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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to Effect a Thought Change

When we're in a downward thinking mode, everything and everyone we see lacks charm and worth for us. We criticize everyone. Sometimes we don't even stop at criticism, we condemn everyone for their obvious flaws and faults. If we are really honest, we are angry with everyone. We are angry with the world as it is.

What we forget is that it is very painful to be angry. Fear is painful and anger is just fear turned outward. Sometimes we get so "into it" that we project our anger inwards and out. We don't like ourselves very much and we certainly don't like "them."

What we need is an attitude change. But our attitude doesn't change unless our thinking changes first. And this is very hard to do when we are deep into a thought pattern. It's a great trap. The deeper we get into it, the harder it is to get out of it.

Sometimes I find this simple device helps. I say to myself "It is now time for a thought change." This seems to be more effective than to try to change to producing positive thoughts from a deep negative attitude. Then I can ask my brain to come up with something positive. Anything. Sooner or later, if I continue to insist earnestly,  I always think of some tiny benign thought.

This morning I found I could come up with a positive thought about my dog. (I didn't even try to think of a positive thought about my husband). Start small. Then I could think something nice about the trees. I went from there and bam! Midway in my virtuous thinking the negative thought pattern started up again. So I said to myself "no habitual negative train of thought here please, get back to thinking something nice. " I kept insisting and insisting and insisting and insisting. After a while a few nice thoughts "stuck." After a while I got out of my doom and gloom and called a friend for lunch.

But I never forgot, even during all the negative thinking and the pain it caused me,  that I knew I was sourcing all this darkness for myself. I had only my thoughts to blame and I could change my thoughts. It took a lot of effort to make the change. I never gave up. It was worth the effort.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

You Are What you Do. You are what you Think. Forget How you Feel

When you are depressed it is so easy to give in to it. Don't ever just give in and give up. Get up and get into something. Be nice to someone. Call a friend. Go to the library and get a biography and read about somebody. Smile anyway. Be cheerful anyway. You may not have immediate control over your feeling.  But you have complete power over what you physically do, and you can choose what you think, and you can  impose nonsense or neutral thinking on top of thinking about your despair. Keep at it and the thinking about your despair gets weaker as you keep bumping it aside and think something else instead of it.

It is easier to control your physical behavior than change your feelings out of horribleness. Physical behavior includes choosing what you think . Thinking "row, row, your boat" may not be great philosophy but it can momentarily stop you from thinking how bad you feel. Every small thing you do other than thinking about how bad you feel lessens how bad you feel. Little by little you can act and think yourself into a better place than despair. You can source this for yourself. Take a deep breath. You are not alone. Even looking out the window can broaden your outlook just a little.

I am doing some booksigning and as I see people walking by I am grateful for them being there. Imagine a world where there was nobody and we really were all alone. We should be grateful for the least of these we see on our path. They help us remember that we are never alone. Sometimes I see someone who could be described as homely, very heavy, or a huge nose, or badly dressed, or angry looking, and I imagine them sitting across from me in some quiet old-fashioned small cafe,  having a cup of tea, and they are telling me about the story of their life--their sufferings, their hopes, their small dreams. Somehow I am more interested in the "different" and "less attractive" people rather than the attractive, well-dressed "all put together" "successful looking" people.

These people have no idea they are at all important to me as they walk by but I often send out my love to them and hope their burdens seem less heavy because I, the stranger at the book table, care about them. In caring about them, I focus less on myself. Self focus is road to despair. I would rather focus on my fellow man and my gratitude that, because of him, I am not ever alone. 

When I'm home again I can be nice to my husband and pat my dog to acknowledge his wagging tail of greeting. It all helps to ground me to the world and take me out of myself. The smallest act of outer direction beats self-focus.  Refocus out there. Don't self-focus. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Family has a History of Depression

Dear A. B. Curtiss

Just wanted to drop you a note and say "Thank You" for writing "Depression is a Choice." My family has a history of depression (my grandfather struggled all his life with depression, even had electric shock therapy, and eventually committed suicide in his 80's, my Uncle was also manic depressive, and my mother started manifesting depression after her 4 kids grew up, she has been in a cycle ofdepression/"normalcy" for the last 10 years or so).

When Mom was in the midst of one of her depressive seasons, I happened across your book in the bookstore and have read it twice. Your personal insight was (and is) refreshing and extremely helpful.

Thanks again for writing the book! J__________

Dear J_________

You are welcome. If you have any questions don't hesitate to write and you might also find Brainswitch out of Depression helpful. If I could describe the difference between the two books Depression is a Choice is the philosophy of how you get out of depression, Brainswitch out of Depression is a little more how-to and user-friendly, more  the neuroscience of how you get out of depression. A. B. Curtiss

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Worse Fear About Depression

This question was asked me in a comment to the post  day before yesterday.

My question is. How do we remind ourselves when we are in that fearful state of mind ruminating over how the hell we are going to get out of this "mess" we think we are in. Do we put up flags?

Here is my response:

One thing that can ease your mind is that the very fact that you are aware you are depressed and that it is you, yourself, that produced the condition. That alone is  already lessening your depression. Then when you attempt any distraction exercises, dumb songs, physical exercise, getting to work, anything you do, even if it doesn't "work" is already lessening your depression. 

