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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Treatment Programs for Biplar Disorder

To Whom It May Concern,

I am currently researching options for treatment programs for people suffering from Bipolar Disorder.

I found your article on Neuroplasticity to be very inspiring and hopeful. Any information on leading and promising programs would be greatly appreciated.


Dear N. A.
You can investigate brainswitching, a cognitive behavioral method of mind tricks to get out of depression without drugs on my website and blog.
www.depressionisachoice.com and

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'm Studying Your Book in My Psychology Class and Have a Question

Hi this is N-------L-------- and I am taking a Psychology class studying your book Depression is a Choice. I had a question about part of your book. You discuss choice and how depression becomes a "routine," and I was wondering if you think this develops due partly to habit, or how exactly it becomes a routine.

Also you titled Chapter 12 "Depression Junkies" and you talk about how we become addicted to problems, how even the most life-threatening addictions such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and promiscuity very soon become the status quo. This is the neurological explanation of St. Augustine’s warning,“A habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.”

I was wondering if you could further discuss how depression becomes or is an addiction. Thank you so much for your time!

Dear N. L.

Habitual routines, or thinking behaviors such as depression or cigarette smoking, or drinking, or migraines, or insomnia actually grow into neural patterns in the memory banks of your brain, neuron by neuron, as you do the behaviors or thinking patterns over and over. Since the brain works by learned association, more and more things start to become associated with the thinking behaviors and routines as you do them: particular rooms, times of day, even colors or sounds, and smells can activate the neural patterns automatically through learned association.

Here is the syndrome. You encounter some particular sight, sound, or smell associated with depression, you feel depressed, you reach for a cigarette, or a drink, you lurch into a migraine or bottomless despair in an instant. That is, associations can “trigger” due to a learned association with things that occur at the same time habitual routines are engaged in, or with other sights or sounds that are associated with the particular routines.

People who slide into these destructive routines are people who do not, on purpose, fashion coping mechanisms in advance for stressors or negative associations which occur in their lives, many with some regularity. If you decide on doing a mind exercise when you feel yourself anxious, or sleepless, or afraid, or “edgy” for "no reason," you are less likely to slide into a routine of chain smoking, drinking, or negative and downer thinking which triggers the fight or flight response, which causes the production of stress chemicals in the brain, which causes a depletion of metabolic processes and brings on the helpless "routine" of depression.

The neural pattern of depression can trigger , by itself, from association without negative thinking beforehand. You can always do a mind exercise when the stressors occur, or even when the depression itself hits instantly at full force. Then, when the mind exercise has taken the edge off the anxiety, due to the anxiety or the depressive feeling not being thought while the exercise is taking place, the stress chemicals cease to be produced, the panic subsides, and a person can then move forward into small tasks or duties and thus take on their day. Addiction is the same as habit. It is a mindset based upon a neural pattern you have built with certain behaviors over a period of time. Thinking is also a behavior.

The addiction surreptiously alleviates your needs because the addictions are associated with your stressors, and immediately occupy your attention automatically when stressors occur. In a way the routines thus "save" you in that you don't have to do anything to alleviate the actual stressors, you simply "go with" the routines. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, March 29, 2010

I Just Want to Cry and Scream

Dear A. B.

Today's challenge seems to be the thought that I am faking. I am faking being happy, it feels weird. Maybe that's because it's so new.

Do I ever get to be negative? Like rant about politics etc? Maybe I just use common sense with this, if I feel stressed when I rant then, I can assume stress chemicals are being ramped up. If I calmly rant then it's fine? Heh.

I ask lots of questions, so I understand if you can't always answer or can't do so right away. I don't want you to feel like I am taking advantage of your kindness.... Or, I guess what is happening is actually that I don't want to feel like I am taking advantage...interesting.

I really seem to struggle with practicing Directed Thinking on days when I don't have much going on. Weekends and evenings are hard for me. Today started to doubt the process altogether. I think I could use some couching or reassurance. I am afraid that this alone won't do it for me. I recall a part in Brainswitch where you say it took you months in therapy to uncover some of your deeper fears. Does this mean I have to spend months in therapy? Can you tell that this has worked for people? I could really use the reassurance. All I really have to go on are you and a few Amazon reviews (and any courage I can drum up). I would love to hear from you that you have seen this work for people. You personally have seen more than you own life changed from this.

Also, to pull me out of this I mainly use the "green frog" type exercise. Is that the method you recommend? There are sooo many exercises in the book and I am a little intimidated by that. I would like it to be as simple as using green frog. My thinking about everything is so damn negative! I seem to see everything as a problem or a threat. I am so damn tense. I just want to cry and scream, why me? and when can I relax? I had a much easier time of it the first few days after I read the book...I felt inspired. Some part of me really does suspect that this could be my ticket to freedom, but I don't want it to be to good to be true. I understand that you have to believe for anything to really work. I guess I am asking for more to believe in. You really aren't afraid of it anymore? You know other people that aren't afraid anymore?

Again, I know you may find yourself busy, so...when you have the time.

peace be with you,

Dear R.

It will feel weird at first when you start taking control of your own brain because your new behavior and thinking (although I consider thinking behavior as well)needs repetition to make strong neural patterns. You make strong neural patterns by how often you think or do something. Since you have practiced depression for years, those depressive and negative thinking neural patterns are very strong. Your new neural patterns of more positive thinking and cheerfulness aren't strong yet. They will become strong in with practice. And cheerfulness will start feeling more natural than depression.

It isn't enough just to "know something" for you to be good at it. Like playing the piano. It isn't just enough to know the notes. You have to practice until the neural patterns form in your brain before you can actually play well.

Yes, I know of many people that have used just a simple exercise like "green frog," or "hippoty hop", or "so what" and have not sunk back into their habitual depression. The elaborate exercises are for further work .You can always learn something from them but they are not necessary to get out of depression. Many of these exercises I created in the beginning before I realized that they were unnecessary. I still use simple exercises myself whenever I need them. No, I'm not afraid of my own brain anymore as I am in charge of it. Your thinking does not ever have to be negative. You can always change it to something non-emotional or more productive. It is common sense. The opposite is untrue. It is simply untrue that you can't think a positive thought when you want. It is simply untrue that you are forced to only think a negative thought when it pops up and have no choice in the matter. So you are in fear because of something that is untrue. Does that make common sense? Yes, it takes courage to take charge and full responsibility for your own thinking when it is a new idea. Courage comes with the exercise of it. There is an alternative to thinking a non-emotional thought or a productive thought when fear arises. The alternative is to think a depressive or negative thought. But a depressive or negative thought is an unnecessary alternative. You are terrified of an unnecessary alternative. It is always easy to freak out. But it is not necessary. A. B. Curtiss

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Have Very Low Self-Esteem

Dear A. B.

I continue to be amazed when you write me back. It is not often that I meet people as selfless as you have the ability to be. I actually find myself thanking a higher power for your existence. My heart-felt thanks to you.

I am struggling with the tactic of completely ignoring my thinking as the method out of this. I have very low self esteem, and I think that the world is a very messed up place right now. I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and you know how harmful that can be. I keep having the thoughts that this depression will not go away for good until I get to a place where I love me, and am OK with the way the world is. Can I really do that by just thinking Hippity-hop? What about the research that says CBT works...or is there really that much proof that it does?

I learned to think of myself as a poor and unwanted creature when I was young, as that is what I was. Do you think that I have some building or rewriting of old programs to do so that life is not filtered through that belief system? What I am saying is that I see the world through my vision which seems to be programmed pretty damn downer and negative...and it is hard for me to believe (though, trust me, I really want to) that all I have to do is ignore thoughts and I will feel better about myself.

What if I don't even know they are negative or that I am thinking them?

One of the hardest things right now is to not tell people how bad I feel. I feel like I am lying. They are thinking tra la la la, and I am thinking, hmm, to not be alive would be a break from this. Weird.

Do you think there is such a thing as Seasonal Depression? If so, can it be treated with Directed Thinking as effectively? Should I just damn move to CA? :)

It's so helpful to hear about your lack of fear. I long to be like you in that regard, I try to picture it sometimes. Just standing there thinking...ha, I am safe, depression can not get me for more then a few mins...ha! Now that sounds like living.

Major thanks,

Dear R,

Cognitive behavior therapy works, but it is not perfect because the creators of CBT didn't really study neuroscience to understand how the brain works, and how one really gets from one thought to the other via learned association. The creators of CBT probably never heard about the neurological process of pain perception upon which my work on brainswitching is built. CBT is mainly common sense which always works better than upsetness.

It is always better to think a rational instead of an irrational thought, and to use good rational proactive judgment instead of emotional reactive old habit judgment of recurring situations wherein you tend to come off as a loser due to habitual loser thinking.

One problem with CBT comes when the idea is to make you a winner instead of simply making you a wise, self-aware person, whether you win or lose.

The other problem is that CBT depends upon using your thinking faculties, which are pretty much offline when you are in the midst of a depression. When you are severely depressed, all your neural activity is in the subcortex and you have only limited access to your neocortex and thinking processes. Brainswitching can be used no matter how severely depressed your are. But you must prepare the brainswitching exercise ahead to have it “at the ready” for the same reason. You don’t have much neural activity going on in the neocortex.

