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Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Salute You, My Fellow Traveler

Well, the new year is almost upon us so this will be my final blog for 2012. It is a long one prompted by an email from amazon.com that someone had made a comment on my review of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.

I wrote too long a reply to that comment so I thought I would put it on my blog instead of amazon.com. So many times I have thought I should write a posting on my blog when I’m depressed but that doesn’t happen too often so I don’t think I ever have. Well, today comes pretty close  to it as I have been working hard all week getting out of a depression. Yes, thank goodness, I can do that. But since it was so fresh in my mind how I did it, I thought it might be helpful to describe it.

If you want to read all the amazon.com negative and positive comments on my review I have put them all here. Or you can scroll down to the last entry where I describe my bout with depression this week. I’ll try and capitalize that so you can find it easily. Happy New Year to all and to all a good year coming up.    A. B. Curtiss


The excellent writing in Noonday Demon describes the agony of depression in a profound way. The author is the son of Howard Solomon, head of Forest Laboratories who sells Celexa so there was a lot of big pharma money behind the book. Author Solomon doesn't seem to know a thing about how his own brain works, and basically has decided to surrender helplessly to his own mind. I would rather see mediocre writing describing the joy of how you get out of depression instead Pulitzer Prize poetry about the agony of how you have to live with it.


K. M. Kier Comment:
The NoonDay Deman is not a self help book. There are plenty out there if that is what you seek, but his objective was more ambitious. Did you read the book and do you suffer from chronic depression? The answer to the latter must be no, as those who suffer from chronic depression are never cured. It is something that they have to learn to live with. While there may be periods of remission and sufferers have days that are better than others, it is not something that they will ever be able to free themselves of entirely. It's roots are biological and it is organic in nature, just like any other disease. Unfortunately medicines, with their side effects and waning efficacy as time goes on, are not a panacea. Therapy helps, but depression is not something you can talk yourself out of. It helps, and works even better with an effective medication, but you seemed to have missed the point of the book and still don't have a good grasp on how depression affects those that suffer from it. Don't shoot the messenger because you didn't like what he had to say. The sad truth is that the book you were hoping for would have to be categorized as fiction.

A.B.Curtiss Response:
I guess I don't want to argue with you. I wonder though on what authority you insist that depression is uncurable? I used to suffer from what was diagnosed as manic depression but I don't anymore because I have learned to manage my thinking process better. My authority for my comments is that I am a board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist

K. M. Kier:
My basis for it is that I suffer from chronic depression that at times can be debilitating, my mother suffered from it and is now dead by suicide , and her father had manic depression. He had to be hospitalized on several occasions and receive ECT treatments when it was a much more barbaric procedure. My sister also suffers from it. I applaud your certification and the role you play in the Mental Health Care system, but managing your thinking better does not rid one of chronic depression. It may allow one to cope better, as depressed people tend to ratchet things up with ruminations and distorted thinking. However, it sounds to me like you got the wrong diagnosis, which is a prolific and unavoidably inherent problem with mental illness.To be able to accurately classify the personality into clean and distinct categories (i.e. BiPolar 1,2, axis disorders et al) would be nice. It just doesn't fit the real world where everyone falls on a spectrum that encompasses an infinite number of possibilities. If a chemical imbalance is causing the depression, talking yourself into feeling better would be akin to talking yourself out of a hangover, another, albeit decidedly more temporary, chemical imbalance. There are people with Borderline Personality disorder, which walk, talks, and looks like BiPolar disorder but is more a product of environment. BPD responds much better to CBT than a true BiPolar. I am an advocate of CBT but a chronic depressive order is never going to be cured by such methods. I might also mention that because of my issues, I had to leave my post medical school Psychiatry Residency and likely will never return. I truly am glad that you are better, but I would suggest taking what I have to say and applying it constructively to your practice. It would be fallacious and counterproductive to place the same expectations on everyone that you see. Regards

A.B. Curtiss response:
My father and brother were also diagnosed with bipolar and both took medication for years, my father had shock treatments. I refused to take the drugs and studied neuroscience instead where the answer to the chemical imbalance does lie. I place no expectations on anyone else but the cognitive behavior methods I have developed have helped many. A. B. Curtiss, Author of Brainswitch out of Depression.

John S. Bailey:
I'm glad you wrote this post. It shows your own bias in your review of Solomon's book.