Then when you find that you have some moments free from pain even though they are short-lived they are already lessening your depression. Anything you do to awaken yourself, to take action, to consider taking action, to take action and fail and start again. That is already lessening your depression. The only thing you  need to remember is NEVER GIVE UP taking charge of your thinking. Thought--our only power.

Anything you do to connect with others, anything you do to remain cheerful, lessens your depression. All of this is building a new neural pattern.

We forget and when we do all the things that I mentioned, we, in effect,  EFFECT what we forget we can do. It is always a possibility to effect this, but as we practice taking charge we keep approximating and enlarging upon the possibility. It is a matter of what we pay attention to, our light or our darkness. Learn to direct your attention where you want your thinking to go. I'm tired and going to bed. so this is a bit disjointed.A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Oh thank you  Thank you! Disjointed or not I really needed this. The never give up part. I can remember that. It’s a lot easier than the other stuff I feel like I have to remember in order to get out of the pain. And If I understand the last part correctly, what you are saying is that we expect the tools to work beautifully every time and when they don't we forget the fact that we've already affected the pain just by doing what we've been doing.

My worst fear at the moment is usually one of losing the ability to keep perspective in this ocean of thought that seems to have vortexs into other worlds that aren't real. Staying out of the vortex is easy until you get sucked in and believe that you are the vortex (bad thinking). Learning that we aren't our minds is great! Unmeshing ourselves with the painful mind, That's a bit more complex. You teach that its as simple as a thought. I believe that, I just have a hard time focusing enough to do that sometimes. Thanks again. :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Find the Way Back to Your Own Loving Heart in Service to Others

My daughter-in-law sent me this response. She is right. We could probably dump all the anti-depressants and mind exercises if we could  just remember this. Why don't we remember?
My favorite trick for getting out of the doldrums is service to another. I have a great outlet because at any time I can give massage]  other options: volunteer at soup kitchen, elder care, read to kids in school, walk a dog at the humane society, buy a new sleeping bag and give it a homeless person. if I can stretch myself out of myself, my little life seems to be put back in perspective. it's kind of a secondary side effect if the service happens to have value for the other person. I do it purely to gratify myself, therefore I don't need gratitude from the other person. It worked for scrooge. When he had lost the ability to connect with others and realized he was adrift in the hell of isolation, he bought a new turkey for the kraggitts. [sp?] I really don't care if service is just distracting me from my own troubles, it works great for me. Always looking for peace and love,


Saturday, December 18, 2010

What to do About the Holiday Blues

I got the following email from a frequent reader of my blog. As I am a board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist, I felt I should come up with some good cognitive behavioral techniques. Maybe a list of Do's and Don'ts for the holilday blues. But is that enough? Is that what she really wanted? Here is her letter

"Tis the season to be reading and hearing about the holiday blues! What, I wonder, is your take on the holiday blues? How would you advise those who report feeling especially sad this time of year?

"Also, I see reports in the media that suicide rates go up during the holidays. Again, if you had the opportunity to speak to someone planning to commit suicide, what would you say to them? I felt so sad when I heard the news of Mark Madoff killing himself, and wondered, what words, what intervention, could have saved him?

It seems that in his particular case, he was unable to secure employment due to the scandal his father was involved in, had lost all friends, and his marriage was rocky. Seems he had nothing to live for in his mind, but surely someone could have helped him move on and get past the loss, shame and pain. Surely someone could have helped him see that life is worth living, even when it seems that all is lost.

Just prior to this man's suicide, there were a number of teen suicides reported in the news. What a shame! It seems this is a method of "problem solving" that is being used more frequently.
Finally, when you encounter someone at holiday time who has gone through some sort of tragedy in recent times, what can be of comfort to them? I simply can't get the story of the Petit family tragedy (in Connecticut) out of my mind. I can't wrap my brain around the crime, and to say that I feel sorry for Dr. Petit, the husband and father of the victims, is an understatement.

I often wonder what one can say that would offer solace to someone who has been through something so horrific.

Do you think that someone who has lived through such horror can find happiness again? My heart breaks for that family.

Sorry if these questions seem morbid. If I encountered someone in these situations, I can't help but wonder how to be of any help. I ask you because I trust that even in these desperate scenarios, I believe a therapist would know what do to and say. I believe that you could help people under the most trying of circumstances.

Here is my response to the letter:

What is my take on the holiday blues? All of us are subject to the blues now and then. Holidays are usually worse, I think, because our expectations magnify our interest in our feelings. It is a tempting time to self-focus. Self-focus is always the road to holiday blues and depression Hell.

If our lives are going pretty okay, we expect to feel good. Even worse than our expectation, we are upset if we don't feel good. We are more upset than usual around the holidays if we don't get to this good loving place in our hearts. And if we don't help ourselves out of our upsetness, we start feeling worse. If our lives are not going so well, we expect to not feel as good as others during the festivities going on all around us, and this is even more upsetting and harder to bear.

What can help us? No matter what our situation or condition, we need to acknowledge that every human being needs the same thing. We all want to matter, and we all want to know that someone cares about us. And we forget, when we get too self-focused on our momentary despair, that we are already that which we despair of being. We do matter, and people do care, and this is the abiding, not momentary situation.

"Having never left the house we are looking for a way home."          Old Eastern saying

We need to source the positive in our own hearts and stop sourcing the negative of our fearful minds. We always have the power to do this. We just forget.

