We hear a lot about a genetic predisposition to depression. My take on this from personal experience is not that we are predisposed to be depressed, though that may be the end result, but that we are predisposed to sensitivity. I am a sensitive person. I am also a healer. The two go hand-in-hand for me and I have learned to see my sensitivity as a great gift, but it wasn’t always this way. You see, it was my sensitive nature that also made me much more susceptible to anxiety and depression.
We live in a world that can be very difficult for the sensitive person to navigate. It is a world that can often feel harsh, unwelcoming, focused on outward success and rewarding to extroversion and showiness. Not the type of world a sensitive person thrives in, which is more introverted and thoughtful and quiet. Because my sensitive nature was not honored nurtured and understood, I became fearful and anxious. Later, when it all became too much to deal with I developed depression, depression that haunted me on and off from the time I was 13 to the time I was 28.
In this series of articles I will write about my experience of overcoming this depression, being free of it and ultimately thriving. I now know that I will not be depressed again. I know that I will go through sadness and grief, but I will never succumb to that debilitating state that feels like the only way out is death. I may still experience momentary thoughts like this now and then, but they will be fleeting and I immediately begin to implement those tools that get me back on track.
It feels empowering to me to take full responsibility for my mental health and wellness. This does not mean that I am in control of all external circumstances in my life. I know that I am not, but I am fully responsible for my reaction to them. This responsibility for myself is also the cornerstone of emotional maturity. When I take responsibility for myself I don’t take my emotions or stress out on anybody else. I realize that it is my responsibility to do all the necessary self-care that my body and mind need to thrive. As a sensitive person this may require more of me than someone who is less thin-skinned, but that is okay. I do not fret or complain about my nature or the world I happen to find myself in, I do what is necessary to thrive.
In this series I will be sharing those things that ultimately worked for me to manage my anxiety and overcome my depression. I will not go into all the things that I tried that did not work, but will instead distill those that ultimately did work for me. It is my hope that you find some of nuggets of wisdom that will be of help for you.
The first, biggest realization was that there was something that I could directly and personally do about my depression. That something was making changes in myself. This realization came to me at age thirteen with the discovery of the field of psychology and cognitive-behavioral therapy. This was revolutionary for me – that one could actively manage one’s thoughts to change how we feel. Up to this point I assumed my thoughts were an unavoidable part of me and depended on what was happening to me, what I experienced. But by educating myself, I learned that there was somebody else there, somebody that could actually put thoughts into my mind on purpose – me! I could purposefully create positive thoughts, encouraging thoughts, planning thoughts, and this would produce a different feeling than I had before. This was freeing.
Prior to this point I had become a very negative person. The negativity was almost a talisman of superstition that I held on to so that the really horrible thing I told myself would happen, wouldn’t actually happen. Many who are depressed will recognize themselves in this negative “magical thinking.” If I prepare for the worst and told myself the worst would happen, I was actually protecting myself from this happening. Unfortunately this type of thinking is not a fun way to live, nor is it very effective in creating the life we want.
I began to experiment with actively changing my thoughts and with the idea of negative thinking distortions. I learned that the depressed person often wears a realistic, but very dark, set of glasses. The normal person, on the other hand, tends to wear the rosy kind. At first it was definitely “fake it till you make it,” and I merely trusted and had faith that the psychology books I were reading were on to something.
I learned about how our thinking patterns develop from schemas we developed as a result of childhood experiences. These schemas are templates of how we view the world, other people, and ourselves. I saw the world as a dangerous place, I saw other people as being critical of me, and I saw myself as being fearful and often unable to navigate my world effectively. Once I realized what the schemas I was working with were, I could start to challenge these assumptions with more rational ones. Through this challenging of the distortions, I could begin to create new schemas.
Over time I was creating new neural pathways and they became more permanent. I challenged my thinking distortions. I told myself positive things. I pushed away negative thoughts. This pushing away of negative thoughts would evolve over time to the following, personally-directed process:
- I notice the thought, then the feeling associated with it.
- I touch the part of my body where the feeling is and I say to myself, ” I am feeling sadness in my heart,” or “I am feeling anger in my stomach.”
- I sit with the feeling noticing it for a moment. I connect to it.
- I breath out and release the feeling.
- I tell myself positive affirmations.
I found positive affirmations that I “feed myself” over and over, all day long, to be an invaluable tool in changing my neural pathways. They were a simple tool to use. I simply picked the ones that resonated with me and I would repeat them to myself and out loud. I put them on my mirror, in my notebook, in my wallet, even in my care. Sometimes it is easier to repeat an affirmation and bypass your rational mind. The affirmation is a calming anchor for your thoughts. When you repeat it again and again, it can be difficult to harbor negative thoughts. You can read more about these in my article on “Self Talk,” right here: article.
The most powerful takeaway from changing my thinking was that I could be personally in charge of my own mental health. There were so many tools out there that I could use to re-program my mind. It became exciting to figure it out. I didn’t know it yet, but I was beginning to practice mindfulness. I was noticing what was going on internally and I was studying my own internal process. There were many more steps on this journey, the next being that realizing the process of creating positive mental health was correct to do and that there was inherent meaning available to me in this activity. Read about the importance of creating meaning to overcome depression in my next article. If you would like to find out how you can begin to change your thinking patterns and your mood, contact me for a free consultation at 303-242-7824.