Kimchi says:
I know this comment falls in the category of "argumentative" but as someone who has depression with bipolar tendancies and having had a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, I can tell you there is no "getting out of depression". There is merely awareness, maintenance, education and various therapies and medications. I'm inclined to believe your diagnosis of BPD is correct because I learned that my ex would often think he had control of his BPD by changing his thought processes and self-medicating. It would work temporarily but inevitably, he would fall into hypomania and our "rollercoaster" would begin again. What concerns me is that as someone who claims to have the credentials that you do, you've made comments that I find irresponsible for a therapist. No credible therapist that I've ever seen or know of would make statements about getting out of depression or claim that they've cured themselves of BPD simply by managing their thought processes better. That's not to say CBT isn't effective but I've always believed it to be effective as part of a treatment plan as opposed to a stand-alone treatment. I'm also confused as to how you can acknowledge depression and BPD as illnesses of the brain and then tout CBT as your "cure". Conscious changes in ones thinking simply do not repair synapses or restore chemical levels in the brain. Maybe they can help one cope with the chemical (and as a result, emotional) shifts one experiences but it doesn't "cure" it. I find your claims dangerous and irresponsible.

But wait, maybe I should buy and read your book first before I make those claims...

A. B. Curtiss response:
There is a chemical consequence in the brain for every single thought you think. A fearful thought causes a production of stress chemicals. Peaceful thoughts cause a lessening of the production of stress chemicals. Thinking also grows new neurons in the brain otherwise we could never learn a new skill. Just because you have no empirical evidence that you have been able to alleviate BPD by changing your thinking is not the same thing as having empirical evidence that it cannot be done.

Paris Tofino:
A.B. Curtis said: "I refused to take the drugs and studied neuroscience instead where the answer to the chemical imbalance does lie."

What is your statement intended to imply? Specifically, what insights have you gained about depression from your study of neuroscience?

A.B. Curtis also said: "The cognitive behavior methods I have developed have helped many."

It is well know that many people recover from depressive episodes without treatment and that many benefit from placebo treatments. Is there research evidence that has found that your CBT methods result in improvement in symptoms that is superior to placebo treatment or no treatment at all?

VisaCard Reader:
I am not a fan of "Big Pharma" and also suffer from depression - and have taken anti-depressants for over 20 years with varying results. My criticism of this review is the casual way in which its author claims that "there was a lot of big pharma money behind the book." To convince me and others of her claim, Ms. Curtiss owes readers objective evidence to support it.

Tricia Love:
K.M.Kier (Tricia is responding to this person's comment above)
I feel very brave to be responding to your post since I am not qualified in any way to discuss this matter. So from an impartial observer who happened to read the review of this book when it came out I just want to say that it seems to me, people with depression have to learn to live with it the best way they can (just like an amputee or a paraplegic for instance). The horrors people have related here about hereditary depression are depressing in themselves. It must be very scary knowing that several members of your family suffer or have suffered from chronic severe depression.

My comment is not meant to be taken lightly. A. B. Curtiss has found a way to live with her condition which has made an improvement in her life she wants to share with others. There is certainly something to be said for positive thinking (if you can manage it) A. B. seems to have been able to manage it. There is a form of self-hypnosis (don't scoff) called guided imagery, if it can be mastered by controlling the mind it is very helpful to some people. Perhaps there is hope, not of a cure yet, but of a better life. John Nash seemed to be able to find a way.

I know it's not just a matter of "pulling yourself together" it is not something you can shrug off. But if everything else about you is functioning fairly well, perhaps there is a good case to be made about a herculean effort to stand up out of your wheelchair and take a few steps - away from your chair. Steeping oneself in the subject, reading everything available, constant analysis and mixing with depressives, perhaps is not the best way forward, which after all is the journey we are all taking the best way we can. I feel A.B. Curtiss is to be commended in the work she is doing to help others, there are always the nay sayers.


Thanks for your comment Tricia, I had some disturbing news this week and got hit with a terrible whack of depression that I struggled with, on and off, all week. So I had to take my own medicine so to speak. Therefore I am fresh with the practice of working to get out of depression instead of allowing myself to succumb to it which is hard, hard, hard. I won’t deny that it is hard. And I will say this, when I get these bouts, my heart goes out to all those who suffer because it is just agony, agony, agony.

I found myself saying over and over, “I can’t stand this. I can’t stand the pain.” And the pain in my gut was hard like cement. “How can anybody stand this? I thought.” Then I caught myself in this destructive thinking since my habit is to do something, anything, except to fall into the unmitigated despair and just succumb to depression without a fight.

One by one I’d pick up one or another of the dumb exercises I habitually use. I don’t consult my book which has hundreds of pages of exercises because they seem to pop up just when I need to remember them. (The exercises are in my book BRAINSWITCH OUT OF DEPRESSION, my first book DEPRESSION IS A CHOICE is more of a philosophical look at depression).

So I did the mind exercises over and over during the day. I sang nursery rhymes to myself. I prayed. I especially like the 1st Psalm so I said that a lot. I used the scales exercise (on a scale of one to 10 how do you feel, then look at some small thing and be grateful for it, even a piece of colored plastic on the ground, and do that until you go up the scale of good feeling)

I remembered to change my thinking, when I fell deeper into it, from being subjective (thinking about how I felt) to being more objective and looking at the physical details of the world around me—my walls, the newspaper on the breakfast table and concentrating on the small details, like the veins in the flower petals.