"The Word became flesh but that does not mean it ceased to be The Word."       Joel Goldsmith

Sourcing our Absolute positive is not easy to do. It is simple but not easy. Often we can accomplish it alone when we remind ourselves. Sometimes we can't. Sometimes we get so into sourcing the mind's fearful negative that we need a little help from the natural good-heartedness our fellow man.

We need each other to be whole, so we need to reach out to each other when we are feeling empty. Go to a near-empty café for a cup of coffee and chat with the waiter. You could volunteer to help at the USO. No human connection should ever be "beneath" us.

"Order is Heaven's first law and, this confessed,
Some are and must be greater than the rest.
Some more rich, more wise; but who infers from hence
That such are happier shocks all common sense.
Condition, circumstance is not the thing;
Bliss is the same for subject or for king. "                       Alexander Pope

Sometimes we can't remember our own beauty for ourselves, we can't source own own love for ourselves. Then we must reach out, however awkwardly and however hesitantly, and reconnect with those who, at our low moment can take the high road for us, and remind us that we are beautiful, no matter what we have done or suffered.

Our needs as human beings don't change due to our circumstances. Dr. Pettit and Elizabeth Smart lived through horrific circumstances but, nevertheless they are reaching out and reconnecting with all of us in a loving way. More than that, they are in the loving service of humanity in their inspiring role-modeling for us the strength and beauty of their empowering human spirit.

One of my neighbors lost one daughter and the other daughter was horribly maimed and burned in a California wildfire. The family suffered so terribly. My son remarked to my daughter-in-law that they were like Jesus? "What do you mean," she said? He answered that they are taking on all this pain and bearing it for us so that we don't have to.

My daughter in law said that she heard Baba Ram Das counsel a woman who was mourning the death her husband. "He's there. Keep trying to find him and one day, you will find him again, you will be connected to him again, and there will be no pain."

Can you think of anything nobler in his suffering than Dr. Pettit? More beautiful, healthy, and good than Elizabeth Smart at the trial of her kidnapper and rapist? She even put it into words for us who might have missed it. Her message to the world is that you can heal and you can come back from a horrific experience. Any one of us could have reached out to Mark Madoff if he had only wandered in our direction. A cup of coffee and a hug might have saved him.

I sent the letter and got this reply:

Beautifully written reply, A.B.!  Thanks so much.  You brought clarity to a lot of things I have wondered about.

Yes, I hadn't thought about it this way, but so often during the holidays,

... our expectations magnify our interest in our feelings. It is a tempting time to self-focus...
We are more upset than usual  around the holidays if we don’t get to that good loving place in our hearts.

Excellent points!   That's very helpful.

I appreciate your thoughts about Dr. Petit and Miss Smart.  Yes, they are heroic and noble examples.  They are using the tragedies that came into their lives to help and serve others.  That is courageous and so admirable of them. I suppose that one thing that would help them, and others who have suffered, would be to remember, Our needs as human beings don’t change due to our circumstances. 

Finally, it's sad but true, Any one of us could have reached out to Mark Madoff  if he had only wandered in our direction. A hug might have saved him. 

That's a good reminder of the fact that we never know what is going on in someone else's life. A simple kind gesture could make a difference we could never imagine. 

Thanks so much.  I will review your essay again and again, as it is so rich. There is so much wisdom to absorb.
Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Depression is fear-based

Sometimes when I keep getting hit  by aftershocks of depressed it helps to keep reminding myself what is happening.I tell myself that I know this is depression, that it is caused by my thinking at the moment and that to get out of it, I need to change my thinking. I also tell myself that my thought is the one thing over which I have been given complete control. But I have not been required to take charge of my thinking. I can choose to or not. And it is in my best interests to choose to.

I tell myself that, when I feel bad, my energy is fear-based and I have the power to change my energy immediately by changing my thought. Energy is not like feelings. Energy is a force that you produce by your thought. Most people produce it unthinkingly--like stuffing down anger, or sending out anger. But it is a force that you have immediately control over, unlike feelings.

So when I find myself slipping into disconnect and alienation and I'm out and about in the world, I choose some passer-by to send a healing, or some kind of a prayer or love-based thought, or even just thinking that they have their own story to tell and if we sat down to a cup of tea I'm sure I would be fascinated by what they have to tell me about their life

It takes a while to get the hang of sending out your loving energy to someone. But when you do it, you can immediately see your depression disappear into a love-based kind of joy. If the love energy doesn't stay with you, find another person to focus on. When you focus on caring about another person, you cannot, at the same time focus on caring about your own pain.

Just keep going forward. Keep taking charge of your thought. You are always more powerful than your depression. Always. Always. We are a force for love or fear. We can choose which.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Phases of Depression and the Exercises to Use to Escape them

Curtiss Phases of depression and the exercises I use to escape them:

Biochemical Phase A: Fearful stress, caused by anxious or negative thinking (of which I may or may not be aware) that has triggered the fight or flight response and dumped a pot load of stress chemicals into my brain. Exercise is good for this phase and sometimes with physical exertion I can actually stave off Phase B. I often use singing songs, counting,1, 2, 3, 4, ; and nursery rhymes if the stress is high and doesn't disappear with physical activity.

Bioelectrical: Phase B: This is the futile, “I’m not good enough,” hopeless phase which seems to be a neural syndrome activated by a sufficient amount of stress chemicals. This is the most painful phase of depression and can get worse and worse up to catatonia if you don’t take action. This phase is easy to succumb to. The exercises I use for both Phase A and B are singing songs, counting,1, 2, 3, 4, ; nursery rhymes to distract myself long enough for the symptoms to subside and then I take up the duties of the day.

