October 12, 2007

From Depression to Decompression

Here's a story, purportedly mine, that is only a couple of weeks old, yet it already feels like it happened to someone else.

One night, I did The Work with a friend on the thought, "I am getting depressed again." In spite of all the inquiry I have done and continue to do, and even though I no longer see myself as "a depressive," depressing thoughts return sometimes. Every now and then I get mired in them, temporarily.

I called my friend because I didn't even know what I needed to work on at first. I'd been afraid and bitchy for days. Sitting with my thoughts alone was excruciating. Sitting with others, the people I work with and mentor, I was concerned that if I were to be self-relevatory, I'd be taking away from their time, their needs.

Perhaps I had been overly honest while participating in a recent conference call; with the exception of writing, I'm not yet entirely comfortable with public vulnerability. Perhaps it was because, with the seasonal changes in temperature and light, I was experiencing a rerun of my old Seasonal Affective Disorder story. Maybe it was because I hadn't gone swimming outdoors in a few days; I get off track when I don't eat well, rest, and exercise in addition to working with my thoughts. Also I haven't slept well in over a year. When sleep doesn't happen, other things tend to go out the window.

Blah, blah, blah, and on the thoughts go.

While believing the thought "I am getting depressed again," I started back-tracking in many ways: punishing myself for being human, blaming the old brain chemistry story for my recent outbursts, feeling yet again that I ought to throw in the towel, take down my blog and website, get a "real" job, stop pretending that I am in any way qualified to do what I do. I was either forgetting to do simple self-care things, like brushing my teeth or eating breakfast, or putting them off until uncomfortably late in the day.

I revealed all this in the course of inquiry. And then came the turnaround: "I am not getting depressed again." It could be as true, I reckoned; I was not too depressed to reach out to my beloved friend, to stop being available for my clients, to recognize I was "off" and in need of inquiry.

Was there another turnaround, my friend wanted to know? My mind went to the opposite of "depressed." "I am getting elated again," I told her, and immediately burst into gales of laughter! In that moment, simply being a woman sitting in a couch taking on the telephone to her friend, there was absolutely nothing depressing. Even as I questioned my fear of returning to a painful story of the past, it ceased to be as powerful or compelling as it had been. Just naming the feelings, and the thoughts preceding them, began to take the edge off.

It's not a mere flick of the mental switch, mind you; without the deep education of the four questions and turnaround, to move from "I am getting depressed again" to "I am getting elated again" would be nothing more than an affirmation, largely meaningless.

In The Work, we don't exchange one thought with another, more uplifting one. The Work is a reductive process, what a therapist friend of mine calls "cognitive de-structuring" as opposed to, say, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a re-structuring of thought patterns. When we inquire, we gradually work our way to the opposites, after calling the mind's bluff about what it habitually has held dear. Otherwise, there is no proof that anything else could be equally true or truer, and the mind needs concrete examples in order to shift its loyalties.

To move from depression to elation wasn't a goal in doing this inquiry, and I didn't even know it was possible. All I knew was that I was caught in a story that was excruciating and therefore may not have been entirely accurate, I recognized a certain stubbornness in clinging to my belief, and at the same time, the curiosity and wilingness to see if there was anything else available to me. I was tired of beating myself.

In retrospect, I am not surprised that I became elated after questioning my thoughts. Depression is compressed, heavy, dense, low. When we question our depressive thinking, we are left with less gravity, nothing to cling to, nowhere to go but up.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

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