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.

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!

Does CBT have all the answers for anxiety and depression?

I usually shy away from talking about my faith, not wanting to proselytize.  But in truth it is one of the things that’s helped the most for me.  Here are some recent thoughts that have helped as I’ve struggled to make sense of anxiety, depression and faith.

Photo: Billy Alexander, stock.xchng

Maybe when things get dark God is suffering with us

Being depressed and/or anxious can be a lonely business, I worry that I’ll never be free of it.  At my worst I sometimes think the anxiety will make me totally mad; I am so worried I can’t concentrate, so I become forgetful, then feel incompetent and around the bend I go.  In recent times I’ve also felt so low that I wondered how to go on.  But however low I get, I believe God is mysteriously there too because when He hung on the cross He cried out ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me’ Matthew 27 45-46.

Why suffering?

I have no idea.   We are free to make our own decisions and sometimes we do things that hurt ourselves and others.  But I don’t believe that free will, or ‘sin’ are the reasons for all suffering. In the past I worked as an occupational therapist in mental health and my observation of the suffering of others was not something I could find a reason for.  Mental health problems are not our fault; yes we can do some things to help ourselves, but we can’t change our genes.  So I’ve been asking myself to what extent am I responsible for my recovery?

What can we do for ourselves and what can God do for us?

There are times in the Bible where Christ tells sick people to ‘Pick up their mat and walk’.  He doesn’t zap them; they have to take action themselves.  I liken this to my experience, so far of CBT.  Help is on hand, but at the end the day you need to do your homework, even ‘become your own therapist’ if you want to be well.

But our own efforts are not the whole story.  I am convinced that for me, there are times when my striving to get well actually gets in the way of my healing.  Maybe there is a place for surrender, of acknowledging that I, the medical/therapeutic professions and all our hard work is not enough on its own.

Someone recently pointed out to me that whilst Christ Himself sometimes took a proactive approach, at other times, he submitted to God in an almost passive way.  It was pointed out that from the time when our Lord enters Jerusalem on a donkey to the time of his death he totally surrendered to God and allowed events to unfold. He did not control events, or even his reaction to them.

Picking up your mat and walking (gently)

Christ said, ‘I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.’ John 10:10. [When I read this I always hear ‘life in a barn dance’] Sounds simple, but when you feel low it doesn’t seem possible that things will ever get better.  I and many others have tried and tried to get better, done the CBT homework, put into practice new thinking patterns, gone to bed earlier, got more exercise, refused to ask for reassurance, taken the medication, but up with the side effects etc etc, but still we’re not better.

What if all the trying and self-help is getting in the way of recovery?

I was recently challenged by the strange words of Christ.’ You did not choose me, I choose you’ John 15:16. I’ve always been a bit embarrased by this awkward bit of scripture.  I interpreted it to mean that our Lord somehow choose some people but not others and don’t think that squares with a God who created everyone.

But recently I’ve been thinking that this bit of scripture might mean something else.  What if Jesus was talking about initiative; what if he was saying that the initiative for Him being with us originates in God not us.  It isn’t that we are wanting to get better and God has not heard, but somehow if we trust God he will provide the healing and will take care of us.  Our health being a gift, not something that we have to strive for.

Just to clarify I still think that medication, helping yourself, CBT (and doing the homework), varied activities and excercise are all good things.  They may be all part of the healing that God ultimately wants.  But they may not be the only things that matter.  Until recently all my hope had been placed in CBT working.  I was clinging on to the hope that I’d do CBT ‘properly’ and my mental health would be sorted.  And it still might, but CBT is not a rock on which I want to build my life, God is.  That’s all.