Muted Depression: Phase C: This seems to be a kind of series of aftershocks from  a real bad Phase B where low-grade stress and feelings of unworthiness and discontent still lingers and re-triggers low-grade feeling s of discontent and disconnect with the world.

For Phase C counting and singing and nursery rhymes don’t seem to work. For this phase I need some kind of reconnection to nature, or my fellow man, so that I can somehow reaffirm myself as an okay person  who has meaning  and worth to others so that, thus reaffirmed, I can accept myself as a worthy part of the world and can see the world through love rather than fear. 

This phase is not quite as  compelling as phase B but it is still difficult to sustain the awareness that my discontent and disconnectedness  comes totally from my own thinking rather than the circumstances and situations I find myself in, or the conditions and circumstances of some past history. 

It is also difficult to keep remembering and taking action based on the truth that  I am totally self-responsible to get to a better place where I can be a more loving person. Sometimes in this phase I think about ancient wisdom quotes such as "do the duty which is nearest to thee, thy second duty will already have become clearer."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Depression is not Inherited

Dear Ms Curtiss 

Thanks so much for the support.

Sorry, I was not really clear in the question. I mean for anyone who might be exposed to depression and have never experienced depression. For example, If the depression is inherited and some brothers or sisters got it and some not.  R_________

Dear R_________

Depression is not inherited. It is part of the human psychological defense mechanism. Some people learn, early on, if they are not around depressed people, to distract themselves from downer thinking and never get into the habit of depression and so never develop the strong neural pattern that others develop who don't distract themselves from downer thinking that becomes depression. We learn depression from others who are depressed, when the people around us make a habit of not thinking more cheerfully. When we grow up around people who don't get depressed, we don't learn it. We, instead, learn how to be cheerful. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, December 13, 2010

More on the Analogy of Depression

Dear A. B.
I have a question. Can anyone prevent depression, before it happens, with knowledge and education? R________

Dear R________
I can only say that I cannot always prevent my own depression from happening. Sometimes, like the last two days, I have had the shadow of depression around me due to my less than cheerful thinking. I can prevent this from becoming full-blown depression by insisting to keep moving my thinking to more productive areas. And at the moment I am completely back to normal and feeling good after a day and a half of feeling less than good. 

But I can't prevent full-blown depression that happens after I go to sleep. However, I can always get rid of it in a short time and am "usually," thereafter, completely okay.

I say "usually" because the last depression I had yesterday morning was really quite bad. Although I got out of the major part of it right away, and initially felt pretty okay, I was quite low energy, a kind of blah crept in that lasted, on and off, for about 24 hours. I never gave up moving myself toward better thinking. I was even monitoring myself so that I could pass on what worked best for me. 

Number one is that you never give up. When you find yourself meandering into the "blues" you just turn around and think something else. It is not easy to insist on doing better thinking, but that's no excuse.

In a way this last experience has me adding another phase of depression to the A and B parts I talked about December 11. Phase C is a low-key, low-grade kind of unhappiness. Not accompanied by the physical stress symptoms so much as just low energy. Not really depression but not wonderful either. I'm usually feeling wonderful so  I don't like Phase C any better than the other two phases. Maybe worse because it seems to last longer.

Regular mind exercises and singing songs don't seem to work so well to get out of Phase C. The final break for me today was to affirm for myself again that I was feeling a little isolated and my only real hope of getting back to essential okayness was to reconnect with others. Especially with my peers. My own children or grandchildren are not the same as someone with my age, my experience, someone like-minded, sharing my same era. I called my neighbor to come for tea and almost immediately my attitude changed.  I kept thinking how happy I was she was coming over. 

Then, when she started chatting, she said she, too, had been feeling rather blah for two days with low energy. We had a nice chat, kind of reaffirmed each other, and at the moment I am back to being a loving, completely okay person. That's another thing that is important. You can't be a loving person if you are unhappy. They are mutually exclusive. And we need each other. Not a one of us can be truly whole by ourselves.

So my answer is that knowing how your brain works is necessary to get out of depression and sticking to the task of getting out of it is necessary, and reconnecting with one's fellows is necessary. I don't think that preventing depression is as important as knowing how to manage it when it comes. I agree with the old wise saying that it is better to have suffered and survived than never to have suffered at all. Suffering can help us know ourselves in a way that nothing else can. We are better for knowing ourselves. A. B. Curtiss

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Analysis of a Morning Depression

I woke up at 4 a.m. with depression and used the counting exercises to get back to sleep.

(I went back to edit the blog before I published it and I want to say that I was going to change "counting exercises" to "the 1,2,3,4 counting exercise to get back to sleep" which was more accurate but when I wrote it earlier my energy was down, it was "too much trouble" to actually write 1,2,3,4 . I thought this tiny fact might be added in.)

Then I woke up a little after 6 a.m. still with depression. Ugh. It got me.  So I tried to study it in terms of what I wrote last night. Study it in intellectual terms. Two parts, physical symptoms and hopeless futility. Since I actually asked my brain to study my depression I guess I activated some neurons in the neocortex just by doing that. I found I can study it intellectually while suffering it. But I realize that studying is objective thinking about my subjective feeling.