As far as your feeling of unworthiness. It is my own belief that the self-view you learn as a child is always your default position. Mine was similar to yours. No matter how successful I am there is that recurring thought pattern that says "unworthy" that seems to be the bottom-line foundation of my persona. So what? My persona is not my soul. My persona is my character that I must strive to improve upon by trial and error in my life.

I strive to be honest and compassionate. I still find I can fall short and in those cases where I find myself selfish and shallow, I rededicate myself to being a better person. So the fact that my baseline thinking is "unworthy", when I am not actively engaged in productive behavior, or when I sink into self-focus, is not really a problem. It is rather a signal to me that I have become self-focused and negative, and I should redirect my thinking and my efforts in a more productive direction. So instead of "I'm unworthy" being a signal to despair, it is a signal to get out of self-focus. Ergo. "I'm unworthy" has been transformed into a friendly reminder, a gift.

Why spend a lot of effort to remake some old thinking patterns of unworthiness. Just don't think the old patterns when they pop up. Use them as a signal that you are not thinking positively or productively at the moment, and redirect your thinking to more worthy pursuits. You can't really change a thought anyway. You really just choose a new one.

Not everybody can be a winner. Look at me. I do honestly believe I know more about getting out of depression than most doctors or psychiatrists, yet my books are not best-sellers. Why? Most people want the easy lie, and don't want to be told that, it is hard work at first, but they could get out of depression without drugs. Best sellers wrap their small amount of wisdom in the conventional "you can be a winner" mantras, and "maybe you might need medication" that our culture gravitates to.

The best sellers about depression like Noonday Demon or Kay Redfield Jamison's books or Kathy Cronkite's or all the other celebrity sufferer writers are all glorifying the specialness of people who have depression, and the necessity for medication. I dissent from this specialness. So I'm not a "winner" when it comes to selling depression books. I content myself with the fact that I have done my best, and people who are ready to hear what I have to say about depression will have an opportunity that would not otherwise exist except for me. Some really famous people have read my work, and completely changed their lives. I don't publicize their names.

I stay away from pointing out the specialness of people who are depressed. People who are depressed are not special. They are simply ignorant of how their own brain works and lack the techniques and the practice to get out depression. People who get depressed are just ordinary people. They are not ruined, and do not need to go back and remake themselves. They are fine. They just need to take charge of their own brain and their own thinking.

Wisdom is not highly valued in our society. Truly wise psychiatrists like Thomas Szasz are side-lined as "anti-psychiatrists." Being ordinary and doing one's duty is not highly valued in our society. Being self-assured and self-confident is highly valued. Being a good person and doing the right thing and being a loser is not highly valued.

Think about the economic situation today. I'm of the older generation of people who had a good classical education in the Christian-Judeo Western civilization principles of being ethical and moral. A lot of men in my generation were not highly thought of on Wall Street for not being a "game player" because they didn't want to make money by short-changing their clients and cooking the books.

Many men I know were fired in the 80's because they wouldn't "go along". They were not dedicated to being "winners" if it went against their own core values and ethics. The people who rose to the top were the younger "winners" who were educated in the new values of situational ethics, and putting aside questions of essential right and wrong as "old-fashioned." They amassed millions for themselves but look at what they brought their country to. A recession. Those who remained honest and honorable, and refused to be corrupted may not be rich, but they sleep at night and they can look anybody in the eye because they know they didn't sell out, they didn't prosper by doing harm to others. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Wow. I don't think I've ever been so blown away by an e-mail. I feel down-right lucky to be the recipient of it to be honest. You really answered my question and then went on to blow me away with...well, the freakin truth. Thank you sooooooo much.

So, that's my plan. No meds, no counselors and no more CBT books/sessions this time. This time I try just brainswitching. I am dedicated to it. Negative thought comes, and is promptly shown the door.

I just want to tell you that I am so glad you made it. You are the biggest winner I can think of. You, the woman who has figured out how to cure herself of the scariest damn thing most of us will ever encounter. I picture you laying in bed, rolling your eyes and smirking when the next wave of ill thoughts tries to come in. Like "heh, nice try depression, but the jigs up, I've got your number".

I love your story about Wall Street and ethics. It really hits home with me as I tend to sit around thinking, "Well I'm no Angelina Jolie. I am not rich, and super gorgeous and have a great career." I really need to stop comparing myself to these people. I don't watch much TV, and select movies very carefully because I don't want to feel badly about myself for not measuring up. I also don't want to fill my head with trash.

Got to the point that I was thinking "I need to get into acting or I am a total failure, and have not lived my dream. I should get some minor plastic surgery so I am more appealing. I should leave my husband for a rich man." I could not have a better husband, by the way...he is simply one of the most sincere, hardworking and kind persons on the planet. But it's like you pointed out, he's not rich, so I tend fall into the trap of thinking he is not as good as rich people, and neither am I. So easy to fall into that. Things really seem to be out of hand in that regard these days.

I hope you do hit the bestsellers list someday, because so many people would be in better shape for it.

thank you, thank you, thank you,

P. S. By the way, do you think there is anything to seasonal depression? At the very least I do wonder if it is easier to think more positively when the sun is shining. I seem to have an easier time of it. I struggle to find things to do to fill my time when it's rainy, and since I live in Portland now...it's always rainy! Going to be getting dark at about 5pm...rainy on the weekends...oh boy!

Dear R.

Seasonal depression is just another way for psychiatrists to make money on people who think too much about how they are feeling and do not think about what they are doing to move forward with their day. Downer thoughts are just downer thoughts. Why think downer thoughts about the rain. I love the rain because we need it so badly here in Southern California. The rain might have saved thousands of people's houses that burned in the last wildfires.

Imagine how those old farmers in the 1930s would have blessed the rain that might have saved their crops. People will always find excuses for why they are feeling bad. People feel bad because they do not think the things, and do the things that would make them feel good. Curl up with a good book and thank your lucky stars that you are not blind and so therefore you can read, and see the rain around you. Thank your lucky stars that when it rains you have a roof over your head, and don't have to sleep out in the street as millions of people in the world have to do. A. B. Curtiss

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Got Hit With Depression Again

Hi A. B.

Been a long time since we corresponded. I was doing good for a while but I have hit a bump in the road with depression trying to come back in. I have a few questions for you when/if you have time.

Firstly let me say that I tend to think negatively in general. About myself (too poor, chubby), and my life (world is a sad scary place, people are no good anymore, TV is all important, only looks matter to people) etc. Odd thing is, even with those thoughts milling about, my mood can be OK for long stretches and then...boom. When the Fall comes I start the fearful thoughts about how I tend to start depression cycles in the Fall and "how will I avoid it this time?! and oh my I am going to get so depressed!"....yadda yadda. So what happens, of course I start to get depressed.

I am practicing techniques from Brainswitch out of Depression. I am determined to not give in this time. The first big depressed feelings came on Saturday (but there was the build up as I described above). So, I immediately lose my appetite and you know,all the familiar symptoms start returning and I think "CRAP...I may not survive this one! Why can't I be like other people? What if I am not strong enough to derail this! Great there goes sleeping!"?

As I practice, how do I keep from feeling like I am under constant threat of thoughts? I have this general "I am not safe" feeling. Like I must be on alert at all times for the negative thoughts and therefore I can't relax.

Another Question:
If I don't "put the lie" to some of these thoughts won't they keep returning? Do they need looking at? Is there any benefit to answering back? Or do we just say "hi thought, I am not going to pay attention to you"? I ask because I used to do these exercises that David Burns recommends that are take the thought, write it down and then categorize it under one of his ten categories of irrational thoughts and "put the lie to it".

Example: I am depressed and always will be. Thought type: labeling, all or nothing, etc. Truth: I am not always depressed, only sometimes and I live through it and this will pass. In general my life is good.

Do you see any value in this type of exercise? Or do I just thought-jam as soon as it comes? Hippity-hop! Will burning the hippity-hop pathway make the yucky thought pathway die down eventually to the point that it won't return. Or do you think on some level these thoughts need more of a punch in the gut, or some kind of rational answer to keep them at bay? I tend to have this thought that if I don't look at some of these thoughts, then I won't be able to prevent the horrible things they are telling me will happen.

I appreciate your books and your existence. Your success in a major inspiration to me. When I feel like I can't do it, I recall that you did, so if someone can, then I must be able to. In Brainswitch you mention that millions of people have recovered from depression, I keep reminding myself of that. It's true right? :)

Warm regards,

Dear R.

I'll answer your questions in the letter you wrote


As I practice, how to I keep from feeling like I am under constant threat of thoughts? I have this general "I am not safe" feeling. Like I must be on alert at all times for the negative thoughts and therefore I can't relax.

MY ANSWER: The thought pattern "I am not safe" is a strong one because as you think a thought over and over, it becomes dominant. But just because a thought pattern is strong in your brain does not mean that the thought has any basis in reality. In reality you are safe. Your thoughts have no power over you. You can always think any thought you want to think, can't you? Hippoty hop. Replace the thought "I am not safe" with the thought "I am safe now" Whenever the thought "I am not safe" occurs, replace it with "I am safe now." or you can use "I am okay." You always have the power over your own brain to think any thought you want to think. Fear is just a thought. You can replace fear with a nonsense thought, or some other more productive or objective thought any time the fear thought comes up. Your fear "bank" is full because you keep investing in fear thoughts. Your safe "bank" will fill up as you invest it with more "I am safe" thoughts.

