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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Depression is a Kind of Self-hypnosis

Tim Webber has left a new comment on your post "Help, I'm Sliding into Depression Again":

Wow! Just this one concept, "depression is a kind of self-hypnosis" has just lightened my entire day. I never thought of it that way before. It gives me a handle on depressive moods that I think I can use. Thank you!

Dear Tim,

Thank you so much for your comment. As a matter of fact it was a good reminder to me this morning. It reminded me that to recognize that the pain of depression that I got just hit with myself this morning was a kind of self-hypnosis. For me, just that small reminder was all I needed. When we think of our pain as self-hypnosis it helps remind us immediately that we can either suffer this automatically triggered pain (oh no, not again) or we can side-step it just as automatically. (Hey, time to think something else, and be quick about it.) So I did. Thank you.

We are often in a state of self-hypnosis. When we drive to work, the mind takes over automatically. Any time we want, we can wake up out of this hypnotic habitual drive and decide to notice where we are. Or we can simply mindlessly arrive at the parking lot before we turn our thinking onto something else--like our daily workload, and then the automatic-driving mind state ceases. It ceases because we have ON PURPOSE decided to think something else. When you decide to think something, whatever automatic thinking you were doing takes a back seat. We are the master of our thoughts and the captain of our brain.

You can't decide to NOT THINK something. The way you DON'T THINK what is painful is to turn your focus onto another thought in your mind that is not painful. This is where the automatic mental techniques of brainswitching come in handy.The weak link in that vicious bully of depression which seems to be overpowering us is that we can choose to think something else OTHER THAN IT. 

We have to learn how to do that, of course, but it can be done. I know that it can be done because not only have I learned how to do it myself, I have taught other people how to do it as well. I declined drug treatment for depression for reasons that were unclear to me at the time, but which have led me safely to a right relationship with depression that has eluded other bipolar sufferers in my family. I get hit all the time. It hurts. But now I'm out of that pain in minutes instead of the weeks and months it once took. I suffered with bipolar for thirty years, but I haven't been bipolar for the past 25 years.

The other thing to remember is that we can't "cure" depression in the same way we can cure measles. Those painful neural patterns can't be erased from our memory banks. But when we learn to choose to put our focus on things and thoughts other than our pain, the depressive neural patterns take a back seat to the new neural patterns we choose to focus on. Getting out of depression is like brushing your teeth. It's something you learn how to do. And you get better at it the more you do it. There is no way to get your teeth "clean." You have to clean them every day. Depression is the same. We need to clean up our thinking every day.

Most people find it hard to think of body pain as a thought but the fact is that pain is a thought. Which is why you can use hypnosis for surgery. The patient is in a state of relaxation (hypnosis) where the pain that is being produced in the sub-cortex is not being acknowledged in the neo-cortex. All pain is produced in the sub-cortex, the pain of depression as well as the pain of a cut on the arm. Remember that the process of pain progression is that the signals that pain is being produced in the subcortex can't be felt until those signals  go up and brain and are not only received but ACKNOWLEDGED in the neo-cortex. There is never any pain in the neo-cortex. We can learn to brainswitch our focus from the pain going on in the subcortex to the neocortex and hang out there until the chemistry changes. There is a chemical consequence in the brain for every thought we think. Bad thoughts, bad chemistry. Better thoughts, better chemistry.

Over the years in my own struggle to "cure my depression," it seemed to me that my psychiatrists and psychotherapists counseling me were intent upon a combination of two ineffective “cures.” They were either trying to anesthetize me from feeling anything at all, or they were trying to drag me back, kicking and screaming, into a painful, emotional re-experience of my childhood for clues as to what, or who, might be “at fault” for why I was the way I was. Certainly the past can EXPLAIN the present, but the past can never TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for the present. That belongs only to us.

Becoming increasingly dissatisfied with psychotherapists who themselves suffered from suicidal depression, broken marriages, extramarital affairs and nervous tics, I stopped going to them, went back to graduate school, and became a psychotherapist myself. And I found a third alternative. The point is not whether we might be, or might not be, at fault for the way we are. The point is that WE ARE ALWAYS AND INIMITABLY THE REMEDY. .

We just need to recognize that depression is never OBJECTIVE REALITY (as everyone else around us can plainly see but us). Depression is a body state of alarm in which our fight or fight response has triggered automatically.

The good news is that we don’t need any grand and glorious plans. We just need to experience ourselves as okay, even if depressed, and connect ourselves to some small positive act or some nonsense or objective thought that focuses us away from the subcortex-driven primal mind’s erroneous fear that we are not okay but lost and disconnected in a never-ending bottomless pit of despair and we are helpless to do anything. Here's a story from my book DEPRESSION IS A CHOICE that can illustrate what I mean about turning the focus of your attention away from the pain of your depression with simple actions:

A Kansas lawyer says he healed his depression with “the power of work,” after being on a steady regimen of antidepressants “from Prozac to Serzone” for almost five years. He now sells newspapers  for a living and says, “the truth is, this job is saving my life.”13 Except for some side effects, he said, drugs “have been my safety net, stopping my free fall into madness.” But no more.  After he lost his law practice, a friend “threw him a life-line” and offered him a job delivering newspapers.  To his surprise the lawyer found the hard physical work cheering. When he left the warehouse to deliver the papers to vending machines, gas stations and supermarkets he began to “catch glimpses of small joys.”

“With friendly greetings and idle conversation,” says the lawyer, “these people (customers) whose names I still don’t know began to draw me out of my darkness...For all the insight and help I received from drug therapy and psychotherapy, I still have feelings of worthlessness.” But with this new hands-on, physical work that hard grounds him in the routine workaday world with his fellows, day by day, little by little, the lawyer-turned-paperboy begins to feel more and more “confident.”

It's never to late to save yourself from depression, true, but you don't have to wait, either, like the lawyer, until you're deep into it to the point of losing your career. Think of anything else other than your pain. A nursery rhyme like row, row, row your boat can even turn the trick. Just focus on the rhyme instead of your pain. The brain always follows the direction of its more current dominant thought. You make any thought dominant by thinking it over and over repetitively. So stop thinking your pain repetitively. Think, row,row, row your boat repetitively. Any nonsense or objective thought can be your "mantra" to brainswitch and wake you out of your habitual depressive hypnosis. Why not try it? Costs no money and there are no bad side effects to better thinking. A. B. Curtiss