I took a couple of deep breaths which helped the physical symptoms  a little (depression is part physical stress, right?) Then I tried to think of my depression in terms of "what I know about it right now while I have it."

I know it is not going to last,

I can still do anything I want (but I was "too tired" to get up immediately as I had thought earlier I might do to get to the computer "right away." . I didn't get up for 15 minutes.)  Perhaps I fooled myself into thinking I could do anything I wanted  but I continued to study it "in bed."

Then I discovered something new (while still in bed.) Depression  is degrading and demeaning. What is hopeless is not my situation, not my "present reality," depression is not hopeless and horrible and ugly.  "I" "me" "Arline Curtiss" am hopeless and horrible and ugly and worthless. I thought of Rod Steiger who said when I was depressed he was in fear "they would find out I couldn't act. That I'm a phony." I'm not in fear of anyone finding out I'm worthless but the feeling of worthlessness is agonizing and demeaning. I feel defiled, degraded and broken. This wrenches my very gut. Sickening. Horrible. I could throw up.

I got up and came right downstairs to the computer. I noticed it was about 6:30 a.m.

But the computer didn't turn on fast enough and I got annoyed and focused on why the computer wasn't cooperating. Wouldn't you know it,  "of all times."  So I became focused on the computer problem and lost "some bit" of connection with my depression.

Then I figured out what was wrong with my computer that somehow it always registered I had several "firefoxes" going and it occurred to me for the first time (I've had this problem for months) to move the firefox screen and sure enough I found three firefoxes going and x'd them out and then the computer worked perfectly. I congratulated myself on fixing the computer problem

My connection with my depression was weakening due, I think, to my success in fixing the computer problem but I wrote down what I could remember from when I was "into" my depression more a few minutes earlier. It is now 7 a.m. and all the gut-wrenching, demeaning, sickening, despair of my terrible hopelessness is gone. Just a little shadow of it hovering. I still have the physical symptoms--hard to breath, hard to swallow, very tight in my chest area but not terrible pain like when I first woke up. I still feel slightly sick to my stomach and yucky but it is not "that"  horrible anymore. It is bearable. I know the physical symptoms will fade as I get to work.

7:15 now. I am thinking again of Rod Steiger. I feel a real sense of kinship with him. He was not a bad actor in the same way I am not worthless. I am out of  the hopelessness futility part so I don't feel so worthless right now this second.  I guess when we're depressed we really do confuse ourselves, "collapse our sense of" selves into the "feeling of hopeless" and instead of feeling hopeless we "become hopelessness itself." 

All for now. I'm going to get dressed and start my day. Just a little nausous feeling, breathing and swallowing stress symptoms, a little pain in the chest area still but not so bad.  Now 7:30 a.m. A. B. Curtiss

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where Does Depression Come From?

Thank you for your comment yesterday, Ginger: "While I don't sense this is true for you, depression for me often stems from worry and 'what if?' thinking. I identify with my mind, which is quite skilled at projecting itself into an imaginary future, creating fear within me."

It's interesting you are thinking along these lines because I was just thinking yesterday about what exactly does cause my depression. I haven't had any for a couple of days and was kind of looking for it. Perhaps it is counter-productive to be looking forward to depression so you can study it.

But when it does come, it seems to be a syndrome that is made up of (part A) fearful stress which seems to be chemo-biological and caused by fearful thoughts and (Part B) futile hopelessness which seems to be electro-biological and activated by a certain level of fearful stress. The hopelessness futility part is the most difficult to bear. I think

The fearful stress I can pretty much ride out since I have had decades of experience with migraine headaches, panic attacks and claustrophobia in the past. None of which has bothered me for a long time.

Perhaps the fearful stress, if it is intense enough, triggers the electro-biological futile hopelessness syndrome. I am quite sure that when I get rid of a bad depression, it is the electro-biological hopelessness that goes first, then the physical symptoms, which are grosser elements, fade afterwards.

I even suspect that the electro-biological sense of futility is a hard-wired neural pattern for all of us that can remain fairly benign if it is not used much, like in people who are not bothered by depression because they learned, early on, to distract themselves from it whenever it triggered. This seems to be true about my husband who said from an early age he learned to distract himself from bad feelings by going over baseball and football plays in his head--plays in which he always carried the ball.

In Part B I am supported by the research of environmental psychologists who see depression as a vestigal adaptation of an earlier defense mechanism that stopped all action when the path ahead augured in some way for failure. There's nothing more suited to stop action than depression.

But the syndrome can grow into a monster syndrome if it is allowed to activate and reactivate itself by people who don't use distraction early on, like me, the daughter and sister of two raging manic-depressives. I've learned how to get out of depression whenever it comes because I have created another neural pattern, that triggers off when depression triggers off, that reminds me I have the power to do alternative thinking other than thinking about my pain.  But had I learned distraction methods when I was a child, I probably wouldn't get hit so hard or so often.  A. B. Curtiss

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Comments to Blog

Thanks again BLUEYEDANE for you comments. Depression is a strange thing. When you're NOT depressed you simply can't believe in the power of depression. How could your own thinking be ALL THAT bad?

Then when you ARE depressed you can't believe in your own power to get out of it.  NOTHING MATTERS ANYMORE BECAUSE THERE'S NO POINT TO MY LIFE. IT"S HOPELESS. THERE IS NO  REMEDY. I'M DOOMED.