YOUR QUESTION: If I don't "put the lie" to some of these thoughts won't they keep returning? Do they need looking at? Is there any benefit to answering back? Or do we just say "hi thought, I am not going to pay attention to you"? I ask because I used to do these exercises that David Burns recommends that are take the thought, write it down and then categorize it under one of his ten categories of irrational thoughts and "put the lie to it".

MY ANSWER: The exercise that David Burns uses is a good example of cognitive therapy, changing rational thinking for irrational, emotional thinking. But putting the lie to an irrational thought can never erase it. All you can do is keep doing the exercise when the thought pops up. Once you think a thought, it is forever in your memory banks. However, the less you think any thought, the less powerful it is.

David Burns' exercise is okay because doing the exercise is certainly better than thinking the negative thought. But once you understand how the mind works you can see that the exercise is, in a way, just going around in circles. Once you decide that any negative thought is no longer an option, you needn't put the lie to it (which, because the brain works by learned association can even make the negative thought stronger) you simply turn away from the negative thought, give it no more energy, and proceed to think a more positive, objective, or productive thought which sets you going ahead in the right way with your day. Even a nonsense thought keeps you from thinking a negative thought. And progressing from the nonsense thought, you can move on to more productive thinking.

Depressive feeling is also a thought pattern which is strong because you have allowed depressive thinking for so long. But as you successfully brainswitch out of the depressive feelings, you can then move forward with your day. Productive activity and thinking will sooner or later bring about better feelings. Bad feeling are just long-standing bad thinking habits. You can do it. I still get depressed feelings especially at night when I wake up. They are just as bad as they ever were except that I have tied to them (by learned association) the thought that I can do a mind exercise to get out of the bad feelings. Then I do the exercises. Then I get out of the bad thoughts and bad feelings in just a few minutes.

Now instead of my being depressed for days or weeks like I used to. I am out of it in 5 or ten minutes. I no longer have fearful thoughts worrying about maybe I might get depressed, because I know that if I get depressed, so what, I can immediately get out of it. I know I do not have to pay attention to my depression, and so it no longer has any power over me. It is just an old thought pattern that pops up now and then, and hurts like hell, but can't stay long because it has no power. It can't use me any longer because I know I don't have to think it. I can think something else instead.

A. B. Curtiss

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Husband is Mean and Yells at Me. I'm being Bullied.

Dear A. B.

Dr. Laura's marriage books seem to prescribe "food, sex & no nagging" for pleasing husbands. This rings true for me. I've been under the weather for several weeks & the meals haven't been up to snuff. Last night in particular, I really gave up & just put a bowl of pasta in front of my husband for dinner with some sauce on it. This is hardly something I do routinely or plan to make a habit of. I went to the doc yesterday, got antibiotics for a sinus infection, & hope to be feeling lots better in a matter of days. I hope to be getting my groove back soon!

My husband (who has a history of throwing really bad tantrums, as you may recall) really flew into a rage. I followed your advice, detatched, moved into another room & didn't respond as he continued for 20 minutes to rant about my flaws at high volume from down the hall. He slept downstairs & left for work this a.m.

I'm no spotless lamb. Yes, my meals haven't been so good lately, but as I said, I wasn't planning to cook this way forever. What made it worse in his eyes was that I bought an antique mirror for the entry hall day before yesterday (not expensive) & a gravy boat & saucer yesterday at a junk shop. It was sitting on the kitchen table with hyacinths from our yard in it. These were attempts to give myself a lift when I wasn't feeling well. My husband was livid though, because he felt the energy that I put into shopping I could have put into meal prep. He has valid points I believe, but instead of stating them, he throws a fit & gets mean.

I want to please my husband & work hard at doing so regularly. I hope to be on top of my game again & want to cook better, but I don't appreciate being bullied. I've been bullied for 25 yrs, have made it too clear that his happiness is my main objective. He knows this, so he seems to use that against me in his rages. What to do now? What would you say to him (if anything) if you were me?

Thank you.


Dear G.O.

Your husband's aggression is physical and very visible. Your aggression is hidden passive-aggression. Both are immature and unhelpful. You cannot change your husband. You can only change yourself. If you are less aggressive and mean, then he won't attack you so much. If his attacks are too physical, you must call 911 or leave. It is hard to catch your own meanness. When we are tired and feeling down, we get mean. Everybody does unless they make themselves aware of their own meanness so they catch themselves and don't do it.

You see his meanness and tantrums as attack. He sees them as defense. If you are less mean and aggressive your life will improve because when 50% of any population is more peaceful it can make a big change. You blame your lack of interest in providing meals on the fact that you've been under the weather. Suppose your husband didn't bother to go to work for several weeks and do his job because he felt under the weather. Isn't getting good meals your job? You give yourself a lift by shopping and spending and don't do anything to give your husband a lift by getting him a nice dinner. Your behavior was no less mean. As my sister-in-law used to say boys punch, girls pinch. It is so easy to be mean and it's difficult, it goes against the grain, when you yourself are down and just want to be pampered, to reach out to your nearest and dearest in a giving way and try to give them a lift. A.B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

While I don't see my behavior as mean, I am willing to hear what you have to say since I respect you so much. I want to explore it. I guess what I "thought" I was doing was trying to be in a better mood, so I would feel better, yes, but also in turn be better company. I know how smart you are, & want to carefully consider my actions in a different light.

What would you do, specifically, tonight? I don't want to exacerbate things.

Thanks, G. O.

Dear G. O.

Fix a nice dinner and apologize for your bad cooking because you weren't feeling so hot the last few weeks. A. B. Curtiss

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sabotaging Success, but to What End?

This article was sent to me by a friend for my opinion. My opinion is that psychobabble is alive and well at Weill Cornell Medical College. Here is the article and following the article is my assessment of its major error. The major error of most psychiatrists is that they have boxed themselves in with their own labels and diagnoses and they do not think outside the box. Here is the article.


Published: March 22, 2010

Dr. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 23, 2010, on page D6 of the New York edition.

“You could say I’ve been unlucky in love,” a young man told me during a recent consultation.

He went on to describe a series of failed romantic relationships, all united by a single theme: he had been mistreated by unsympathetic women who cheated on him.

This was not his only area of disappointment, though. At work, he had just been passed over for a promotion; it went to a colleague whom he viewed as inferior.

I asked him about his work as a computer scientist and discovered that he worked long hours and relished challenging problems. But he also did some curious things to undermine himself. Once, for example, he “forgot” about an important presentation and arrived 30 minutes late, apologizing profusely.

What was striking about this intelligent and articulate young man was his view that he was a hapless victim of bad luck, in the guise of unfaithful women and a capricious boss; there was no sense that he might have had a hand in his own misfortune.

I decided to push him. “Do you ever wonder why so many disappointing things happen to you?” I asked. “Is it just chance, or might you have something to do with it?”

His reply was a resentful question: “You think it’s all my fault, don’t you?”

Now I got it. He was about to turn our first meeting into yet another encounter in which he was mistreated. It seemed he rarely missed an opportunity to feel wronged.

Of all human psychology, self-defeating behavior is among the most puzzling and hard to change. After all, everyone assumes that people hanker after happiness and pleasure. Have you ever heard of a self-help book on being miserable?

So what explains those men and women who repeatedly pursue a path that leads to pain and disappointment? Perhaps there is a hidden psychological reward.

I got a glimpse of it once from another patient, a woman in her early 60s who complained about her ungrateful children and neglectful friends. As she spoke, it was clear she felt that all the major figures in her life had done her wrong. In fact, her status as an injured party afforded her a psychological advantage: she felt morally superior to everyone she felt had mistreated her. This was a role she had no intention of giving up.

As she left my office, she smiled and said, “I don’t expect that you’ll be able to help me.” She was already setting up her next failure: her treatment.

Masochism is not solely the province of psychotherapists; even sociobiologists have had a crack at it. Some see its origins in the self-sacrificial behavior of ants and bees, which, at their own expense, go in search of food for others in the colony, instead of competing with them. Is human self-defeating behavior, similarly, a remnant of altruism that might once have benefited one’s kin? Perhaps, but it has long since lost any adaptive value. Believe me, your family is a lot better off if you succeed in life.

Yet telling people they are the architects of their own misery doesn’t go over very well. The usual response is some variation on “Is it my fault that life is unfair?”

The American Psychiatric Association found itself in this position when it included a category for self-defeating patients in an earlier version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Partly in response to social and political pressure, the notion of masochistic character has disappeared from the manual altogether, even though the behavior is a source of considerable suffering and a legitimate target for treatment.

Of course, terrible things happen randomly to people all the time, and no one is suggesting that isolated misfortunes are anything more than that.

Moreover, a history of repeated failures, especially in one sphere of life, doesn’t mean someone is a masochist. Many people fall far short of their potential not because they secretly desire to fail but because they are anxious about what it means to succeed.

But if someone has a pattern of disappointment in many areas of life, a therapist should consider that it could be self-engineered. Treatment can help, including psychodynamic and cognitive therapy, but there is still no effective medication for masochism.

