Predictable, steady, expectable, certain, sure, unsurprising, humdrum, obvious, and foreseeable.
That is my life.
And that has been my life for several months. I guess it is always something. And depression has clouded my life with generous helpings of unhelpful thinking.
A year ago, I was fixated on not being able to get started in the morning. It took five months of talking about it to resolve the issue. It turns out my medication was the culprit. But for months. my issue was that unhelpful thinking was keeping me from seeing what was really going on.
Finally, I got the buy-in of my psychiatrist and we reduced the dosage of Prozac.
This resulted in my ability to get out of bed once again without hours of fighting with myself. When I was having trouble getting out of bed, it was a struggle. I even would try rock, paper, scissors with myself, hoping to use the outcome to get out of bed.
But that just made me more anxious as I would change my mind about whether the outcome meant I should stay in bed or get up. You can’t believe how good I feel not having to fight with myself to get up.
And now I want to feel joy.
It seems like I am never satisfied. After all, I am alive, I am Covid-free, I have a job I enjoy, and I live in a house on 5 acres nestled into the edge of the mountains making up the Skyline Drive. My neighbors include deer, fox, rabbits, hawks, owls, and the occasional bear.
On the surface, life looks sweet.
Then why am I worried about not being happy? I mean, I am OK. My health is good, I eat well most of the time, and get plenty of sleep. My alcohol consumption in the past few years has been almost zero. I am not a smoker. Now I could get a little more formal exercise. This has been a challenge.
Between Coronavirus restrictions and my depression, going to the gym has slowed to a complete stop.
Recently, I came across the daily workout cards my personal trainer had prepared for me. Yes, at one point within the past 2 years, I was getting to the gym 4 to 6 days a week. And once a week, I was meeting with my personal trainer.
So maybe not getting to the gym is the reason I have no joy in my life.
That is probably not true but is the one thing I am not doing right now. This line of reasoning is probably just an unhelpful thinking style. In fact, it is an unhelpful thinking style.
This leads me to Five Unhelpful Thinking Styles:
- Mental Filter – Only paying attention to certain types of evidence.
- Jumping to Conclusions – There are two types; Mind-Reading (imagining we know what others are thinking) and Fortune-Telling (predicting the future).
- Emotional Reasoning – Assuming that because we feel a certain way, what we think must be true.
- Over-generalizing – Seeing a pattern based upon a single event or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw.
- Disqualifying the Positive – Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for some reason or another.
It seems I could be using all five different types of unhelpful thinking for this one issue.
So, here I am feeling adequate, not joyful. Maybe I should be thankful that I am not dead, or in the hospital, or struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps I should leave well enough alone and not expect to experience the core emotion of joy again.
Now that is another form of unhelpful thinking.
Now I am letting myself feel sorry for my condition. This is the beginning of wrapping myself in self-pity and slinking unobserved, into the shadows so I can wallow in my own crapulence (thank you Simpsons).
Thankfully, I recognize that action, and I have been careful not to take the bait.
Depression wants to keep me on edge, unsure about things, even as it suggests I keep whatever I am feeling a secret. It is never in depression’s best interest to have me challenge anything it puts in my path. If I did that all the time, depression and I would hardly know each other.
Depression and I have been together all my adult life, I cannot see it leaving me in the future.
So, then, how do I move forward? Can I feel joy and happiness again? Do I deserve those feelings? Depression is telling me joy is an overrated emotion. Fear is much more predictable. Depression loves to use fear. And for 43+ years, when depression would pull out fear, I would listen.
Today, I can see the fear in depression when I challenge its reliance on fear to keep me under its control.
As I learn new ways to approach unhelpful thinking, I can see how devastating depression’s grip has been on me. And how strongly it feels about me not having joy in my life. So, challenging unhelpful thinking is working when it makes depression mad.
This Friday, I have an appointment with my therapist.
I will bring up my work with the core emotion of joy. Mostly, I will share how I am not able to experience joy. How my days are all OK. Sometimes they are challenging, uncomfortable, and tough. Those types of emotions are easy for me to experience. But when it comes to joy…