The image above is a recreation of what our couple’s therapist drew. Yes, that’s me with the raincloud over my head. For some background, we started up couple’s therapy again because my wife has been so stressed with work, the kids in general, my daughter’s recent behavior(really worth a post in it’s own), and our lack of communication. During our last session after hearing my wife discussing her various stressors. I was asked what I was feeling. I responded honestly that I felt like a complete failure in all aspects of my life. I feel so unhelpful and disconnected from her and the kids, and I don’t know how to help. Saying it out loud really hit me hard, and I really felt off and a bit out of it for the rest of the day. The therapist made the drawing and asked what we could do so that I was not only protected but not alone under that raincloud.(the theme of our therapy has been for us to turn to each other during difficult moments instead of turning away). By this point I think I had shut down, but I also was taking the question quite literally. I really couldn’t come up with a detailed plan on what to do next. My wife, being much less literal than me, and quick on the draw, jumped in with “an umbrella for both of us”. She’s sharp that one.
The deep depression from that session lasted the whole day and night. Since then it’s come and gone, and I had thought that I was doing okay. But then, earlier this week I ran across an article entitled Five lessons I learned from dealing with depression . I found it an interesting article. Not because I got new tips or techniques for dealing with depression(I didn’t), but it made me realize more about how my depression manifests.
The first lesson was that our self perceptions are frequently wrong, but following that was the lesson that our feelings regarding those perceptions are valid. This is me! I tend to have a negative self image to begin with, but when I’m more depressed than normal I tend to get VERY negative. In therapy, the “I’m a complete failure at everything” was a perfect example of that. I wasn’t beling melodramatic, I really and truly felt it. What I’ve noticed, is that despite knowing somewhere in my head that I’m not an absolute failure, I can’t seem to answer back to that idea. After relaying the incident to my coach she wanted me to come up a list of achievements and things I have done and learned. I’ve done this before with her, but I couldn’t come up with a good list this time.(Some examples were learning how tie my shoes and driving stick shift). I could start formulating more substantive examples, but I couldn’t follow through due to a mix of immediately rejecting those since I felt I hadn’t done anything well, but also due to a part of me which consistently fights attempts to get out of that negative mindset.
This is where the idea that those negative feelings are valid comes in. The article goes on explain that being told that you really aren’t that bad doesn’t help much. Several years ago, during a more prolonged and severe bought with depression, I tried a Cognitive Behavorial Therapy group. The basic idea is that you take your fear or belief and map out what the worse case scenarios are. The goal is for you to realize that your perceptions are off and that that information will help relieve the anxiety or depression. It didn’t work for me. I could follow the thoughts out rationally, but it didn’t seem to matter, it didn’t help change my negative thoughts about myself. I also felt like it didn’t deal with the underlying emotional aspect, but I digress. I see that same pattern still when I’m trying to answer the negative voices in my head, it is so easy to dismiss the counterarguments to my depression as inconsequential or not really representative of myself.
Perhaps more worrisome, is that, when depressed, to embrace those counterarguments feels like I’m getting sucked out of a sad but comfortable place. It’s like laying in the mud at the bottom of the ocean, it’s lonely and not so pretty and there is a huge weight bearing down on me, but I’ m used to it. To be pulled all the way up to surface feels like it would take too much effort and it’s too scary. Like some of those deep sea dwellers, I would die up on the surface. There is also the feeling that I would have to exert more energy all around.
Reading the article made me realize that I’ve probably been much more depressed than I had thought recently. The stress over my work(I found another lab to work with, but still worried), the kids, and the tension between me and my wife have left me in a not so good spot. I noticed today I felt pretty good. Looking back I realized that I had pleasant conversation with the casual carpool driver (a complete stranger) and I had run a successful experiment with a colleague at work. It’s a reminder that connecting with people is so important to my emotional well-being. I’ve been working on trying to connect more with my wife, which has been hard with my daughter’s behavior issues, and it’s helped a bit. Time to start working on that large umbrella for my me and my wife.