It can be an uphill battle, as patients often try to defeat their therapists’ best efforts. But at least there’s a chance these patients can experience in therapy what they so expertly undermine everywhere else: success.


I read the article. To me it is typical 20th century psychobabble which seldom can get itself to the core of a person's problem other than attaching labels to it such as, self-destructive behavior, or self-sabotaging or role playing, or (this one is the most ridiculous) fear of success.

Dr. Friedman's solution that the person's motivation was: "she felt morally superior to everyone she felt had mistreated her. This was a role she had no intention of giving up." is simply incorrect.

The fact that the woman justifies her position of feeling morally superior because the other person is doing her wrong is her mind trick that allows her distraction. Her role of superiority is not her main motivation. Her main motivation is blaming the other person so she can avoid the pain of her own fear. None of these psychobabble labels, being in themselves simply names of overt behavior, give any clue to the poor person as to what in the heck they are doing wrong. Feeling morally superior is not the error. The error is distracting yourself from your own fear.

People who are not successful in life are truly unaware that the reason they are unsuccessful and "always victimized" is because they are weak and afraid. Not being aware that they are afraid, they can do nothing to call up their courage. This does not mean that these people are not intelligent, or even successful in some ways. But their lives, despite their various successes, do not work for them. Because they do not call up their courage they are, ipso facto, cowards and make all their decisions out of fear of something rather than love of something. Because nothing good comes from fear, nothing in their life gives them a deep sense of satisfaction.

The only way out of this is for the person to experience their own fear in such a way as they can recognize it, and have the option to call up their courage. I suggest to people all the time that they take a course in public speaking via Toastmasters International because most people are afraid to speak in public, and this is one way people can experience their own fear, as well as vicariously experiencing the fear of others who are struggling with their microphones.

The only way a person can call up their courage is to first recognize they are afraid. It is a very painful thing to confront your own fear. It feels like you are dying, but of course, it is not you that is dying, it is your fear. It is so painful that people distract themselves from their own fear with blaming--it's the fault of my mother, my husband, racists, the economy, bad luck, bad therapists, childhood abuse, etc.

As long as they can expend their mental energy, and focus their attention (remember, we have only one attention) on what is being done TO them, they are distracted from what they are FEELING (THEIR OWN FEAR). But you can't get someone to see their own blaming until they can see their own fear. Once a person confronts their own repressed fear, allows it to finish, they have no need of blaming and see other's abuse of them in terms of the other person's weakness. They themselves have lost all interest in blame since it no longer serves any purpose.

Blaming is the way we avoid our own fear. If you want to know how afraid you are, how much repressed fear you have, check out to see if you blame anyone for anything.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Booksigning Schedule

For those of you who are interested in my children's books I am doing booksignings for the San Diego Zoo March 27 to April 3 at the Panda Shop. I will be signing the following books, Time of the Wild, Legend of the Giant Panda, In the Company of Bears, A Train you Never Saw, Hallelujah, a Cat Comes Back, and Dragons Guard the Zoo. You can read all the children's books in their entirety (except for Dragons Guard the Zoo which is 320 pages) on my website, http://www.abcurtiss.com. And I will be signing my book The Little Chapel that Stood in Manhattan, New York City, November 26 to December 5 and May 26 to June 7.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I've Been Suffering Depression for Many Years

Hi there

For some reason I came across your web page yesterday and I have been reading it all. I wish I could buy your book "Depression is a Choice" but at this time in my life I can not afford it. I was wondering if you had an old damaged one lying around that you have no use for and if you could pass it on to me. I have been stuffing depression for so many years and I finally just came of all the meds I was taking because I could no longer afford to pay for them. But now I have hit rock bottom and am in need of help really bad. Thank you in advance if you’re able to help me. C. S.

Dear C. S.
I do have an old book I could send to you if you could just pay the postage to Canada from U.S. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B. Curtiss

WOW, thank you so much, God bless you for helping me out.

Dear A. B. Curtiss
I have been off my pills for some time now but still I wake up every day feeling down. Right now my head feels like to much weight and it’s hard to hold it up. I am wanting to go to sleep so bad. I could sleep 18 hours straight. I feel like I never get any sleep. Thank you for helping me out. DO you want me to mail the book back to you ?

I have been on your web site and have read it up and down. I just wish I could turn off my brain. I will send it back to you when I am done reading it. I do not have internet at home I just do my emails at the local library.

Thank you again sooooo MUCH!!! C. S.

Dear C. S.

You do not need to return the book. Keep the book for reference. And I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have as you put the ideas to practice in your own life, I will be glad to answer them. People get hung up on the simplest things so don't be afraid to ask. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Won't be the Victim of Depression Anymore

Dear A. B. Curtiss

My name is _________ and I work for an Independent Living center called Disability Action Center.

I watched a video called what the bleep are we doing which started me working on my mental health issues. I have been telling people for about 3 years the same thing.

I hated being a victim of the disability and decided to do something about it. I have put depression, anger and pressure as a choice and now have chosen not to have these worthless feelings attached to me. I have discussed this with people and have been getting a mixed bag of comments back. I know that I have turned this around and know others can also if they really wish to do.

Many people have resistance thinking which I feel stops one from moving ahead.

The thing about the choice idea is that a person has to take responsibility for their feelings and how they deal with things. You can no longer blame the chemical process or anyone else for how you feel.

I am so glad to see that others believe like I do.

V. E.

Dear V. E.

You are absolutely right on. If you have any questions I will be happy to answer them. A. B. Curtiss

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brainswitching is a Tool I Can Use to Get Out of Depression

Dear A. B. Curtiss

May I take this opportunity to THANKYOU with all my heart - You have changed my life!! I didn't realize how long I'd been depressed for until I came across your 'Brainswitching' exercises on the internet and was ecstatic more than words about the result!! You've helped me realize I had within me a tool that I could build on to become a better me!! I thought I was thinking positively before and it was the people around me who made me feel sad - boy was I wrong!!! I didn't realize to what extent I could control this!! Everyday I'm still amazed!! This should be more widely publicized!! Soooo many people could use it!! I still remember the first times I put it into practice - I almost couldn't wait 'til I woke up sad the next day to see if I could do it again!! And now, I hardly wake up sad at all!! I look forward to every day - but the most important thing that's happened to me, is I now no longer worry about the future or the past - I just enjoy every day!! I am trying to spread the word in the hope that it will help others (I'm sure it will). I didn't feel medication was working for me, and you gave me something real to hold onto!! I will never forget your kindness!!

Dear M.P.

Thanks so much for your letter. If you have any questions I will be glad to answer them. A. B. Curtiss

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anxiety and Depression Run in My Family

Dear A. B.

I don't know what to say except thank you. Thank you for being willing to correspond with me. Until now, I did not have anyone that I could correspond with that knows the experience of depression. Not to mention someone with credentials! Feel free to set up ground rules as far as length of e-mails etc. If at some point you decide you would like to charge for this, please let me know as I would be willing to work something out in return for your advice/input.

I have attached a history that I wrote up many months ago and update as needed. I wrote it b/c in shopping for a therapist I found it exhausting to relate my story time and again, so I just typed it up. It saves time and energy. You are welcome to read it if you like, though I have no expectations.


LIFE HISTORY OF R. (32 years old)

I grew up poor in wealthy New Jersey county. My mother went straight from an abusive alcoholic father into a marriage with my biological father who was a heroin addict and has schizophrenia. My grandfather was a very depressed person, and treated himself with alcohol. My mother married when she was 18 and had my sister shortly after and me 1.5 years later. My biological father beat her and used heroin the entire marriage, which ended after a few years.

My step-father entered the picture and my mom, my sister and I moved in with him. He was also a depressed person who was very mean and verbally abusive, and his drugs of choice were pot and valium (until later when it became heroin, which killed him a few years ago). Growing up with him and my mom was pretty damn bad. They treated us like absolute burdens; we had no rights and no love, no discipline and no guidance/support. We had a roof and food.

My mom drank and both she and my step dad smoked pot daily. My sister, was also very abusive toward me. She told me I was ugly and weird and would do things at school to make me look bad in front of other kids. School was awful! We were poor kids in a rich county in NJ, and I literally did not have a single friend. I was made fun of for my clothes, never picked for team etc.

Home was hell, school was hell. I was very ashamed and afraid of my parents drug use. The only source of normalcy I had was my mom’s mom who was caring toward me, but I did not get to see her often. My step dad was to be avoided, he was always grumpy with us and he would not allow showers more than a few minutes and when I got to be about 13 and actually started getting phone calls, he would rip the phone cord out if I was on more than a few minutes. He was miserable and we were supposed to be too.

In eighth grade boys started liking me. That was my first positive attention and it was do to my appearance. That sent a pretty strong message. Girls were very jealous and some even invited me to a sleepover for the first time ever. I continued to “date” (be groped by) boys for the next few years. When I was 13 I did actually make a friend. She had an older sister and my friend and I started going to parties with her. I started smoking pot and experimenting w/ acid and drinking etc. I smoked pot here and there from the age of 13-21. I tripped on acid about 10 times between the ages of 15-18. When I came down from acid I was very depressed! So, I stopped doing it.