This is not easy to do. It is hard, hard, hard to make yourself turn away from the paralysis of fascination with depression. But everything positive you do, or every neutral thought you think lessens the pain. After I’d so an exercise, I’d start on some or another project and then begin to concentrate on that instead of how I felt. I did start to feel better after a while. I went to the gym and worked out and swam.

During the last couple of days I continually used Emile Coue’s hypnosis: “Everyday, in every way my thinking is becoming more joyful and grateful. Soon my thinking will be only joyful and grateful and will continue to be only joyful and grateful for the rest of my life.” I did that over and over, especially as I was going to sleep or just waking up.

So for several days I got waves of depression throughout the early part of the day and pretty much faded each one out after 10 minutes or so by my doing some mind techniques and then from the mind techniques I would ease into to taking on some project or another. I would now and then experience small tendrils of joy creeping into the darkness. By the afternoon each day I was perfectly okay and noticed I was again joyful and grateful, and then I might get hit in the morning. I kept telling myself it was okay to acknowledge and mourn one’s losses but it should not turn into depression.

The main thing I kept telling myself when depression would cover over me is that the terrible depression I felt, whenever it came, was something to be ignored and stepped out over into something, anything more productive. I would do anything except allow myself to think about depression.

I was encouraged to find that no matter how bad the hits came, I never slipped back into my old habitual depressive practices that I was stuck in as a young woman by speaking in a low, sad voice, or taking to my bed and pulling up the covers and otherwise disengaging from the world around me. I eagerly sought to re-engage wherever I could, with the clerk at the grocery store, joke with my husband, setting up lunch with a friend so I’d have something to look forward to.

I sometimes thought of all the other depressed people out there and wished them well and promised I would not add to the universal despair, that I would take on my share of the burden and move forward with my day and perhaps that might help lift them as well in some way. We don’t know everything, do we? We don’t even know what it is that we don’t know. And don’t the mystics say we are “all one.”

Right now I can see both sides of the coin. I can look on the side of despair but I don’t stay there. I choose to look forward to small things I can be grateful for, a nice breakfast, my dogs greeting me, my writing, my husband. I’m just finishing my first science fiction novel for young adults. I want to send that out to see if I can get a publisher. The publishing world has changed so much I hardly know where to turn. So I can look forward to working on that.

I am glad for myself that I did all the work and study of depression for years because I can now avail myself of all of it whenever I need it. I know how my brain works and that anxiety and fear are only in the subcortex and I can move into the neocortex with mind exercises and there is never any depression in the neocortex. And I’m glad I wrote my two depression books and am gratified that they have helped other people.

Isn’t that what we are here for, to connect with one another. To help one another. To love one another. Nothing works except love. Nothing. We need to remember to turn around from despair and look in another direction, even if just for a second. Put out your hand and just feel the table in front of you. Concentrate on moving your hand and watching it. Concentrate on your hand for a few minutes and some of the pain of depression will lessen if you are depressed at the moment.

In the whole universe of chaos isn’t the human hand, my hand, your hand, a miracle? Now, at this moment, I raise my hand and salute you, my fellow traveler, wherever you are on the eve of this New Year. That’s a positive thought. Every positive thought or action takes us closer to where we are supposed to be—perfectly okay.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rest Yourself in the Unexpected

Everybody, at this time of year, has their sadness, their losses, their failures to hover over and haunt them much like the spirits who visited Scrooge on Christmas Eve. These shadows are not easy to dispel and sometimes they keep you from moving ahead with some joyousness. Sometimes, when I am tempted to dwell upon hurts, lacks, or disappointments, I think about my daughter’s words a while ago.

She said no matter how bad things are, we still can’t just give up. We can’t ever give up. We have to do our very best every day with whatever comes our way. Our very best is all anybody can do. We can rest in that—that at the moment we are doing the best we can. We can rest in the thought that we are just an ordinary person doing our ordinary best. Nobody really cares if we are extraordinary. Even if we aspire to that. ordinary will do, every time.

A couple of people have told me they find this poem comforting when they are teetering on the edge of despondency and are looking for a tree limb of hope to grab onto as they slide toward the black cliff. It comes from a book I wrote called Children of the Gods. I copied and framed it for a good friend for his birthday last month. The book is my least best selling book but I find it even helps me to read it now and then. It reminds me that I always have the power to put things that bother me into a different perspective. There are only two ways to look at any approaching moment, with fear or with love. Here’s the poem:

You have become a prisoner
    of the preconceived,
Your hopes are your insanity.
You cannot plan God, plan reality.
Reality is always a surprise.
The truth you seek is hidden
 by your wish to find it.
You are chained to every pain
  and sorrow
By the desire that it should not
Be happening the way it is.
It is the wanting something else
That nearly kills you.
When you give up all your hopes
You also give up all your fears.
Seek what is at hand.
Save yourself, heal yourself,
  rest yourself
In the unexpected
                                       A. B. Curtiss

Monday, December 17, 2012

Does Anybody Love Me?

