Recovery from Depression: The Power of Expectation

Recovery from depression depends in part on what you believe is possible for the future. If you are to recover at all, you have to take action at some point. It could be a series of small steps about your daily routine – eating breakfast, walking out the door to get fresh air and natural light, making a point of talking to someone each day.

Or it could be much larger, like going to a psychiatrist and starting treatment, regularly meditating, exercising frequently, taking long walks. Whatever it is, you need to feel motivated to overcome the inertia, to stop the loss of warming energy to the cold stillness of depression.

To feel motivation, you need to believe, however tentatively, that you can change for the better, to expect recovery from the worst symptoms. You’re likely to hit a lot of barriers, though, that make it hard to keep up positive expectations.

When you expect to fail, it often happens that you stop taking action to help yourself recover. The deeply ingrained habits of depressive thinking and belief can quickly take over. You might start making rules and setting goals.

If recovery is not total and permanent, it’s not recovery. Treatments can’t fail, depression relapse can’t happen. You can’t be recovered if you’re still on medication. You have to get better in six months or a year, or some fixed period of time.

Of course, the rules and goals are entirely your invention, but they’re part of the expectations you feel in your gut. If you can’t meet them, the disappointment confirms your deepest conviction that you can never succeed.

My New Book On Depression and Anxiety in the Law and How a Lawyer Life Coach Can Help

I’ve written a new book about depression and anxiety in the legal profession.

And it’s free.

You can get an immediate, free download of “Overcoming Stress, Burnout, Anxiety, and Depression in the Legal Profession: How a Lawyer Life Coach Can Help” here.

The first part of my short book outlines the causes of too much stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression in the law.

The second part provides an overview of how my lawyer life coach practice, created specifically for lawyers and law students with mental health problems, can help someone recover and stay well.

The third part is a list of my favorite books for (1) depression, (2) stress and anxiety, and (3) lawyer wellness.

Rediscovering Who You Are After a Severe Depressive Episode

Blogger Joy Biddell writes, “But what I’m finding even harder than mundane tasks is rediscovering who I am. Depression stole my identity and my joy. Trying to find myself again while still feeling exhausted, low and riddled with anxiety is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Everything I knew and enjoyed feels like a distant memory and building myself back up feels like an impossible task. I can’t remember what genuine happiness feels like. I’ve had glimpses of it, but the feeling doesn’t stick around. I can’t remember how to socialize, even texting friends is difficult. I used to enjoy coloring, church, volunteering, reading, driving with tunes blasting and singing at the top of my voice (even in traffic), going out with friends, going for meals out, long walks with the dogs, my partner and seeing family. All these things are incredibly hard to do now. I either can’t remember how to do them, get too anxious and overwhelmed to do them or physically can’t do them.” Read her full blog here.

Here’s Some Surprisingly Upbeat News About Depression

A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto found nearly 40 percent of Canadians who previously had depression reported feeling happiness or satisfaction almost daily. Although the study cannot predict future relapse, its lead author, Esme Fuller-Thomson, said a year without symptoms and a month feeling happy or satisfied every day is a very encouraging sign. Read the story.

Two in Five Formerly Depressed Adults are Happy, Flourishing

A new study reports that approximately two in five adults (39%) who have experienced major depression are able to achieve complete mental health. “This research provides a hopeful message to patients struggling with depression, their families and health professionals. A large number of formerly depressed individuals recover and go on to reach optimal well-being” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study. Read the News

Making Decisions When Depressed

Blogger John Folk-Williams writes, “Like so many, I experience depression in various forms, yet each in its own way knocks out the decision control center in my mind. At times, I scramble in anxiety and can’t focus enough to pick out one among many possibilities. At other times, I don’t care about choosing – or anything else for that matter – and I let the alternatives fall where they may. Or I make all kinds of decisions, even life changing ones, but none of them seems like a choice. Each one is do-or-die. If I fail to do it, I’ll go right over the edge.” Read the Blog