I did mushrooms and ecstasy a few times too. Come downs were very unpleasant, so I stopped. When I was 16 I met my first real boyfriend. He was a few years older and awesome. He was smart and funny and kind and had a totally different (privileged) upbringing. He had traveled and was very inspiring. I dropped out of high school and moved in with him when I was 17. I started taking college classes (he was in school too) and I really liked it. I began studying for my associates degree. My boyfriend and I were very in love, he was a hero of sorts to me. He was “normal” and I wanted to be with him always. So why did I cheat on him? I told myself it was b/c I was going to spend the rest of my life with him and I needed to “sow my wild oats” so that I would not resent him/us later.

My boyfriend and I smoked pot several times a week, but were responsible in other ways. We had such a close, loving caring relationship; nothing was hidden, except my cheating. I still love this man and in some ways he will always be my best friend, even though he won’t speak to me anymore. I enjoyed the sexual excitement of the cheating, and my attractiveness was reaffirmed by these men who wanted me. After 5 years and 6 or so cheating incidents (one of them his own cousin), I told my boyfriend about the cheating. I wanted to get it out and let him know the “real” me. I had done some cocaine on one of our trips (not the drug for me, I got very depressed/anxious coming down) and I felt very vulnerable and fraudulent and I just wanted him to know. We broke up then. He could not come to terms with who I was. He felt the whole relationship must have been a joke. He was VERY hurt. I was down about it for years. I was 22 at the time.

I wanted to continue my college education and I wanted to do it somewhere cheap. When I thought there was still hope for me and boyfriend, I had moved to Athens, GA as he had and applied to grad school there. I figured after some time apart he’d come around. He almost did. But, while I was living in Athens, I got all lusty and needy for attention again and started dating a guy who I thought would “hold me over” until my boyfriend came down to GA. I figured this new guy could entertain me and maybe even spoil me (which I seemed to want) and take me a trip to CO skiing, and that I would be such a cool person then…blah, blah, blah. Well, when I told my boyfriend about it (I had to) that was the final straw. He just could not believe it. The end.

The beginning of me and my next boyfriend and our six-year pot smoking binge. I was very down about losing my first boyfriend, but the second one was fun, but I was in really in love w/ the first. I even moved up north briefly to try and win him back and it was not to happen. So, I went to the University of GA and got a degree and lived w/my second boyfriend for many years. The whole time with him I kept thinking, some rich, adventurous guy will come along, or better yet, my first boyfriend would come back to me. I was always on the look out for some awesome guy. Not that my second boyfriend was bad; he just did not meet my criteria for this dream guy. So I went to school, worked a little, racked up a ton of debt and did not do much else for 6 years. My dreams of traveling, becoming a singer/actress all passing me by.

My mom had been diagnosed with a degenerative disease years earlier and she was starting to deteriorate. My half-brother from my step-dad, was her primary caretaker. My step dad started getting worse too, he got drug-tested at his job w/ the county, and so he reasoned that he would start doing drugs that would not stay in his system as long, hence the heroin. I was pretty down about the situation. I would tell myself all kinds of negative things about it.

They were all up in NJ and I was not helping and it was a mess. It made me so sad. My sister was a mess too. She just could not keep a job, lied all the time (still the same), and stole from my mom. What an awful mess my family was, so sad. My mom’s condition was very distressing, I would think all the time...how could something so awful be happening. I knew she would not live a long life and that it would be hard in years to come as she lost her ability to control anything. Uggg.

In this mindset, no first boyfriend, sad family situation, I had 2 semesters of college left. I had not made any friends in school, so my life looked like: get up, go to school, come home, and smoke pot.

I never went to school or work high, but if I was home or out doing something else, I was always high. I did not want the relationship with my second boyfriend anymore, but I could not afford rent on my own. He was not awful, we just had different wants. He was not very ambitious. I though about cheating on him all the time but I did not ever do it. I promised myself that after what I did to my first boyfriend, I would never do that to anyone or me again.

I felt I had lost my life when I lost my first boyfriend. The only “friends” I had were pot connections. So, one evening I was at this sort of friend’s house and I thought the couch was moving. Well it was not, it was me, my heart was racing so badly that I was pitching forward with each pulse. I thought…’was there something in that pot? What the hell’?! Well, a few nights later, it happened again. I was at home w/ my second boyfriend, and we had just smoked pot, and my heart just went wild. I told him “my heart is doing that thing again” and we did not know what to make of it. I felt very awful. I tried to go for a jog (something I never did) around the block to see if I could regulate it.

Nothing worked. So, for the next three days I never calmed down. I did not sleep, I could not smile or think anything good, I told the university health care folks that I must be having a nervous breakdown. I knew nothing about anxiety or depression. I did not even know anxiety attacks existed. I thought if people took Prozac it was b/c they were sort of crazy. Well, the health center gave me an Ambien, and then a valium of some kind; both were to help me sleep. Neither worked.

After the 3rd night of no sleep, I asked my second boyfriend to bring me to the hospital b/c I was suicidal. I wanted to die b/c I could not sleep and could not get a break from the thoughts. I thought maybe the acid I did long ago messed-up my brain and I’m stuck in a low. WOW! This happened so suddenly. Like a train hit me.
I was in the hospital for one night, they did not see me until the morning and they were not at all compassionate, it was a very bad experience. The Dr, came in Saturday night and I heard her say with a sigh “So, where is this suicidal girl...I’ll see her in the morning.” That hurt more than I can say, I needed her help, I was so confused. I did not sleep there either despite the drugs they gave me to help. I had never had sleep trouble before.

Next morning the doctor came in and told me I was depressed and put me on Zoloft and sent me home. As you might imagine the next many months were hell. I had a few more anxiety attacks, but I worried about them all the time! They were going to get me! I still have that worry, though this has not happened. By the way, I never smoked pot again after that night. Dropped it cold turkey, I did not want that happening to me ever again.

I stayed on Zoloft for 1.5 years at a pretty low dose. I don’t know what it did for me if anything, except that I gained lots of weight! I went off of it, and I felt pretty symptom free, (except for the constant being scared stiff of its return!) until this past November. After the hospital incident I got by as best I could, I finished school and got a job in a lab at the university. It was okay, but I wanted to move from GA and be out of the relationship with my second boyfriend. I had wanted both of these things for some time, but felt so confused and scared about where to go. So I kept working and being with him. Even he knew I was done w/ him; we just didn’t do much about it.

I had a major crush on one of the guys at the lab, but he was married. He reminded me so much of my first boyfriend, he was funny, outgoing, kind, and I never saw him checking out other women or being immature. I get very upset if someone I’m with looks at other women or porn (maybe something we can talk about). This man was lots of things that my second boyfriend was not, a homeowner, a college grad, outgoing, and I just thought he was so funny and so wonderful. Long story shorter, his marriage failed, his wife fell in love w/ someone else. He was devastated.

Then a new woman came along (I was out of the picture) and snapped him up. She was very needy and he took care of her, she proposed, they married. They moved away for a time, and then moved back to Athens. When they came back I decided I would test the waters. This was not a happy relationship from the outside. All of his friends (me included) knew it was less than ideal. So, I went for it! I wanted him and I went for it. He decided he might be better off out of that relationship, so he divorced and I left my second boyfriend and we started dating. Of course, I had been living w/ my second boyfriend…so I had to move out.

So, after a few months I moved into my third boyfriend’s place. We worked at the lab for a short time more. Then he got a job in Atlanta. We were very happy with our relationship. We both felt some guilt about his marriage break-up, but it was so awful that we could not feel that badly about it. He and I both did not like GA, so we planned to head out here. He was trying to land jobs elsewhere and I had begun working at a crappy job in Athens.

This November I decided I could not work at my job anymore, after about 6 months there. My boss was a brat and he treated people like crap and lied to them. So, before I quit, I ratted him out behind his back. Something that still scares me. I hate that I went about it that way, and I was very nervous when I did it. But, I did it. So, I was newly jobless and a snitch.

My third boyfriend and I went out w/ a visiting colleague one night. I do not drink very often, I don’t like being out of control or worried about hangovers etc. This night I drank and did something I’d always feared. I always fancied myself a closet singing sensation. So I drank enough that I tried Karaoke. Athens is a music town and even karaoke is a big deal, the bar that I did it at, is where a lot of local musicians hang out. I had wanted to do it for 6 years, but did not want to blow it.
This night I just did it. I think I wanted the world to change b/c of it, I wanted record execs to come out of hiding and offer me deals, I wanted my friends to gush about how talented I was. None of this happened. Next day I felt kind of down, tired mostly. But, the second day, my third boyfriend and I sat down to have breakfast, and I felt very anxious. I thought “who am I? Who is this person? What am I doing here”? On and on.

So, I went upstairs to shower and the awful feelings continued. And boom, just like that I was depressed, and anxious for the next several months. I went back to my counselor who helped me the first time and started talk-therapy again. After a few weeks I also got on a small dose of Celexa.

My third boyfriend finally landed a job in Oregon and I was not excited. This was something we had looked forward to and fantasized about for almost a year. I had begun to work with him in Atlanta and I continued to do that through those depressed/anxious times. A friend told me about the Feeling Good/Burns book. I liked it and used it, I saw hope in it. I saw the tiny bit of Celexa as sort of a safety net, and I hated the idea of meds. It was below the therapeutic dose, but I could not take more as I could not sleep if I did. I was back seeing my counselor, exercising, studying, and taking the meds….doing all I could.

