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Monday, March 8, 2010

Green Frog Allows Panic to Croak

As many of you know who are familiar with my books, “green frog” is the first mind exercise I stumbled upon in my very first attempt and subsequent surprising success in halting a depressive episode, after more than 30 years of my abject and absolute surrender to depression.

I have gotten a lot of letters from perfect strangers thanking me for the information in my depression books. But it was especially heartening to get an email from a friend, who related to me an incident where “green frog” came to the rescue again. My friend, as you see, is a pretty good writer herself.

Dear Arline

Headed due east on I-80, I was re-hashing the week's disasters and then admonishing myself NOT to, and then repeating the cycle. I could tell my heart was jumpy. Deep breaths, I said to myself, breathe and look at the blue sky and...um...rocks and things and...how could my employer have made such an abusive comment? No, no! Just breathe. Just breathe. --Like that.

In El Centro, my heart was ticking ever faster. I thought food and drink might calm/distract me. I stopped off at a Carl's, Jr, and by the time I was carrying my fish sandwich and giant ice tea with lemonade away from the counter, I knew I was going to faint if I didn't lie down fast.

I sank into a booth, head on the cushion, knees and feet sticking out in the aisle. Several nice people came over to ask if I was okay. I was now embarrassed for making a small scene, worried that I'd just wasted money when I obviously couldn't eat or drink anything at all. The sandwich was getting cold, the tea warm as my heart raced still faster. My lips felt a bit numb. I called my cardiologist. The voice mail said they'd respond within 24 hours. I felt so terribly alone. I slipped out my compact and checked my neck. Oh, my god! I could see my pulse pounding fast. Yet the blood just wasn't getting to my head. Was I dying?

Think of a sunset. Breathe!

No good. I couldn't sustain the thoughts or separate them from myself. I kept getting more scared. And then, I remembered Arline's success with a simple image.

Green frog, I began repeating. Green frog. I'd guess that after only about 20 repetitions, I noticed my heart rate slowing a bit. Green frog...green frog...green frog...

After about five minutes, my pulse seemed normal.

Green frog. Green frog. Green frog.

I sat up. The feeling of faintness was gone. At that point, I had to laugh. I felt so empowered over my panic. I stood, walked to the car, ate my cool sandwich and drank my warm tea as I drove to Phoenix, enjoying the yellow spring wildflowers that had bloomed along the highway after all the recent rains.

I guess any simple image would have worked, but since I hadn't already made one up and would have had to rely on my own thoughts to invent such an image, green frog worked best. I totally lost focus when I tried a few creative variations. Here's the main thing: I HAD TO GET 100% OUT OF MY OWN STUFF. Green frog shifted my mind into another zone which allowed my body to reprogram itself without any input from my fear-soaked thoughts.

Green frog now sits r-r-ribbiting on its own emerald lily pad in my mind, ready to hop in and save me from myself. Thank you, dear Arline, for your amazing insight and this great tool.


For those of you who are not familiar with it, here is the incident of my first “green frog” insight from my book Depression is a Choice:

Sometimes the taut strain of depression would suddenly snap into the sheer terror of a panic attack. My throat would close, I couldn’t swallow properly. My heart would start racing and thumping. I would feel like I couldn’t breathe, like I was going to pass out. I can remember at least two occasions when my husband took me to the hospital because I was sure I was having a heart attack. Meanwhile, all this time, I was continually reading self-help and mind-power books like PsychoCybernetics,14 Think and Grow Rich,15 Self-Mastery Through Self-Hypnosis,16 Dianetics,17 Knowledge of the Higher Worlds,18 Silva Mind Control.

One day I thought I was going to die from the pain unless I got some help. My husband was at an all-day meeting. I called my psychiatrist, but except for my scheduled appointment in three days, there were no openings. I became more desperate. I needed help “NOW, TODAY, IMMEDIATELY!!! There must be somebody who can help me.”

By now I was literally crawling on the floor, weeping, writhing in agony, rolling over and over, smashing myself up against the wall. The pain was unbearable. I would do anything! ANYTHING to get relief. I would even be willing to actually try one of those stupid suggestions and think a positive thought. But I was so distressed that I couldn’t even think of a positive thought.

Thrashing and groping around in the muck and mire of my whining and pitiful mind, I succeeded in coming up with “green frog.” Not brilliant. I wasn’t even sure if “green frog” was a positive thought. But at least I was pretty sure it wasn’t negative one. Anyway, it was the only thought that occurred to me in what seemed like my death throes. So I clung to that thought for dear life.

Every time a resurgent tidal wave of depression engulfed me I would grab onto that thought even tighter, like a life preserver. “GREEN FROG.” “GREEN FROG.” I wasn’t very gentle about it. Like Dylan Thomas’s, “ Do not go gentle into that good night,” I did not go gentle into the night of my depression. I went moaning, and complaining, and throwing up and making myself perfectly miserable. I didn’t go gentle into thinking “green frog” either. If it’s possible to yell a thought into your mind, that’s what I did.

I SCREAMED in my mind, “GREEN FROG. GREEN FROG. GOD DAMMIT. GREEN FROG.” Like a dog with a bone, I refused to let go. After about twenty minutes of hanging on to “green frog” I kind of “came to.” I noticed that the real panic and pain were gone, and I could breathe okay again. I didn’t feel real great, but I didn’t feel real horrible either. I felt tentative, tired, a little wary, like the cautious relief after a bad headache has just gone away but might come back any second. My depression didn’t seem to be there anymore, but I wasn’t about to go poking around for it either. I wasn’t sure if “green frog” had anything to do with anything.

But as it turned out, it did. Because I “got into it” really bad a few days later and again, I grabbed for “green frog” since, who knows, maybe it had worked that other time. Again, I started feeling better after about twenty minutes. Then I got better and better at substituting the thought “green frog” for whatever negative thoughts, or thoughts about painful feelings that were bothering me.

Now, when I wake up in the morning with the beast sitting at my throat, in total despair, I find that a “green frog” turn-around is less than five minutes. It works for the solid heavy pain too, the pain that all of a sudden you notice is packed in your chest tight as dirt, filling in your entire body so that there is hardly any room left to breathe. That pain can just soften and break up and evaporate in five or ten minutes. Actually, any neutral thought works as a thought-jamming device to keep the feelings of depression from getting through to my attention. As I found by experimenting. I certainly got depressed often enough to avail myself of the opportunity.

My little “green frog,” like any nonsense or non-emotional on-purpose thought can, acts as a faithful guard at the door of my mind and as long as I think that thought, no other thought may enter. In a way I guess you could say the other thoughts have to remain asleep, potential only, until I open the door by letting go of my chosen thought. It reminds me of a quote of Goethe’s, a quote which identifies him for me as a fellow traveler in those dark realms I know only too well: “The passions are like those demons with which Afrasahiab sailed down the Orus. Our only safety consists in keeping them asleep. If they wake, we are lost.”

I don’t always use “green frog” to distract my attention from a chemical depression or a chemical high, although, out of gratitude, I have an inordinate affection for it.

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