I was driving to an appointment yesterday when the most desolate feeling of loneliness came over me. I felt unloved, unworthy, unimaginably isolated and disconnected from the world around me. Christmas lights along the way were not cheering my frozen heart.

Where do you turn for help at such moments of deep despair? I was driving in fast moving traffic down a busy highway. Often at such times I use mental exercises to change my mood or meditations of gratitude.or a prayer of some kind. I seemed unable to choose one. Perhaps this was more of a spiritual lack rather than a problem with depression.

Did anybody love me, I wondered? Did anybody love me?

Ahead, in the distance were some large and lovely trees and beautiful clouds overhead, billowing up for another storm. I found myself talking to them.

“Do you love me, Trees? Do you care about me? Am I acceptable to you? Can you accept me, Trees? Am I okay with you? Please, do you know I’m here? I’m right here. Am I not a child of the universe like you are? Can you keep me company? Do you love me, Trees? Clouds, do you love me. Am I all right with you?

I have been told that we need to surrender and that to whom we surrender does not matter. The idea in surrendering is that you are surrendering to life and therefore, in surrending to life you are no longer separate from life. I think maybe that's what I was trying to do--to surrender myself to the trees and the clouds because I felt so isolated. It was a very healing thing that happened yesterday. Here's how it ended.

I love you, Trees. I love you, Clouds. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Depression is not Present Reality

My own brain chemistry is such that I still wake up almost every morning of my life in deep despair, although it usually only lasts three or four minutes once I employ some simple mind tricks. I am seldom troubled this way by depression in the late afternoon or evening unless I take a nap. Anytime I take a nap, I am also likely to wake up in the “black hole.” But I no longer panic and fear to drown in those black depths.
I simply begin to swim for shore by doing some dumb nonsense exercise, unafraid (because I  carry along any fear, "come on along, fear, I'll save you too"), regardless of the fact that I do not know how deep the water goes, nor how far away the shore might be. I know, now (since I have been doing these exercises for decades) that it is neither the water, nor the shore, nor my fear, but only swimming (doing the exercise) that is the present moment, and the present moment is our only reality.
This is what the dumb little exercises, "green frog," "hippity-hop," "yes, we have no bananas," are. They are a temporary reality of benign thinking that you are substituting for your reality of depressive thinking. Neither are a true reality because both nonsense thinking and depressive thinking are not connecting with with the people and the world around you. By themselves, the exercises do not "get you out of your head" but they are a quality of thinking which does not produce negative chemisty in your brain the way depressive thinking does.
It is easier to simply intrude an exercise upon your depression than to force yourself to be okay when you're, obviously, not okay. One learns in time to "hang in there" with not being okay for a while during your doing some dumb exercise. Then it is easier to move into some connection with the world from the point of nonsense thinking--do some small task, then the next, then the next.
Generally I find that along or about the third task I realize I am no longer depressed. I can then, if I remember to first move into gratitude for the grace of my relief,  move from there into joy and enthusiam for the day ahead.
So here is a kind of dance program for depression

Depressive thinking to
Carry along the feeling of being not okay while doing a dumb exercise to
Continue with the dumb exercise to
Moving into Small tasks
Engage in moving ahead with your day

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Was Mixed up Between Depression and Feeling of Unreality or Anxiety

Hi Curtiss

Hope you keeping well

Now I see how depression is different from feeling of unreality or anxiety. I was having trouble getting mixed up between them.

I see now how human being needs to assure himself deeply in order to fix feeling of unreality. I understand now how having some kind of faith or religion is important to help reaching this assurance or confidence.

I am still suffer from breaking down nerves which causes the fear but not the fear that I used to have it.

Thanks Curtiss


Dear R,

First, give yourself a lot of credit for communicating with me in English which is not easy for you.

Yes, you are right, everybody, at times, has insubstantial, crazy thoughts of unreality. What helps is to label them right away as bizarre, unusual thinking and turn your mind to something you know is real and abiding.

For instance, last night my husband had gone to bed aboaut 11:30 and I wanted to see the last of this movie Shutter Island. It was so horrible, about an insane institution, and I didn't realize it was going to end so badly. When it finished I looked around the empty house and this terrible feeling of unreality seized my heart. Maybe I was going crazy, too, I thought. The feeling was terrifying.

I immediately insisted on turning my thoughts to one of my favorite meditations (It's an old Hawaiian mediation called Ooponopono) and concentrated on that. I insisted on thinking that no matter what I was thinking, my bizarre thinking couldn't be trusted at that moment because I was very tired. I also concentrated on the ordinariness of the familiar things around me. And I said to myself that I would place my trust in the Grace of the Creator and it was time to go to bed and rest. A. B. Curtiss

Friday, November 2, 2012


I tried posting to your blog under the comment section, but it takes me to a page that asks if I want to be a blogger. Anyway, here's a response to taking our space...