The holidays were pretty bad. I just felt down and anxious. My third boyfriend proposed to me during this time, and I said yes. We got married on Dec17th by my yoga teacher on her property, it was lovely. Before this particular depression had hit, I was very concerned with my appearance and was not at all ready to marry. My heart wanted to, but some part of me kept saying “being a wife is so unattractive! You need to appear available to be loved. If you marry him he won’t want you anymore”…on and on.

During the depression some things loosened up for me. I decided that I would have to let go of the looks thing. I used to think about when I would get my first facelift etc. I thought I would never marry because it would mean I was an old maid….and besides…what if someone better came along?! What I realized was that I loved my third boyfriend and I wanted to share my life with him. I also realized how severely the looks issue was weighing on me. So, some things loosened up for me in that time.

I was terrified to move here because one of the things that is helpful to me if I feel down is to be among friends, and I had a few in Georgia. We don’t have any here. I thought, “oh boy, I am going to go off the deep end when we move! I won’t have anyone to distract/support me”. I have HUGE fears of ending up in the hospital, and suicidal etc. I was not that depressed during or even after the actual move in January (was it the tiny bit of Celexa, the distractions, the Burns work, all of it?).

I felt pretty good for the first 8 weeks or so here in Portland. I would try to clean the house a lot so that I could feel worthy b/c my husband was bringing in all the money. I stopped taking my 5mg of Celexa b/c I had being feeling fine and reasoned that I had jumped the gun by getting on it anyway. About the first week in March, I started feeling down. I told myself it was b/c I did not have enough structure (job) etc.

The fact is I had been looking for jobs, but not putting much effort or time in. I could not go out and get just any job b/c of this belief I have about how “bad” jobs make me miserable. I could just wait for a good job in my field to come along. Well, as it turns out I got pregnant in March…which might have been part of my mood trouble (hormones). I found out on April 1st that I was pregnant. I was devastated! I have not decided that I want kids, I’m not sure yet. My husband does, but I’m not sure. I had had abortions before, and had decided that if my husband and I got pregnant we would keep it. So, I told everyone that I was pregnant; I wanted people to make me feel excited about it.

That did not work. I got more and more fearful. All I saw was this depressed pregnant lady and then depressed mom. I had visions of myself friendless, and jobless in this new city and saddled with a baby who I did not want, my husband at work all day and me home doing nothing.

It was not a happy vision. I told myself I was not going to follow in my mother’s foot steps. After telling everyone I was pregnant, I had decided I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. I started feeling worse. We did in fact terminate the pregnancy. I had so many reasons and I hoped they were good. I had just gotten married, just moved across country, changed job situations…I was overwhelmed. Truth be told I am fearful as hell about giving birth! I am also afraid of PPD, and of post partum psychosis. I wish I was not so afraid, b/c a baby would be sweet I think.

That particular spell of depression cleared up for the most part in June. In June I was hired full-time as staff scientist. Maybe I just got busy with work etc and forgot about mood for a bit. The fear was still there, still is.

In October, right about the time season field work was coming to an end for me…I felt a bit down. I worried that my first winter here in Portland would be hard, without much sun. I also worried b/c 2 of the past 3 Octobers had started cycles of depression for me. So what may have been PMS turned into what I am going through now. A few weeks ago my family Dr. put me on 10mg/daily Lexapro. I don’t like the idea of meds, but was so tired and afraid that I figured it was time to try them again.

I have seen 4 therapists in Portland. A few were somewhat helpful, but I feel I have not found a good fit yet.

I have read David Burns, Cheri Huber, Marty Seligman, A.B. Curtiss, Dr. Edelstein (three minute therapy) and several others. I am trying distraction, disputation, mood logs. I am exercising daily and meditating some. Taking tons of Omega 3’s.
My recent negative self talk looks like:

Anxiety and depression run in my family, I had a bad upbringing and on top of that I probably messed my brain up w/ acid and other drugs. I don’t have a solid core, I don’t like or trust myself. I am not safe from my mind. I am going to have a thought/mood that will not pass and I will end up hurting me or someone else. I am going to end up in the hospital. I seem to be too weak to control this negativity on my own. My problems are too complex for CBT to work. I probably sabotage the process. Even if I do feel better at some point I will always be afraid of this happening again, so this is hopeless. I will always be on the run from this. Any day now, I will go crazy for good. Life is just not good enough, I am not good enough. What is the point? R.

Dear R.

The reason that therapy so often fails today is both the therapist and the patient don't really "get it" that most of what occurs in the counseling office is that the patient is trying to fix their history. They are still mad about being shortchanged and want to be somehow reimbursed. No kind of reimbursement is possible. Which is why therapy takes so many years. The patient is still using the process of blame to avoid seeing their fear and then, as a result of seeing their fear, addressing it so they can make more positive behavior choices.

Both the therapist and the patient believe the patient is trying to fix the patient's daily life. But if that were true, they would not need to go over the patient's past background. Child abuse has nothing to do with adult choices except that it is harder to form new patterns of behavior than to fall into habitual use of old ones.

Old poor behavior patterns have no power to limit one's use of good behavior patterns. This includes former crazy behavior as well, which is not often thought of as a choice. But a person has to realize this fact. Once they do, then they can simply put all their energy into practicing new behavior patterns until they become dominant over the old poor behavior patterns.

The old behavior patterns will still exist in the memory banks but as new ones take precedence, the old ones cease to be used as often. This is due to the brain’s plasticity, its ability to create new neural patterns as a result of new behavior and new thinking.

But this seems too simple. Most people prefer the “cure” for their poor behavior patterns to be complicated so that there is more excuse for lack of success. Why do we want lack of success? It's human nature to settle for the old ways, the known, even if it's miserable, than to risk the new. As the old phrase goes “ better to live with the Devil we know…”

The new ways generally involve dealing with your fear. Repressed fears are extremely painful. The more you are willing to risk addressing your fear, the less need you have for excuse, and the more you will use your energy to take the simple road to instituting new and better behavior patterns and therefore a better life. Hope this helps.

The funny thing is that you could write yourself any kind of life history background and substitute for the real one and take it to a therapist and the change would have no effect on your therapy. The only difference is that your real history explains your fear. But you don't need your fear explained. You just need to address your fear so that it can finish and you can move on. Read chapter ten on getting in touch with your fear.

Dear A. B.

Thank you for this Arline. I can see that the points you make are valid. In fact, I have been reading about types of therapy lately and how dwelling on a patient's history can be not only useless, but even harmful b/c of the negative focus on a bunch of "do not wants". I debated over whether to send the history b/c I did not want you to think that I was ignorant of this, and I also did not want you to think that I wanted to dwell on the past. I sent it afterall b/c hell, it's already written, but I do appreciate your being candid about yours views on it. It so happens I agree!

The past few days I have been using something you mentioned to me and wrote about in DiaC (do you like the abbreviation of your book?). Each time I feel the temptation to dwell on the negative or fall into my pattern of doing so, I think about how it is not helpful to EVER dwell on how bad you feel or how bad things seem.

I picture myself as a salmon swimming upstream b/c that is the good thing to do, not b/c it will mean I will get somewhere and never suffer. This has been helping me. I am refusing to "do" negative thinking once I catch it going on. I am reminding myself that it is a choice, you are living proof and welcome reminder of this.

Dear R.

You are on the right track. For 32 you are quite mature. I suspect you matured earlier than is appropriate due to your home life. This was true of me also. So, like me, you will have to go back and allow those softer parts of you to venture out that were stifled when you were young. It is also harder for people like us to develop the ability to love other people due to our excessive amount of fear and the fact that we didn't have much practice.

This is why we get sex all mixed up with love and can't seem to settle on somebody. We really don't know how to invest ourselves in another person and make them important to us. Mostly we are the most important person to us. But we can develop this ability to relate in a loving way to others. The first thing to do is start to allow the fear to surface so you can acknowledge it and let it go. It takes courage to love someone else because you put yourself in such a vulnerable, belly up position. You can practice making someone's else’s wishes more important than yours. Start in very small ways. You'll be surprised how rewarding this can be to all involved. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Man, you nailed it when you said "we can't seem to settle on someone." I never thought I would get married. I was afraid. Afraid it would make to me too unavailable to other people/options. Afraid my spouse would be with me, but secretly want other women (in bed). Thankfully I did get married and I am doing my best to be a good partner. I am very open about my ego/mood etc issues, so nothing is hidden. Poor guy, huh? :)

I frequently have dreams where I am not given enough time to get primped to go some place where there will be other guys to impress. I try and try and my hair and make-up just are not quite perfect, I can't leave the house until I look stunning, they have to want me, they have to see me, they have to need me. When there is an event, I struggle to avoid doing this, needing the attention. If not only b/c...what happens when the beauty fades? What then will I rely on?
Again...the fear. Fear that I will not be appreciated enough in this life.

As soon as someone loves me enough, they lose value somehow...I feel the need to move on and impress other (seemingly more important people). I am very self-centered. I watch myself all the time and catch myself being constantly convinced that other people must being doing so. If I deem that I look perfect, I want them to notice me, if I don't think I look perfect I am pissed that they are paying attention to me. I notice all these things, I have noticed them for years. I think that is the first step. I see them going on. I know that they are fear based. That's a start no?

