The signs were there. This is what my journal said one day last spring, about four months before I slipped into a painful, debilitating depression.
Not doing well today/this week. Dejected. Tired. Trouble getting to sleep. Frustrated. Stressed. Racing thoughts won’t stop. I want to quit my job and get my life back. Reality is I can’t or won’t.
Anxiety is high. Not getting everything done at work. My focus is inconsistent. Am I ADD too? When I start spiraling down, I can’t seem to stop it.
That’s what I wrote on March 30, 2011. When I saw my therapist that day, her advice was simple: Get through this crisis!
I was going through a stressful episode at work. Like a lot of anxious people, my therapist astutely observed, I attract the anxiety of others around me like a magnet. If they are anxious, I pull in their anxiety.
My therapist also told me to gently bring my mind back to the reality that my job is no different than others. Everybody has stress. It may feel like it, but it's not literally a dragon that I must slay or face a terrible death. It’s a job!
So what went wrong? Why did it all come crashing down four months later?
I am still trying to figure that out with the help of new medicine, more therapy and some self-reflection.
I’m reading a book about co-dependency, which is a broader term than I had previously thought. It’s called “Codependent No More” by Melodie Beatty. Codependency is about more than being an enabler. It’s about learning self-care and, sigh, self-love. That’s not easy for men.
When I entered a partial hospitalization program last summer, I learned some techniques through group therapy. We studied the Crisis Survival Strategies by Marsha Linehan at the University if Washington. An expert on borderline personality disorder (which I don’t have unless you count when it’s questionable whether I have apersonality when I’m really depressed), Marsha also writes about how to distract ourselves when we feel threatened by a mental health crisis.
Her handy way to remember the steps is “a wise man ACCEPTS.” The acronym goes like this:
Activities: Exercise. Do a hobby. Clean. Attend an event. Call or visit a friend. (You get the idea).
Contributing: Volunteer. Do something nice for somebody you love. Or just say something thoughtful to somebody you work with.
Comparison: Compare yourself to others, especially those who are worse off. (It will remind you that it could be worse and you are probably quite fortunate).
Emotions. Watch a movie or listen to music that will change your emotions for the better. (Don’t watch "Mommy Dearest" if you are depressed. Maybe go with "Old School" or even something lame like "The Sound of Music").
Pushing Away: Push the situation away by leaving it for a while. Take a break from your worries. (Maybe pull up jerryseinfeld.com. He now puts up bits every day that are “fantastic,” as Jerry might say).
Thoughts: Count to 10, watch TV (not the news), read, or do anything that will change your thought pattern (Remember our thoughts determine our feelings. Simple but profound truth).
Sensations: This one sounds nutty if you’ve never been in therapy. One proven technique if it’s a really bad day is to clutch a piece of ice. Or squeeze a ball. Or have sex (that one really is on the list, honey).
Maybe one reason I crashed this summer is I didn’t know these techniques. They don’t always work, but knowledge is power, and effort, any effort, to change our negative thinking is better than stewing in a pot of self-pity.
Source: From Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan.