When I first started therapy I just didn’t realise that it was an interactive activity. I believed that my therapist was there to talk to me and listen to my troubles and offer the odd piece of advice. I thought that at the end of each session we packed up our bat and ball and went home and thought nothing further of the interaction. Oh how wrong I got it!
I know I’ve talked to you in the past about therapy being a participatory sport and I cannot stress enough how true this is. Today though I’d like to share with you one way that I participated in my own recovery.
When Alix first told me that I could control my thoughts I didn’t quite believe her. When you’re depressed and struggling to think of a reason to live you are often bombarded with negative thoughts. Awful, horrible thoughts run around and around inside your head, tormenting you and exhausting you. You try to fight it but it seems futile. The noise inside your head is so loud, telling you that you are worthless and disgusting and a waste of space. I often described it like being in a busy shopping centre with volume turned right up and everyone present was trying to hurt you. It is completely and utterly overwhelming.
So the very first thing we did was to pick just one of the thoughts that was repeating in my head. I chose:
‘You are stupid’.
This thought tormented me day and night and appeared every time I tried to do something or thought of doing something. It was relentless. So with just that one thought I paid attention to when it appeared. This was hard to do at first. I had to concentrate. Often. When I realised that that particular thought was occurring every few minutes I took action. Every time after that, that I heard the thought in my head I said out loud ‘Stop, no more’. And I made an active effort to think of something pleasant.
I must have sounded utterly insane the first few weeks that I did this because literally every few minutes I would call out ‘Stop,no more’. Who knows what people would have thought had they heard me. In the beginning I was a little passive but as I got going and realised that I was stopping the thoughts in their tracks I became a powerhouse. I would yell ‘Stop, no more’ when they arrived. I would get cross at them and I told them to get out of my head. Leave. Be gone. Go.
At first they retaliated. They came harder and faster and were more intense. But I stuck to my commitment and I waged war on them. Every thought, every time. I won’t lie, it was exhausting. But no more exhausting then when they were in control.
And you know what, pretty soon, after a few weeks of total and utter commitment and vigilance I started to make a dent in my thoughts. I became really good at noticing them and stopping them. Soon they slowed down. They stopped coming quite so quickly. Suddenly I found myself in control of the ‘you’re so stupid’ thoughts. I was in control for the first time in my entire life.
So as you can imagine the power went completely to my head. I started doing it with other thoughts.
‘You’re so worthless’
‘You don’t belong’
‘Everyone hates you’
So I took on one thought at a time and when I got it down to a manageable level I moved onto another one. Pretty soon all of the noise that was in my head subsided. It was so much quieter. It was almost peaceful. And I had done it. It was me. Not my psychiatrist or my psychologist or my GP. It was me. I had control and I made the difference. It was hard and it was challenging and I had to be so incredibly committed and persistent but I did it.
Since that time I have had a few depressive episodes. And when I’m depressed the thoughts try to come back. But I’m better prepared now, I’m better at saying no and they don’t have the heat that they once had. I practise my thinking every day. When I’m well and especially when I’m depressed. Doing this means that when depression hits me it doesn’t take me all the way down. It doesn’t hurt me quite as much because I have a defence against it. I have protection.