That's a wonderful start. To be self-aware that you are being self-focused is the very way out of self-focus. Build your life on doing your best everyday, and rededicating yourself when you fail. Don't build your life on how good you feel about yourself because you are a winner. Many of us have tried to win some gold medal, lost and must content ourselves with being good people and making the best out of our day. When you go out and look at the stars, you start to realize that you are a part of something really beautiful. Try to add to the beauty of life by being a beautiful person in your efforts to be an ordinary good person, not a wonderful, self-assured one. A. B. Curtiss

Friday, March 19, 2010

To Stop Being Fearful, I Need Training and Practice

Dear Curtiss

Thanks a lot

I understand now whats going on in the brain. I just need to know the training and the practices. How to fight the fear. F. K.

Dear F. K.

You don't fight the fear, you just feel the fear. It is very painful but your own fear is not stronger than you are. Your fear is your psychological defense mechanism so when you see a snake, you will run away. But modern man has many fears that are irrational, there are no snakes, but still we are afraid. So little by little start to notice your own fear and just allow it. When you are angry at something it is a good time to turn your focus around from the object of your anger (a crying baby) and notice your own feelings of fear. It is hard at first. Here's a few paragraphs from Chapter ten in Depression is a Choice. You can read the chapter from your book. Here is the important part:

"When we decide to get in touch with our fear, we will probably not have to search very long. We have little fears every day of our lives that we have learned to avoid. Now we can learn to pay attention to them. One of the first little fears I discovered was that I was afraid to make phone calls if I had to tell someone something they didn’t want to hear, or if I was expecting some disappointment or rejection of some kind. I began to be aware that I kept putting off phone calls of this type by waiting until “later,” or forgetting to call at all, or losing the number. It was less painful for me to blame my non-calling on the fact that I was lazy or forgetful or disorganized than to admit I was afraid. That was because I knew how to handle laziness, or forgetfulness or disorganization. I had no idea what to do about my fear.

"Once I got more user-friendly with my fear, because I was going out of my way to confront it rather than avoid it, it was interesting to see how little power it really had. My fear turned out to be just like a big dog with a huge bark and menacing fangs that, when faced down, whimpers and licks your hand, wagging its tail to win your approval. These days when I think about these kinds of calls, I can still feel the fear buzz around the inside of my chest, almost like a little electric shock. I just carry the pain of my fear buzz straight to the phone and get the calls over with.

"When we find ourselves blaming anyone or anything, we can change the focus from the object of our blame back to ourselves and any feelings we might be having at the moment. One clue is that fear is painful. IT HURTS! Even a little fear gives a certain buzz around the heart, or stomach area, or in the throat. Breathing is usually more shallow. Today I still have fear, but I have a different relationship to it. For one thing, it is now invited rather than uninvited. I have welcomed my fear back into my life. Fear is no more to me than the roller coaster I rode when I a kid: “Whew, I was scared to death, that was a good one!”

"A good way to get in touch with repressed fear is studying things we “hate” to do. Hate is simply fear projected onto some object. For instance, although I don’t mind at all filling the dishwasher, I “hate” to empty it. Sometimes when I remember that hate is just projected fear, I focus my awareness on any fear that might be going on by taking my focus off how much I hate emptying the dishwasher. Sure enough, I can always catch that little electric buzz, or at the least, the tight throat, the shallow breathing. This awareness has elevated emptying the dishwasher to a whole new experience. Once we get in touch with little fears, we can go on to bigger ones.

I used to hate it when my husband started yelling at me about something. When I took the focus away from hating my husband to checking out my gut level of fear, I got in touch with a whole mother lode of repressed fear. This was also true about those sudden, unexpected loud whoops and calls, not directed at me at all, that he lets loose while watching a football game on TV. They can still set bolts of fear swhooshing through my entire body.

Ultimately I began to understand that it was not so much that the yelling filled me with fear. It was more like the yelling was a flashlight that illuminated a lot of unfinished, repressed fear that had been raging around inside of me since childhood, and brought it to my attention so I could let it finish. My husband’s yelling, which I used to hate, turned out to be a great gift. We don’t have to arm ourselves against fear, but rather with fear and by fear. When we willingly undergo our fear, we understand that fear is a power source that comes from the inside–it is not caused by an assault from the outside."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Get Angry When My Baby Cries Please Help Me

Dear Curtiss
I am easily anxious when I hear my baby crying. Easily get distracted and feeling angry. I do not know how I can fix this.

Please help me. F. K.

Dear F. K.

You must remember than all anger is fear turned outward. You are not really angry at your baby. You are projecting your inward fear, your repressed fear upon your baby. You can fix this by getting in touch with your repressed fear and releasing it, letting it finish. Again, read chapter 10 in Depression is a Choice. A. B. Curtiss

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fear and Love are the Only Two Things

Thanks A. B.

I very much appreciate you sharing that experience with me, it is encouraging. It is very reassuring to hear someone who knows say that we don't have to suffer.

I find the fearful part of me says "yeah, see...she still suffers though, it still comes around."

Fear also wonders: Perhaps some of us (me) are just not strong enough to make the great effort it takes to turn this around? Some salmon maybe aren't able to make the upstream swim, survival of the fittest?

Fear is what operates on me the most. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd say I am still in this depression because part of me is so afraid that when I come out it will just happen again and be even worse next time. I don't know what to do with all of this fear. Fear of panicking at work, fear of hospitalization, fear of never knowing fearlessness and happiness. And now I am just dumping on you....so I will stop here.

Do you know any therapists that you would recommend in the Portland area?

Once again, I do thank you!


Dear R,

There are only two things--fear and love. We are made of love. It is our ground. That is why fear is so terrible because we don't know that we can get to the safety of ourselves. There is nothing we can do about love except be it. Fear we can do something about. We can acknowledge it as our alarm system going off, and we can turn away from it. We can remember that fear only happens in our subcortex. We can always get to our neocortex which does not have the capacity for fear. Then from the neocortex we can connect to present reality and realize ourselves once again. What helps calm the fear is knowing you can always, always, always escape to the neocortex where fear cannot go. We can always do this. As we confront more and more of our repressed fear (chap 10 in the book Depression is a Choice) we find we begin to live less fearful lives. As Marcus Aurelious said, "I shall cling to nothing else but reason alone."

It is true that all salmon do not make it upstream. But if you are a salmon you should dwell on the fact that it is salmonly possible for you to do so. And to think otherwise is counterproductive, and should not be an option. It is the weakness of our Western civilization that such extreme importance is placed upon expectation of reward, upon winning rather than upon engaging oneself in good action, as the only reasonable option, regardless of any final outcome.

I remember an interview with a professor once who said to me "you are an extremely fearful person."
"Yes, I realize that," I said.

And he looked up very kindly and said "That can change."

And it did change. I am no longer a fearful person.

A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

I can't thank you enough. You have a gift for writing, especially the inspirational kind. Perhaps your gift is cutting through the fat to the meat. Whatever it is, I find myself wishing you were my counselor. I have been through so many now that have not been helpful, and one that was actually a hindrance to healing, if anything. I feel I could benefit from someone regularly speaking sense to me as you have done today.

In gratitude,


Dear R.

You can email me with questions anytime. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Natural to Think you Have to Suffer Depression, But You Don't Have to Suffer it


I read Depression is a choice and gained some hope from it. The simple fact that you don't suffer long periods of depression anymore is enough to lend hope to those of us suffering. I have, for about 5 years now (I am 32), suffered on and off from anxiety/depression. I am going out tonight to buy Brainswitch. I hope it helps me. I am 2 months into a particularly nasty (for me) mood spell. I have read countless books! I thought radical acceptance was going to be the answer for me, but it turns out I'm not that great at accepting this. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write. If it helps even one person, it's so worth it.


Dear R.

Thank you for your letter. I will relate an experience to you that should be of some comfort. The other night I woke in the middle of the night with a particularly excruciating depression. It was so agonizing that my first thought was, no wonder people are so afraid of this. This is unbearable. I felt like I was going to throw up I was in such pain. Then I thought how easy it is to suffer this, but why am I suffering when I know I can get out of it?

Because it seems so natural to suffer the pain in your own body, I thought. It seems so inevitable, so necessary. And yet, I thought, I know that I can thoughtjam it and why don't I? Then I did start to thoughtjam it with the dumb little song "Yes, we have no bananas today". The depression was so insistent that I shortened the phrase to “Yes, we have no, Yes, we have no,” and screamed it over and over into my mind. I went back to sleep in less a half hour (I know because my clock chimes every half hour and I didn't hear the chime. When I woke in the morning, I had no depression.

