's pretty good. One thing she encourages is learning to see the patterns in how (not what) we depress. She suggests that when we are in a pit of depression on any given day, really tangled up in it, we get it all out on paper: not what we're depressed about (e.g., oh, my god, I'm a wreck, I can't do this project for school, how am I going to cope, blah blah), but the phrases that show what we're really afraid of underneath the story of our current problems, what we're assuming, and how we have created conditioned reactions to outside events or situations. The exercise shows how we do depression to ourselves rather than are victimized by external events. I spewed out a whole page of phrases like "It's all my fault," "I can't stand it anymore," "I can't handle this, and I should be able to because other people can," "I've let myself and everyone else down," "Other people are so much smarter, calmer, better, more popular, more talkative, better read, more social, informed, far-sighted, and logical than I am," "I'm a bad wife, mother, daughter, in-law, friend, employee, boss," "I'm forgotten and will be alone all my life," etc. You get the picture.
What do you notice about those phrases? Are they familiar? Do some or all of them come up every single time you're depressed regardless of what you're depressed about? Huber says, "They don't vary. They're the same every time" (p.8).
Huber says, "Your depression is not random. You feel, think, say, and believe the same things every time. Perhaps what you are depressing changes. How you depress remains the same" (p. 7). And: "We notice there are sensations in our bodies that go with depression. They don't vary. They're the same every time" (p. 8). We label those sensations as depression, and "with this label comes a learned response" about what we believe about depression: all our phrases like those above come up. Then we have an emotional reaction to the self-talk, engage in conditioned behavior (usually avoidance/escape, she says, such as I must quit, leave, drink/drug, get divorced, kill myself. I can't function. Again, "the sensations don't vary, the thoughts don't vary, the emotional reaction don't vary, and the impulses toward certain behaviors don't vary. The whole chain DOES NOT VARY" (p. 10). Study this, she says. Pay attention. Become a student of how you depress. Develop an awareness practice. This kind of attention is compassionate toward yourself.
Huber recently said, in response to someone's question about the negative voices in our heads, that when we actively engage the Voices, "YOU'RE GIVING THEM CANDY!" That made me laugh, and I've used it as a mantra this past week whenever I realized that I was feeling depressed and anxious, lost in Voice Land.
What are you noticing about the patterns of your thoughts when depressed or anxious?
for Mindful Monday
© August 18, 2014, post: Donna Pierce
Source: Huber, Cheri. The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth. Murphys, CA: Keep It Simple Books, 1991.
Photo credit: Thich Nhat Hanh, Drink Your Tea, www.plumvillage.org
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