Yes you did publish the second paragraph some time ago. We had a discussion about fear. I posed a question wondering about where my fear had come from. I indicated that my parents were gentle people and yet somehow I was always fearful of most things.

Starting in grade one and on into grade seven, it was like I had 'come bully me' stamped on my forehead. By then, I had had enough. It took only once of standing up for myself and people didn't bother me again.

Taking my place / space has taken a very long time... I always thought that depression was my main problem. But using the techniques and gathered wisdom from your books I've had new insight. "Green frog" has allowed me to drop the stress level so much that I was able to see I was struggling with something beyond depression.

I can't say specifically how it all fell into place. A continuous focus and confrontation of my fears was part of it. I have become more socially at ease. It (the social unease), still gets away from me every once in a while, but a quick refocus at the moment, usually helps that. It is a very good feeling to be able to walk into a room full of people and be able to watch the room, engage with people, and not be overwhelmed with a feeling of wanting to run away.

Thanks again for writing your books. It has become so obvious to me (with the help of your books) that I can change my life without medication. Just taking that first step to break the cycle of depression is so important.


Dear A,

Thanks so much for your letter. I’m sure it will inspire others to risk the fear of “taking their space.” A. B. Curtiss

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Taking Our Space

I'm not great at blogging yet. This second paragraph showed up in my drafts folder so I don't know if I already published it or not. It's worth saying again, anyway. I wrote a middle school book about bullies called HANNER AND THE BULLIES which again takes up this simple idea. When we don't take up our rightful space we create a kind of social and psychological vacuum in the world which is immediately filled up by something that shouldn't be there--bullies for one.

Some of us feel entitled to "take our space" in life and some of us must somehow earn that entitlement for ourselves. My husband, for instance, has always pushed right ahead just as if everybody liked him. I suspect he cares somewhat whether or not people like him, but it is not necessary for him to "push ahead." I think he expects people to like him, for he is pretty satisfied with himself. Whereas I, like you, felt unsure to "push ahead" as if I was feeling already accepted. For most of my life I needed to prove myself somehow. Some of us have mild social anxiety until we risk ourselves often enough and see that it doesn't "kill us." It is possible to get to the point of "hey we're all just people here, aren't we, and I'm a people, too, so there!!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Your Little Exercise Worked for Depression

Dear AB Curtiss

I have recently been fascinated with physiology. Everything you can do to your brain you can almost literally be a superhero. I starting look up stuff to mess with myself, I started with making myself crave different things. Then I looked into depression and read an article you wrote. I have a little depression and I wanted a trick and the nursery rhythm worked!! Though the article was short it supported a few of your books("Depression is a Choice"). I can't wait to get my hands on this book. I don't like reading much so it's a lot for me to say. I just gotta get a hold of it without my mom knowing or she will freak out.... Thanks a bunch again!


Dear A

Thanks so much for your note. If you have any specific questions while reading my blog or my books I will be glad to answer them. A .B. Curtiss

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Help! I Want to Get Out of this Crazy Trap.

Dear A.B.,

I've learned so much over the years from your books, blog, and e-mails.  I find myself in a place, (perhaps, hopefully.. a turning point?) I am trying to sort out, again, how to live well and wisely, how to be a good person.  (Oh, how frustrated and annoyed you must feel when youread yet another bit of correspondence from a confused and scattered "me!").

Please realize that your gifts of wisdom and your wise and wonderful teachings have NOT been all for nothing, even for this thick-headed person. I have so appreciated your gifts!  Can we learn a lot and yet have lapses that take us further behind than where we began? That's what I feel has happened to me...but I am trying to rebuild.

As I review your writings, the essence of your teachings seems to be the supremely positive power of love, and the destructive force thatfear exercises. I know you speak about a love that is unconditional...not a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" counterfeit varietythat is really only manipulation, need gratification.

Do I have a "need," I wonder, to perpetuate a "victim role?" I seem to cling to such a mindset as though it has a narcotic effect on me, and this prevents me from truly loving.  I stay tethered to thoughts and behaviors that are fear-based and destructive. Self-absorbtion has grownlike a cancer within me in recent years. I feel small and stuck.

I know it doesn't matter the circumstances over the past years that have "lead" me here. 
I want to move in a direction guided by love instead of resentment, bitterness, sadness, and feeling "victimized."  I want to stop the madness . One can not think clearly or live well entrenched in self-absorbtion.

Indeed I have suffered from my husband's callous, insensitive treatment for years.  I have also felt "walked over" and "manipulated" by a neighbor who has been on a campaign to make me feel "less than."   But here's the rub: my belief in my goodness depends on mybelief in their "badness" doesn't it?  Ultimately, my focus on their mistreatment takes me off track from being my most loving self.  It's a petty quest indeed, for superiority and "worth!"  Where's the love?