How to Handle a Depression Relapse

Depression blogger Therese Borchard writes, “For anyone who has ever been debilitated by severe depression, there is nothing more frightening than the feeling that you’re relapsing into another episode. We chalk up the first few days of angst to a bad stretch and hope it gets better from there. But by the time we’ve hit six weeks of crying spells and the kind of anxiety that steals our appetite, there’s usually some panic that we are headed into the Black Hole of Depression yet again.”  Read the Blog

It’s The Thought That Matters: Depression’s Distorted Thinking

I was talking with my best friend, Steve, over some spicy noodles at our favorite Thai restaurant last week. We’ve been chums for the past 17 years.  He’s a Political Science professor at the University at Buffalo here in town. 

steve

Steve’s grey beard and glasses make him look like a long-lost relative of Sigmund Freud.  Our lunchtime talks are always illuminating and, frequently, laugh-filled.  Steve has never suffered from depression. So he’s always curious about my experiences with it.  During our chat, I talked about some hard-won wisdom. 

brain thinking

I have listened to hundreds of people over the years tell me their story about how they experience depression and how it’s affected their lives. Over and over again, these folks have told me how poorly they think of themselves and how crummy they believe the world really is.  What strikes me most about their revelations is their lack of perspective. They are ironclad in their self-condemnations and negative distortions of reality.

COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

Depression expert, Aaron Beck, Ph.D. developed a theory about cognitive distortions and depression.  Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true.  These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions – telling themselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep them feeling bad about themselves.  See which distortions you employ when depressed:

All-Or-Nothing Thinking: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never- ending pattern of defeat.

Mental Filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.

Disqualifying the Positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

Jumping to Conclusions: You make a negative interpretation though there are no definite facts that convincingly support conclusion. Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you don’t bother to check this out. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”

Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Should Statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration and resentment.

Labeling and Mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddamn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Self-Worth: You make an arbitrary decision that in order to accept yourself as worthy, okay, or to simply, feel good about your- self, you have to perform in a certain way; usually most or all the time.

CHANGING YOUR MIND

Okay, then.  What’s the antidote?  How can you possibly change the way you view yourself and the world?  Here are some ideas:

1.         Identify Cognitive Distortions

We need to create a list of our troublesome thoughts and examine them later for matches with a list of cognitive distortions. An examination of our cognitive distortions allows us to see which distortions we prefer. Additionally, this process will allow us to think about our problem or predicament in more natural and realistic ways.       

2. Examine the Evidence.

A thorough examination of an experience allows us to identify the basis for our distorted thoughts. If we are quite self-critical, then, we should identify a number of experiences and situations where we had success.

3. Double Standard Method.

An alternative to “self-talk” that is harsh and demeaning is to talk to ourselves in the same compassionate and caring way that we would talk with a friend in a similar situation.

4. Thinking in Shades of Gray.

Instead of thinking about our problem or predicament in an either-or polarity, evaluate things on a scale of 0-100. When a plan or goal is not fully realized, think about and evaluate the experience as a partial success, again, on a scale of 0-100.

5. Survey Method.

We need to seek the opinions of others regarding whether our thoughts and attitudes are realistic. If we believe that our anxiety about an upcoming event is unwarranted, check with a few trusted friends or relatives.

6. Definitions.

What does it mean to define ourselves as “inferior,” “a loser,” “a fool,” or “abnormal.” An examination of these and other global labels likely will reveal that they more closely represent specific behaviors, or an identifiable behavior pattern instead of the total person.

7. Re-attribution.

Often, we automatically blame ourselves for the problems and predicaments we experience. Identify external factors and other individuals that contributed to the problem. Regardless of the degree of responsibility we assume, our energy is best utilized in the pursuit of resolutions to problems or identifying ways to cope with predicaments.

8. Cost-Benefit Analysis.

It is helpful to list the advantages and disadvantages of feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. A cost-benefit analysis will help us to ascertain what we are gaining from feeling bad, distorted thinking, and inappropriate behavior.

The best place to learn to challenge your thinking is with a skilled Cognitive-Behavioral therapist.  It’s much harder to try to do this by yourself because you can’t see the forest because of the trees. 

Copyright, Daniel T. Lukasik, 2014

 

 

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