Reducing Depression with Kindness

Photo: Stephen Davies, stock.xchng

What do you think is the opposite of depression?  Perhaps happiness or liveliness? Or maybe kindness? I’ve recently found that kindness has really helped to lift my mood. This is probably because I sometimes have thoughts that are quite harsh accusations, for example: ‘I’ll never get better’, or ‘I’m always making mistakes’.  Today I had some pretty depressing thoughts because I was trying to make decisions about my daughters schooling, which is an emotive subject for me.  I was disappointed because despite the medication and treatment I knew I was slipping back into old patterns of over analysing and worrying.  What seemed to help was kindness and an idea from cognitive behavioural therapy about Wise Mind.   The concept seemed a bit corny at first, but the it really helps me.  Here’s the theory…

Wise Mind (Linehan 1993) is the part of our mind where ‘Emotion Mind’ (thoughts based on distressing feelings) and ‘Reasonable Mind’ (rational thoughts) merge together. Wise Mind helps us make sense of our thoughts and feelings, and come up with a balanced and wise response, so that the needs of both Reasonable Mind (what I should do) and Emotion Mind (what I want to do) are met (Yes, Reasonable Mind is right, but Emotional Mind needs to be soothed…). Usually quietly calm, it’s that wise inner part of us that just ‘knows’ what is true or valid. Carol Vivyan 2010

For my own use, I’ve translated it in to Kind Mind, or to use in prayer as listening to God. First, I stopped, got my pen and paper out wrote down my feelings (depressed) and my thoughts (‘I’m worrying just as much as ever, despite all the therapy and over analysing the decision about my daughter’s schooling.’)

I then had a coffee, chocolate and sat in the garden, which is additional to recommendations of the Wise Mind theory, but it works for me!  I then searched for my rational mind which said ‘OK, so you over-analysed.  But it is a difficult decision to make and you still made some progress with the decision.’  Then after more chocolate and some prayer I had a look for my Kind Mind which said, ‘You are still learning to be well and it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes.  Situations about your daughter’s care are those which are most tricky for you, so no wonder you found this difficult.  In your heart you know what you think’s best for her, so trust your instincts.’

And as if by magic the depression lifted – truly.  I have to say though, that it took some discipline and hard work to stop and look after myself. It also seems a bit artificial  and clunky.  But I’m assured by my therapist that with practice thinking in ways to sooth the depression becomes more automatic.

Making an ACE Recovery from Depression

Photo: Ove Tøpfer, stock.xchng

My treatment switched from anxiety to recovering from depression for a couple of weeks.  One of the things that helped was to complete an activity diary and record my activity in terms of Achievement, Closeness and Enjoyment.  I identified each activity – for example watching telly with my husband whilst having an cuddle and chocolate and scored it our of 10 for achievement (0), closeness (10) and enjoyment (10).  The idea is to appreciate which activities are the most useful and to do more of them.  I made a surprise discovery that one of the things I most enjoyed doing at that time was the aforementioned cuddle watching telly (with chocolate)!  Before this exercise I had thought (rather harshly) that all TV watching was a waste of time because it didn’t achieve anything – how wrong could I be!

Climbing out of depression and darkness

Time for a progress update.  I started learning to beat worry in September 2010 and am writing this in May 2011.  March and April have been  really difficult months for me because I:

It has been a time of darkness, but things have turned round since then and left me with a backlog of helpful things to write-up, so watch this space!

Cognitive behavioural therapy round the bend

Photo: Andre Hannah, stock.xchng

Hmm… think I over did the therapy.  I used cognitive behavioural therapy to make a whole new set of rules for my life, going cold turkey on reassurance, challenging my intolerance of uncertainty (many times) and trying to learn how to problem solve.  It was all too much.  However, I was making progress with the CBT (my scores were getting better each week) so my therapist understandably discussed moving to the next stage, which would have brought me closer to finishing therapy.  The thought of finishing therapy, whilst still finding life such a struggle led to a fairly sudden depression.  It seemed that there was no way out, therapy (which I had been counting on) didn’t seem to be working and I felt I was stuck with the anxiety, facing a life of continuing bouts of depression and anxiety.  Grim.

One good thing was that even in the depths of despair I did want to get well, primarily for my daughter whose picture I kept by my side.   I am lucky that I have wonderful family and lovely friends, but at the time I thought they would be better off without me.   I also remembered that the way out last time (14 years ago now) was to tell a few well-chosen people and to get help.  Which I did.

Slowly the almost physical sensation of cement in my stomach and my sense of hopelessness started to lift and I began to be able to see in colour again.  My medication was doubled, I was referred to a psychiatrist and I had the courage to continue with therapy.  What did I learn?  I had thought that CBT would be ‘The Answer’ and that I would learn a series of techniques or rules that would enable me to live life without distress and worry.  What has emerged is that it is possible to live without a great pile of rules to keep yourself safe and the process of therapy from this point forward has led to significant recovery… as will be identified in the next installments.