So I guess my path is first, to keep devising better and better reminders to remember my own power when I'm depressed, and then to pass on these methods and my experience with them to help others remember their power when they are in the throes of depression.

It's a real help just to remember each other "out there" when we're suddenly locked in the isolation booth of depression. So we don't forget there is an "out there" and there are "others." We are never alone. And thank God for that. We can trust in this humanity. A. B.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Comment on the Last Post Makes it All Worthwhile

I didn't wake up with depression this morning. I had it last night and used the "Yes, we have no bananas" song whenever I got up to go to the bathroom. I woke up about 6 a.m. but stayed in bed. I noticed I was slightly depressed but the real futility and hopelessness never really emerged because I kept thinking, "Okay, I'm depressed so I can get up and write about it." But I kept falling back to sleep and by the time I got up at 6:45 a.m. I was so well into planning the morning, thinking about writing my blog, a breakfast appointment with a grandson, chatting with my husband as we made the bed, that any residual depression went away with no exercises. I still had a bit of physical symptoms, tight chest,  shallow breath but no real pain in the chest area.

Then I opened my email and got the wonderful comment on the post. I almost said a couple of things yesterday that I thought sounded kind of pretentious or something so I didn't. But now, I don't know, maybe I'll mention what I thought. First thought was, should I keep analyzing my own depression on my blog. Is this helpful to anybody?

Now, clearly, I got that wonderful comment to let me know it isn't all in vain. Not wonderful in that somebody else is suffering for which I am truly sorry to hear. But wonderful in that it makes such a connection to me, my work, my efforts.. Thank you so much BLUEYEDANE I am very grateful. I hope you, too, are feeling okay today.

Another thing I thought was that maybe depression is my "task" on earth for a good reason. Maybe I'm supposed to get depression still so I can study it and pass on what I learn and maybe, in some way, it is a necessary balance to my ongoingness and without this heavy anchor now and then to stop me in my tracks, I might not head in a true course.

But this moment I am so completely okay, and so grateful for my life and my husband, and family and friends at home and all of you out there that I never see face to face and yet we have such a heart connection that means so much to me.

Hopefully I'll be hit by depression in the morning so I can continue my work. Well, that's what I just thought and I decided not to edit it out no matter how phony it might sound. A. B. Curtiss

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Still Must Handle Depression Hits

It seems so strange now, in the evening when I'm feeling great, to remember how earlier in the day and especially before dawn when I woke up several times, I was hit and hit and hit by the agony of depression. Truly, it is almost hard to believe that I felt so bad. Right now the possibility of depression seems terribly remote. Why would I ever be depressed?

You would think, at the very least,  that I could get rid of depression instantly, just because of all I know about it. But the truth is I can't just "turn it off."  This morning it still took work, and the dumb exercises, and absolute determination to ignore it and then, in a short while, it was gone again.

And all today, five minutes after I got up and got out to do some gardening, I felt fine. There might have been a few left-over tendrils of weak depression but I simply ignored it and concentrated on what I was doing and the depression just faded into nothing by the time I went for my swim. One thing that may help is that the water in my pool is now only 52 degrees, and in my barest of swim suits it is terrifying to jump in and swim for 25 minutes. I remember I even joked to myself this morning that maybe this was as good as a shock treatment for any left over depression lingering on.

During the night, whenever I woke up I used the  "Yes, we have no bananas" song as I walked to the bathroom and back.. To get back to sleep I used counting 1, 2, 3, 4 over and over.

I keep wondering, like now when I'm feeling perfectly okay, how can I still get hit like that? It can't be THAT agonizing . How come I still take it seriously when depression hits me. How do I still get sucked into believing that depression is some kind of reality?

Well, it's not entirely a belief. It used to be a belief that depression was my reality and I simply succumbed to it and suffered for as long as it lasted.  But now there is some residual awareness that I am "just depressed" and some part of me can still carry on. I don't have to "cave." The "feeling" is that everything is hopeless and futile. Evidently this is the depressive syndrome that makes it all "work." But, in addition to the hopeless and futile syndrome, comes the little tag-line I have made into a learned association that, thank goodness, always pops up at the same time any depression hits me: "but instead of thinking all this horribleness, I CAN just do the exercises, can't I? Maybe dumb exercises is not the best use of my brain, but it's got to be better than using my brain to suffer depression.

I do make a stand against depression every single time. In retrospect I realize I am encountering it, I realize that I feel hopeless and that everything is futile. But there is something else. I also realize that I can carry on.  I can actually suspend my depression to carry on a very pleasant chat with my husband. Then, when the chat is over, the depression returns. But then  I can do the exercises.Then I do the exercises, I get to work, I get interested in what I am doing and the depression always goes away in about twenty minutes. Lately I have two kinds of depression. The five-minute variety and the 20-minute variety.

Tonight, though, in retrospect, I wonder how I can still be so reduced to such agony. Tonight, I'm in such a great mood. Tonight, depression makes no sense. Why would I ever be depressed again? Tomorrow I will probably get hit again. If I do I'll try to write my blog while I'm depressed and see if I can discover anything helpful, A. B. Curtiss

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More About the Brain as a Sponge

Ginger's comment below should have been posted as a comment to the last post but something went wrong and it didn't get posted. It was such a great comment that I don't want to lose it so I'm posting it today. After reading the comment I was able to make much more sense out of the analogy of the brain as a sponge. The Internet is a wonderful thing for helping each other. Thanks Ginger for your great contribution:

I can see R's analogy of the "brain as sponge" in that most of us do treat our brains passively, allowing all sorts of negativity to soak in! Without directed thinking we will just absorb whatever comes along.

The sponge is a helpful image to me, as it illustrates beautifully how passive living can get us in trouble as we merely "soak up" rather than create, experiences and thoughts.

A.B.'s assertion that we need to direct our thinking and life's path with purpose can also be seen using the visual of a sponge. One could imagine: "I won't let my sponge sit in a dirty bucket of water. I will only put my sponge in clean water. I will use my sponge productively and get much accomplished with it. How wonderful to have such a useful tool at my beck and call!"

Posted by Ginger to MobyJane at December 6, 2010 5:25 AM

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shoud We Treat our Brain "Softly?"

Dear Curtiss 

I was thinking about the brain like a sponge with water. The sponge can absorb any amount of water and it is very flexible. Same thing with the brain. The brain is very flexible and can accept any thoughts. If you dig hard in the brain in thinking, it will be expanded in the brain and then hard wired.

We have to take care of this sponge and deal with it softly.    

Regards, R________

Dear R______

The brain is the most complex machine in human existence. Its power is limitless.

I never thought about treating my brain softly. I mainly think about getting my powerful brain to treat me softly by commanding it to do what I want rather than take me for some negative ride of its own, where I usually do not wish to go.

This is why it is so necessary to have some purpose in your life, some craft, some mission, some good work you wish to accomplish.  Without a purpose, it is difficult to direct your thinking in a productive direction. I don't think it is enough to have just the purpose of not feeling bad and directing your thinking away from downer thoughts. I think it is necessary to have something that is important for you to take on as your "duty."  You may not know what your “duty” is but you could at least think about it and perhaps something positive will occur to you. A. B. Curtiss

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mind Exercise for the Subway

The brain is the most complex piece of machinery on the planet. It is our gift to use as we wish. And how do we use it a great deal of the time? We just let it wander around in a daze of routine thoughts that lead nowhere. Think about it. When we are not engaged in some project, or conversation with someone; when we are driving to work, taking the subway, lazing about at home, what are our thoughts?

Since I am prone to get hit by depression fairly frequently, I started thinking that it's usually when I just wake up or when I'm not engaged in any productive activity. Even when I do booksignings there are minutes when I am not engaged, and my mind can wander. Shouldn't I be more respectful of my brain and make an attempt to think more than just stupid, meaningless thoughts? Or even worse, negative and downer thoughts that can lead to depression

I suppose we could drive ourselves crazy trying to take advantage of every waking moment to think something productive, but maybe we could just bump it up a little. For instance I was sitting in the subway and remembered that I had been kind of curious about what I was thinking when I wasn't really thinking. I found myself making internal comments about the people around me. How they looked, what they wore. I wondered if I couldn't think something more positive about my traveling companions than pasing judgment on their attractiveness or lack thereof.

How does one really make an investment in one's fellow man, I thought. Can you try to think well of them. Would it work?

I just decided to think about wishing them well, all these people in my subway car. Hoping that they did well in whatever they were pursuing, hoping their hurts were not too bad. Hey, maybe I could send a silent healing to them. It certainly couldn't hurt, and it had to be a better use of my brain that the dumb thoughts I had been thinking up to now.

So I tried it, sending out little silent messages of hope, health, better times ahead. I don't know if anyone else felt any healing, felt any better. But the funny truth of it was that after a few minutes of this, I sure felt pretty good instead of stale and unconnected. I really did feel like a more loving and caring person. Maybe the mind is as powerful as the old wise men have tried to tell us. We shouldn't just waste it on useless thoughts. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why the Exercise Not Working as Before?

Dear A. B.

Why doen't the "out of the box" exercise work like it did four days ago when I was feeling so good? R_____

Dear R______

I don't know why sometimes an exercise won't work and sometimes it will. I have several exercises and usually one of them will work. The other day however the "out of the box" didn't work for me either and I tried several exercises and none of them actually worked for me in that I could really concentrate on them instead of slipping into thinking about my depression. But I found that even keeping on trying with the exercises is better than giving up to your depression because even trying to use mind exercises is using your neocortex and helps take the edge off the pain. The sooner you get into physical activity the better because the combination of thinking objectively and physical action is stronger than just doing the mind exercises. Anything you do to distract yourself from depression works in some way to help, even thought it may not be as quick as at other times to get you out right away it will ultimately get you out. A. B. Curtiss

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Feeling Down Does Not Feel Good

Dear Ms Curtiss

Dear Mrs. Curtiss

The depression hits me yesterday and I am still working on it till today. I do not know why it takes longer time to disappear. R
Dear R______
It will pass. Get interested in your chores, your family, do something nice for your wife. You'll get over it when you concentrate on others or on your work. 

We forget that depression comes from our brain turning in the direction of downer thinking. We aren't always aware of this. When we realize we're depressed we believe that we are thinking negative thoughts because we feel negative. It's always the other way around. 

You have to insist on pushing your thinking to more positive imagery the minute you realize that you are down. Anything helps. Any thinking other than the thought you don't feel so good. Don't think about your feelings, think about anything else.

Down does not feel good. You don't want to push yourself to think better thoughts. Just do it anyway, in small ways. Think a little nursery rhyme, a dumb song. Then get to work at something, anything. Go outside and take a walk. Watch a movie. You need to distract your brain and get it off it's negative thinking track. It is not easy to do. The brain is stubborn and gets "dug in" to its thinking. You have to "dig in" and start pushing your brain around so it quits pushing you around. Just keep it up and your brain will soon let go of its negative direction. Depression is just a feeling. It will ultimately end. Get it to end sooner by jumping in the way of negative thoughts. Hold up another thought and say to the negative thought "You shall not pass." A. B. Curtiss

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Burn the Picture" Visualization

Dear AB, 

Thank you very much for your continued encouragements! 

Yes, I saw the entry and your experience with the "out/in the box" concept -- I agree it's excellent to use imagery to seperate depression from the self.  I ve been told before that if your mind brings up a negative experience from the past - frame it like it's a photograph and then burn that picture to take away the negative energy, which I find has worked for me at times.  

Thank you again for your good wishes, I will prevail no matter what! 

Kindest regards,Y______

Dear Y______

I agree that visualization is a great tool. I will add the "burn the picture" one to my kit bag of mind tricks. Thanks, A. B.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nervous and Upset During Job Interview

Dear A. B.

I had an interview the other day and I was nervous about it.  Somehow, after I met the woman who was interviewing me, I became even more nervous, and did a poor job of presenting myself.  I have thought of nothing else and am so embarrassed as a friend of ours recommended me. 

What will she tell him about me? She asked me a few questions and at one point I became flushed and began sweating.  I am so embarrassed.  I am normally outgoing and confident. I am qualified for the position, but found the atmosphere and professionalism of woman my age intimidating.

How can I stop this and WHY does it happen?

Thanks, L__________

Dear L________

Probably the first problem is that you were not expecting to get nervous so you didn't prepare yourself and have some self-support set up in case it happened. And, second, it is human nature to get flustered now and then. You can see how even politicians and commentators, who interview all the time, get flustered too. Public speakers sometimes screw up in front of an audience.

How can you stop it?

You can't stop being human.

If I were you I would chalk this up to "every dog has his day and this was not my day" and move on.

You can "do damage control" and "get closure"  if you want by admitting to your friend that it was an off day for you, and you royally screwed up the interview and are terribly embarrassed about it.

Forgive yourself for being human and move on. It's not the end of the world. We all need to be humbled now and then so we realize that, as smart as we think we are, we're just ordinary humans after all. And there's always the possibility that it wasn't as bad as you thought. But I have always found it more helpful to just figure it was as bad I as thought and go from there.

Since there will always be people who are ahead of us or behind us in some way, all of us are subject to being intimidated now and then. I can' t believe I used to find psychiatrists intimidating. Well, to be truthful, I used to find almost everybody intimidating because I was such a sucker for wanting everyone's good opinion. I got over most of this by getting in touch with my repressed fear (Chapter Ten, Depression is a Choice).

I still can occasionally find extremely wealthy women intimidating in some ways because they are a part of the world I know nothing about, and therefore I don't know how to maneuver myself around in a conversation and kind of "hold my end up" when the conversation turns to cruises "that only cost $50,000," African safaris with their “favorite guide," and golf club dues that are a "bargain at 10,000 a month." etc.

I have to really struggle for some common ground where I feel some sense of solidity. I remember talking to one very wealthy woman about my daughter's upcoming wedding and how I was so busy with the different aspects, etc. She responded that she would give me some advice as she had just finished with a “very successful wedding.”  Her solution was to hire a wedding planner and just turn everything over. "Then all you have to do is show up." So I was a little nonplussed since my daughter and I were trying to hold down expenses and obviously my idea of the kind of conversation we were having was not going to go anywhere. Why didn't I just "fess up" that money was an object. Hey, I have some pride, too.

As for your interview, if you want something from somebody, usually there will be a tension set up that could escalate. Remember, we are a herd animal, and it is hardwired into us that for our survival we must be "part of the herd." So this can trigger.

No matter what, what always saves us, is if it is possible to "just be ourselves." But when it comes to job interviews, the world is not set up that way, and sometimes we have to "put our best foot forward and impress people."  And sometimes we fail. Failing is honorable. What is not honorable is never putting our neck out and not risking ourselves. You tried and failed. It is a time to both take your lumps and give yourself credit for "putting yourself out there. Next time will be better because of this experience. Who knows, maybe you'll be a better person for having to go through it.

And another way to think of it, it could have been worse. You could have congratulated yourself on a great interview, and later found she wasn't at all impressed. Remember, there's no accounting for taste.

A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B
Thank you for the thoughtful response and so many options to consider.  I have taken comfort in that, at least, I did not do anything bad or immoral. 

What is with my turning red and heating up? I hate that most of all because it is visible that I am uncomfortable.  Can I learn to stop this? Any herb/supplement to de-anxiety myself before something?  

I can and should send the woman a "thank you for meeting with me" email.  Should I say anything about the bad interview?

Thanks again,  L____

You can tell her that you had an "off day" and don't think you were very impressive. The turning red and heating up are the body's natural reactions to stress chemicals. The only thing to do about it is not produce the stress chemicals in the first place. Learn some positive affirmations and anti-stress and relaxation exercises to calm yourself down when you first begin to feel under stress. A. B.

Dear A. B.

What would be your suggestion for a positive affirmation?  If I know it's from you maybe it'll work better.
Thanks, L.

Dear L______

"I can do this. My forces are with me."