Ugh...A.B.!  I want out!  Help me out of this crazy trap!

Would you... again, shed some light, offer some words to wake me up? 

I will be 50 this Sunday.  Is it too late?

Thank you.

Dear G

I think it is a rare individual who is wise at 50. Most people who are successful at 50 are just that—Sucessful. They are not necessarily wise. They may start to have little nuggets of wisdom that sprout up in their brains. But for the most part, 50-year-olds are focused on some kind of being-a-winner in some way. They want to improve themselves, not necessarily forgive themselves and so what is their connection to the people around them? They want to improve everybody, not necessarily forgive them.

I remember what a ninny I was at the age of 50. I was just starting to understand the limits of self-improvement and the peace that may come with forgiveness and surrender to what is. If we want to do better we always have that opportunity. If we want to be more forgiving and loving we simply need to acknowledge our unforgivingness and our unlovingness whenever it appears, accept it, and see how best to more forward from our confusion without our former judgment upon our stupidity. We can, at any moment, call ourselves a beginner and begin.

I am 78 years old. I will tell you about my day today. It was a wonderful day even though it began with depression. I woke up several times during the night with that terrible feeling. When I got up it hovered over my soul, telling me how nothing was worth anything, nothing was possible and why bother anyway. Nevertheless I sang one of my old nonsense songs to myself and got up.

My husband and I had decided to pick up some wood in a nearby park which was being cleared for fire preparation and anyone could pick up what wood they wanted. We worked from 7AM  until 11AM lugging wood, piling it into my station wagon, driving home and unloading. Three huge loads. Then, after high-fiving each other, we jumped in the pool to cool off. It was a lot of hard work picking up logs for 4 hours but we did it. It was already 85 degrees—another 100 degree day predicted. 

We use wood to heat the family room in the winter and have never, in almost 30 years, turned on the central heating. Why did such a simple chore bring me such happiness? I have no idea. But all depression was gone, life was good and everything was possible.  Instead of thinking how depressed I was I was, instead, thinking What a Great Day!!

After my swim I checked my email I found I had sold 5 of my books on amazon.com this morning that I had to ship out. Hooray.  I went to the post office, came home and am now getting ready to fix a simple dinner and then watch the news on FOX. It has been a great day. I couldn’t be happier. And what has changed since this morning when I felt so depressed? My action I think is what changed my mood.

Now here’s a scene from my 49th year when I was in graduate school and stumbling and bumbling along. I’m quoting from my book Depression is a Choice.

Ultimately the need for attention and the resultant focus on self causes us to be even further alienated from our fellows. A stunt I pulled in graduate school, in my 40s I'm embarrassed to say, taught me this lesson in living color.
On Halloween, feeling very high on myself, I put on a long white formal gown that belonged to my daughter, complete with her Junior Princess Rhinestone tiara and a plastic magic wand, and went to my classes dressed as a “Fairy Godmother.” Nobody else wore so much as a pumpkin-colored T-shirt to commemorate the day. I’ll never forget the look of  pure alarm I got from my favorite professor who studiously ignored me after he put his eyes back in. I  felt “inappropriate” stamped all over me.
And I remember how much time I had spent in deciding whether or not to dress up. My tools for making such a decision were skimpy. Would this daring act show people how beautiful and unique and fun and exciting I was? Or wouldn’t it?
To my credit, I found I did have some tools for handling the awkward and embarrassing situation I created for myself. I didn't know yet that this was just another manic high gone wrong since I hadn't, at this time, accepted my manic-depressive diagnosis. But what I can say for myself is that I decided that I had committed a terrible gaffe, and I was going to sit right there in front of everybody I was hoping to impress, and stand the pain of being the immature ass that we could all now see I was. It was excruciatingly, wonderfully horrible.
The beauty of it was that I had already started to commit to some principles which gave me a sense of empowerment, such as: not to try in vain to change reality by wanting other than “what is.” That what is happening is not as important as how we are looking at it, or what we decide to do about it. These principles enabled me to be more in charge of my life, to welcome the pain of my social belly flop as a character moment. I was very aware while it was happening that the pain I felt was some kind of transcendence, and I threw myself willingly on the dagger of life.
Dressing in bizarre outfits was not the only way I went “on stage.”  I had unconsciously been jerking my friends around for years by forcing a patient-counselor script on them long before I actually became a therapist, to the tune of the latest self-help book I was reading. Succumbing to the psychologizing in these books, I was quite willing to impose upon long-term friendships for a moment of glory in “truth-telling” encounter sessions that I would initiate to everyone's discomfort.
This is what happened with one couple who were visiting houseguests, a couple who had been long-time friends of ours from college, a couple who now don't even send my husband and me a Christmas card. I had just finished reading Open Marriage. During the course of conversation, I made the observation that most marriages become stale and dishonest because people don't have the courage to communicate their real feelings.
The husband remarked that, quite to the contrary, after 20 years of marriage he was extremely happy, that he loved his wife more than when they first married, and his sex life was exciting. I turned to his wife and challenged her to admit, in the name of honest communication versus a “typical” phony relationship, that she didn't feel the same way about sex. “Well,” she hesitated, rather embarrassed, “I guess if I have to be truthful about it, I would have to say I can take it or leave it.”
It was about this same time, in my mid thirties, that I began to have some serious problems with depression just like my brother and father. I, too, began staying in bed for days at a time, with the blinds drawn. I blamed the weather, my husband, my “just-a-housewife” life. Influenced by both my mother's attitude and my father's and brother's apparent lack of success with the accepted therapy for manic depression, I was wary of medication for my own mood swings. I refused to take any drugs. Instead, for many years I chose the path of denial. As you may imagine, this was not greatly successful either.
I was depressed most of the time. I carried my pain heavily, like a pregnant woman, but I was not growing life. Every cell of my body was diminished by the thing I carried within me. I hid it from everybody pretty well I thought. I managed to keep the house presentable. I waxed the oak floors and vacuumed the Oriental rugs. I got my children off to school. Then I could sometimes spend the whole day, until the children came home, suspended in the painful extremis of a surreal gray murkiness into which I would un-focus myself and dissolve into the time spent and another day somehow “got through.” 
I would either crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head, or lie face down and flat on the floor under my bed as if I somehow could just sink down and disappear my painful self into some coffin of earthly release. I remember the first time I got under the bed. It was almost like I was choosing a theater set upon which I wanted my statement of despair to be as dramatic as possible, and lying under the covers, all of a sudden, just wasn’t enough.
Sometimes I would curl up behind the clothes hanging in my closet like the tragic little mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, a nude, silent, weeping statue. I guess for many years I was a “closet” depressive. Only my husband and children knew. Though even they didn’t know the full extent of it because I generally felt less panicky and desperate in the evening when they were home. I did not believe that I did anything to cause my depression, and I did not believe I could do anything to help it.
My husband coped with an unhappy wife by concentrating on his career, his business friends, and his drinking buddies. My little ones asked me all the time why I was mad. “I'm not mad,” I would reassure them, “What makes you think I'm mad?” I guess to a child, sad and mad look very much the same. There may be some wisdom in that!
There is a kind of sadness that occurs when we have committed a wrong we deeply regret, a sadness over a loss that we have suffered but have accepted. There is a soft, beautiful, peaceful quality about that kind of sadness.  This was not my sadness.  I remember checking myself out in the mirror once when my children said I looked mad, and I was shocked to find they were right. I was positively glowering.
There was nothing tranquil about my sadness. My sadness was eating myself up with chronic anxiety because I wasn’t happy. I felt trapped!  Denied! There was some vague longing for rescue, or was it coronation that would allow me at last to be “recognized”  by one and all as the very special and wonderful “real me” I was sure I was supposed to be--if only...? I despaired of life passing me by; I was angry about talents “wasted.” I felt bereft of some “other” life I better deserved and should have “instead.” God knows, I certainly deserved a better husband than “the one I had got stuck with.”
Somehow I always felt “prevented.” Of course, in reality, I was the perpetrator of my life, not the victim of it. That was the clue to the effect my sadness had on my family. A victim is always on the lookout, albeit unknowingly, for someone to blame. So my husband also experienced my “pain” as anger towards him. There is definitely something to be learned from the fact that at the same time I was feeling the most helpless and vulnerable victim to myself, I appeared hostile and aggressive to my family.
In my arrogance, I must have been thinking that the members of my family were some kind of indestructible Roman columns that “by rights” were supposed to support my self-esteem no matter how I might push or rail against them. In those days I couldn’t see my family as the gift of some kind of divine grace, the butterfly-fragile consignments to my continuing care and responsibility. I saw only myself as being fragile.
Depression, once I learned its name, served as a very convenient catch-all for the whole mess of whatever confusion and terribleness was going on in my life. And since I didn’t know anything to do about my depression except to suffer it grossly, I didn’t do anything substantial about my life’s real problems either. Although I didn’t seem to mind dumping it all over my family,  I tried to hide my depression from anybody else so that it wouldn’t hurt my “image.”
On one level I was afraid of being thought crazy. But on a deeper level, I was terrified that I might really be crazy or go crazy; that the difference between me and the empty-eyed souls in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital might be only the ticking of some clock of fate that had not yet struck the hour of my doom.
At first I both feared and venerated psychiatrists because they knew! They alone had the power to stamp a CERTIFIED SANE on my forehead if only I could prove myself to them. But at the same time I had a terror of being “found out” by them too. Suppose I was unknowingly guilty of some shameful horror that would somehow “come out?”  The monster hiding in my brain might suddenly reveal itself and blow my cover.
Now, I realize that all these fears are simply the paranoia strategies of the ordinary human mind which is, at the source, a defense mechanism. Now, I realize that sane and insane are not something that we are or aren’t. Sane and insane are modes of behavior that we use or don’t use. We can become habituated to one mode or the other, but both modes, in the form of choice, are simultaneously available to us at all times. In my early years I didn’t know that. I thought my real self was some kind of a crime I needed to hide from everybody.
My mania passed for eccentricity and cleverness, and was often a social attribute because I was such a high risk taker. I was always shocking people with my controversial ideas and off-beat solutions to problems. I had some credibility even with my more emotionally stable husband because some of my “crazy” ideas actually succeeded. He has always thought of me as a can-do kind of person in a crisis, the one who says confidently, “This will work!”
When the toilet floods or the water heater goes out, he yells for me. There is hardly anything I can't repair temporarily with a hammer, duct tape, Elmer's glue, wire, or solder. Mainly, I think, because I believe I can do it.  There is a little mantra I use when I get stumped. I say to myself, “I know it is humanly possible to fix this so I must, somehow, be able to do it.”
Too bad I didn't have the same “I can-fix-it” attitude about depression. I understand, now, that it is possible to save myself from depression because I have done it, over and over again, for years. I can see, now, that I didn't have to live half my life at the mercy of wild mood swings which propelled me from the depths of despair, when I spent whole days on the floor of my bedroom closet in the fetal position, to heady heights of god-like euphoria that burned themselves out in wild shopping sprees for expensive clothes I never wore. I believed I was the victim of depression. I did not understand that I was really the victim of my ignorance about depression.
I was equally uneducated about mania and it caused a great deal of trouble  with my relationships. The problem with the person who is in the grip of self-importance caused by manic ecstasy is that they are continually alienated because they relegate all the people in their life to a supporting role. And it is how well the other people play this supporting role that is always under scrutiny, not the mania!
It is very hard for those of us who get stuck in me-me-me, either the manic Great Me or the depressive Poor Me, to get out of it. The reason it is hard to get out of Great Me is that we don't think we are being selfish, rude, and bizarre; we think we are being independent, honest, and unique. We don't think we are being critical, unloving and cold. We think our significant others are boring or inadequate, and therefore not good enough for us. Although we can see clearly the folly of such thinking as it occurs in other people lives, it is almost impossible to see in our own. We can always “yes, but” our own situation as being “unusual” and “different.”
The reason it is so hard to get out of Poor Me is that we don't think we are being defensive; we think people have short-changed us. We don't think we are demanding; we think people don’t give us our fair share. When we are really lost in hopelessness we don't think we are slothful and resistant; we think life is futile, so we dive into another depression. There is just no easy way to see ourselves objectively. It is more painful to see ourselves than whatever trouble we make to avoid seeing ourselves.
But learning to see ourselves objectively by studying the constructs of victimhood, fear, habit, blame or wonderfulness by which we may question ourselves is a necessary component of brainswitching. Because, for a person who will not question themselves, nothing can be done.
Great Me and Poor Me are manic-depressive, mood-exaggerated self-constructs that die hard. Beside the above-mentioned psychological rationalizations (“I’ve been short-changed,” “I can’t help it”) that keep us in our narcissistic coping mode, there are neuroscientific reasons that make it hard to get out of narcissism or, for that matter, any other defense mechanism.
As I learned from my hypnosis studies, the mind and its defense mechanisms are all “go” processes5 and neuroscience shows us why. There is no “stop” component that is an inherent part of any mind process. Even walking has no “stop” to it. Walking has to be countermanded by some other “go” process. So in this sense, even “stop” is a go process. There is no “stop walking” that is a component part of walking.6
This is both the good news and the bad news. The bad news is that if we don't realize that mind processes are all “go” processes, we will not make any effort to countermand, by will, those mind processes that are getting us into trouble. Without directing our thinking to initiate another “go process,” there will simply be a random change of passive thinking (as a result of learned association) that decides what defense mechanism will bubble up next to determine our feeling, behavior, or Halloween costume!.
That's why we can't really just stop a bad habit. The way we stop a bad habit is to substitute a good habit. Instead of giving up coffee, we can switch to light tea, or hot water with a dash of lemon. Not even those stalwart souls who give up coffee, cold, with no substitutions, really manage with no substitutions. They simply make “I want no cup of coffee” the positive substitution.
It is great good news really, once we realize that all mind processes are “go” processes. When we find ourselves stuck in some bizarre, unpleasant, or negative thinking or behavior, we can direct another process to begin simply by willing it. If all else fails, instead of continuing to do what we hate we are doing, or thinking what we hate we are thinking, we can take a walk and look at the sky, or sing an old nursery rhyme. Any positive or neutral thought repetitively chosen works. This is eminently doable.