I want to tell you this because I want you to remember my experience when depression hits you. It is easy and seems absolutely necessary to suffer your depression when it comes upon you. Almost every psychiatrist will tell you you have to suffer it. They tell you that you have no control over it. And psychiatrists suffer more from depression than any other profession, and drug themselves to combat it because of their beliefs. Almost every clinical psychologist will tell you you have to suffer it. Why these professional men are so ignorant about how the human brain works I do not know. But I will tell you right now that you do not have to suffer it,

The Feb 8, 2010 Newsweek Magazine’s cover story was about new research that shows anti-depressants are no better than placeboes. The medical profession is finally coming around. Depression is extremely hard to turn away from, but with great effort, you can turn away, and you do not have to suffer more than a few minutes. A. B. Curtiss

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Repressed Fear is a Big Part of My Life

I’m not sure how best to respond to comments so I thought I would just make a new post, repeat the comment and then answer the comment.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Compared to Brainswitch out of Depression, Dale Ca...":

Dear Ms. Curtiss

As I learn more, I'm discovering that repressed fear is playing a big part in my life. I didn't come from an abusive childhood, which has made it more difficult to understand the whys. But I'm just like that marine that sweated as you moved your chair closer to him. I'm scared of people. I learned to hide in plain sight in social situations. Laughing, enjoying, nodding in agreement, but rarely a one one conversation with people. You talked of theraputic massage to work on the repressed fear. Could you explain further?

I'm trying to confront the fear as it happens in my life now, with successes. But it just seems I could be doing more on this.


Dear Anonymous

Yes, it is difficult to get in touch with repressed fear because it is so painful to do it. But the pain is just fear that needs to be acknowledged, and then allowed to finish itself. Once you decide to get rid of repressed fear and become more aware of little fears that crop up during your daily life, it will get easier. If you read chapter 10 in my book Brainswitch out of Depression it will be a help. You can get the book in most libraries. And therapeutic massage does help as well. There is a deep mind-body connection.

The other thing is to become more aware when you are being self-focused, thinking about how you are feeling. This is a great problem in social interaction because self focus always leads to negative thinking. To get out of self focus and into outer focus, start choosing to think about things outside of yourself. Concentrate on what somebody else is saying or doing. Interact with someone on a small scale. Just a start, even if you are shaking in your boots. Usually people respond nicely to small interactions.

The more you risk interaction, the easier it becomes. It is a matter of practice. You won't be good at it at first. It's all right if you fail at first. It is noble to fail. Give yourself the freedom to fail. Failure does not kill you, it makes you stronger. A. B. Curtiss

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Does Brainswitching Work for Despair and Hopelessness?

Dear A.B. Curtiss,

I took LSD a couple months ago and experienced what is known as a bad trip. Since then, I have been somewhat depressed and detached socially. I have also had trouble sleeping and several times throughout the day I find myself anxious over things that I know I shouldnt worry about. I am in college so the combined stress of being socially detached and schoolwork is completely overwhelming. Although the drug may have possibly triggered a mental illness, I was wondering if it is still possible to use your methods listed in Depression is a Choice to overcome the despair and hopelessness I face on a daily basis. Is it still possible to "rewire" the brain, and change my mindset so I can be normal again and be excited about what is to come in the future? FDS

Dear FDS,

I don't know anything about the effects of drugs so to be on the safe side you should speak to your medical doctor about your symptoms. As far as using my books DEPRESSION IS A CHOICE and BRAINSWITCH OUT OF DEPRESSION to rewire you brain, you are rewiring your brain every day of your life already. So you might as well rewire it in a positive way, on purpose, as opposed to rewiring it accidentally along the lines of depression, fear, anxiety, and worrying about things you know you shouldn't be worried about.

Remember that the brain always follows the direction of its most current dominant thought. To make any thought dominant, you think it over and over, on purpose. Or you can have a thought become dominant, like a depressive thought or an anxious thought, or even a crazy thought, by letting your habitual wandering thoughts recreate themselves over and over in your brain. Everybody has accidental crazy thoughts that pop up. It's your responsibility not to dwell on them, but quickly ignore them, and chose more productive on-purpose thinking.

There is no downside risk to taking charge of your own thinking and deciding to think productive thoughts, on purpose, rather than depressive, anxious or crazy ones, by habit.

For improving your social skills I suggest reading Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People and, if you can manage the time, take a course in Toastmaster's International which is in most towns, even small ones, and is very inexpensive. Not only will you get in touch with your own repressed fear but you will see other people struggling with their own fears of public speaking. A. B. Curtiss

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is It Always a Chemical Imbalance When You're Depressed?

Dear A. B. Curtiss

I also knew that people can brainswitch from being depressed to being joyful again. However, I have fallen in the trap of depression. I feel like I am blinded by all my thoughts.. I just want to ask you what do you think of my situation. Because right now I believe I’m still in the state of "depression" but I’m doing something about it. Thank you for the exercises on your website.

There are things that happened to me in the past week I think brought me to this kind of situation and now I want to "get back" again and forget about everything in the past. I feel like I can't because the things that happened in the past are still unresolved/understood.. now I’m confused. It could be because I haven’t gotten over the past or is it chemical imbalance? Im soo confused..

Thanks by the way for your website it really helped.. waiting for your reply.. thank you so much. K. M.

Dear K. M.

It's always a chemical imbalance when you are depressed. The chemical imbalance is caused by anxious thinking which triggers the fight or flight response and dumps stress chemicals in your brain. Stop thinking the anxious thoughts and the brain will stop producing stress chemicals that make you depressed.

You say there are things that happened in the past that you don’t understand. If you were not protected and loved by your parents or guardians, and suffered abuse or abandonment you will have a deep and repressed fear about it. This deep fear will also be a deep anger. Deep anger is anxiety producing and sooner or later turns into depression. This is the bad news.

The good news is that you don’t have to go back and rehash what or what did not happen. You can start right where you are and start noticing the things in your daily life that cause fear. If you are earnest in uncovering your repressed fear, you can let it finish. That’s all you can do with any fear. Notice it, and then let it finish. It is very painful to do this so most people quickly distract themselves from this pain by blaming people or circumstances around them. To get in touch with repressed fear read Chapter 10 in Depression is a Choice. If you don’t have the book, let me know and I can email the chapter.A.B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Thank you so much for replying..

But I’ve got a last question. It’s about chemical imbalance. Is it possible to occur when a person kept on thinking about negative things (you know because she's trying to understand something from her past that really affected her personality) and no one is there to listen, nor to correct her feelings and thoughts, so most likely it just gotten worst and worst... so is chemical imbalance possible to occur there? Thank you again.. this will be my last question

Dear K. M.

The self-focus that you get into while dwelling on the past with regret, fear, anxiety will, soon or later, turn into depression due to all the negative and anxious thinking that causes stress chemicals to be produced in your brain. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Ok I have a question again. Actually I am not abused or hurt by someone. In fact I’m the one who is the bad one. I pushed people away and ended up being alone. I think that's the reason why I became depressed because I was left alone. I've got no friends, I’m not the approachable type of person and it gave me a negative impact. That's why I’m trying to understand, change, and accept the past. HOWEVER in my reflecting mode I slip to depression... and now I don't know. A part of me knows I can get over and forget about it, but a part of me doesn't want to because I don’t want to move on unless I understand the pattern in my depression. It’s hard to just move on and forget about it if you don't understand something.

Oh by the way, do you believe in the brainswitching thing? Before I wonder why people became depressed because I know that people can just forget about their problems so I wondered why they got stuck in them. But unfortunately then I became one of the victims.

Dear K. M.

It human nature for us to want friends and companionship with someone. If you are not good at making friends, you can improve your skills. Read a book by Dale Carnegie called “How to Make Friends and Influence People. Making friends is not a skill you are born with. If your parents didn’t help you to become sociable, you will have to learn those skills as an adult. Many people are lonely just because they didn’t develop the skill of how to make themselves likable and approachable to others.

The other thing that can keep you from being approachable is a lot of repressed fear. Even though you might not be aware of being a fearful person, it is very noticeable to others that you are not the warm and fuzzy type that it is comfortable to pal around with. Again, you can change this as well. You can get in touch with your repressed fear.

Any kind of self-focus, thinking about your faults, your failed past, former abuse and sad circumstances will sooner or later turn into depression. Even self-focus that starts out positive, after a while will turn on you and become negative. That is because your brain is a defense mechanism whose whole purpose is to keep you safe by looking for the negative, for possible problems, looking in dark places, etc. Self-focus should be avoided in favor of more productive and more outer-directed thinking . A. B. Curtiss

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is Depression a Sin?

Hi A.B. Curtiss,

I am reading your 'Depression is a Choice' book for an undergrad psychology class and had a question that I was hoping you could give me a little more insight, if you have some time. As I was reading and discussing the self-mind separation, where you have a core of your true essence and, at the same time, you can look out at the other, negative things you do that aren't really a part of you.

While discussing that, the thought of sin and soul came to mind. That your innermost part of you (some may call that your soul) is the essence of you, which is pure and true. And then there is all of this other stuff that you do, including depression, but that isn't really you, which I thought of as sin. I have noticed in your book you don't bring your religious beliefs into the discussion, but I was curious about your thoughts on this. Thank you for taking the time in reading this.

Jenny Anderson
Augustana College, Sioux Falls, Sd

Dear Jenny,

I don't talk about sin in this book. Rather I talk about the opposite of sin, which is earnestness to do the right thing. I don't talk about sin because you can't do anything with sin. In a way it's like the situation of dark and light. You can't really do anything with the dark because it is the absence of light. And it seems to me that sin is similar in that sin is the absence of doing good.

I think of sin as being different from evil. I suppose you can do something with evil as it seems to be a force of some kind, a power of some kind. There is no power to sin, it seems to be simply an error, or weakness, rather than having any kind of power. A. B. Curtiss

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.