I read Ruby Wax’s ‘Sane New World’ recently. On television she unnerves me, but I’ve always found her writing on depression to be heart-crunchingly direct and sort-of-painful to read. Which is the only way to write about it, isn’t it?
In order to write this book she developed expert scholarly knowledge of the brain. She then set about explaining all sorts of complicated stuff in ways that made it seem simple. Phew.
My interpretation of some of this stuff is extremely basic; the more we do a thing the better we become at it. Ergo, depression makes us good at being depressed. You practise playing the piano to become a better pianist, the only difference with depression is that we’re not choosing to play, depression is playing us. There’s a bind.
Neuroplasticity means that we can make physical changes to the brain (Ha, think happy thoughts and you can fly! ) If we can make an intervention in our brains and pause one depressive thought whilst we evaluate its’ actual truth we can find ourselves getting better at not-being-depressed. Knowing that is the simple bit of course, doing it is another thing altogether. I like this little ray of hope though. That’s where the Mindfulness part comes into play in ‘Sane New World’ but call it whatever you like there are plenty of methods of dealing with our ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) if we can be in a good enough place to make a start.
Years ago I had sessions with a therapist who pointed out to me (ouch) various coping strategies I employed when discussing anything emotional. Mostly by responding to my hilarious little asides by not laughing and saying something like ‘I just want to point out to you something I’ve noticed…you’re making a *crack about (whatever) when we are talking about (whatever)… why do you think you’re doing that?’ He didn’t label it, he just did it. *hilarious and sophisticated comment
Aaargh. I hated that. But he was right. And now I have a tiny Jiminy Cricket- esque echo of his voice whenever I’m about to derail a serious & uncomfortable conversation or situation. It doesn’t always stop me, but I know I do it and so it’s less automatic. It also happens when I begin to have catastrophic thoughts ‘It’s the end of everything, I have forgotten to do something at work and I will lose my job…then my home…then I will be cast out by society and have to live on a leper colony and the lepers will ignore me because I don’t have leprosy…waaah.’ Jiminy Cricket Pause. Check the facts. For example – Do leper colonies even exist now?
Again, I can’t say it always works, this time last year I was floored by a depression that has really only just lifted. But I will say that it maybe wasn’t as dark as it could have been. It has worked best for me in dealing with anxiety rather than depression.
One side-effect of all of these methods though is that I sometimes find myself staring off into space or tuning out whilst I do a brain intervention. This probably looks pretty weird. But I am pretty weird, so it’s ok.