When my chronic disease flared up a decade ago, I found myself exhausted, in pain, and depressed. Even on days when I had more energy and less pain, I still felt hopeless. I felt confined to a small space, both physically (I was mostly housebound) but also emotionally. I couldn’t see that there would ever be an end to my pain. Picture Eeyore hanging his head and moaning, “This is how I live now…” There were even days when, having tried a new medication that practically shut off my brain, I felt “If this is what my life will be from now on, I don’t want it to go on.” Then I started getting the same message from several different sources: “Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); it works!” I read this in a magazine, and then on TV, which reminded me of a friend who had tried to help me, which reminded me that I’d bought a book about it two years earlier and it was ON MY SHELF! So, like unwrapping a gift, I took the book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” off my shelf and started reading it. (Here’s a link to it. They haven’t paid me to promote it. http://www.amazon.com/Feeling-Good-New-Mood-Therapy/dp/0380810336/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423005124&sr=8-1&keywords=feeling+good+the+new+mood+therapy&pebp=1423005152638&peasin=380810336 ) At first my depression kept saying to me, “Don’t even bother reading this; it’ll never work. Nothing else has worked before and FALSE hope is worse than NO hope.” But my BFF gently suggested that it certainly wouldn’t work if I didn’t TRY it! So we walked through it together and here’s what I’ve learned:
- I’ve learned that my feelings aren’t caused by my circumstances; my feelings come from what I SAY TO MYSELF about my circumstances. It is twisted thinking in my head that brings on these waves of sadness, despair, or hopelessness.
- I’ve learned that I can challenge my negative thoughts and “reframe” them so they reflect the truth about my situation without the emotionally loaded language that distorts my view of the world.
- I’ve learned that although Depression often accompanies chronic illness—it sure did for me!—it is not an integral part of it. Rather, it’s a preventable complication. Chronic illness certainly changed my circumstances, but it was my distorted thinking that brought on depression.
Of all the “life hacks” I want to share with you, CBT has been the most effective for me. Here’s an example of how it works for me: I have days when I have good energy and low pain, and at other times I may have higher pain and/or lower energy. On the “low-energy days” I am often unable to do very much at all; even getting dressed takes a lot of mental and physical effort. I used to tell myself,
- “You’re useless and worthless! You can’t even get up off the couch to do something you WANT to do! What a LUMP!”
Sheesh. I’d never speak to a friend with such venom. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped me to change these thoughts from condemnation, name-calling, and self-abuse, to a phrase that truthfully describes reality without emotionally loaded language:
- “Today is a low-energy day. It is because I’m sick. Today I can expect to be less productive than I am on better days.”
I stopped calling myself names and started telling myself the truth, and what a difference it has made!
******************************* (Update for 2/19/15)
After reading this post, one of my readers asked me if I meant to say that all depression can be solved by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. NO! There are different kinds of depression. One kind can be caused by our circumstances (like grief, or living with a chronic illness) and I believe that this kind of depression can be greatly relieved by learning to use CBT. But another kind of depression can come from physical problems, and is, itself, a chronic illness! I think of bipolar disorder this way. Though I don’t believe CBT can “cure” this type of depression, learning to use CBT to reframe the automatic negative thoughts can relieve a lot of the suffering. Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments and I’d be glad to address your concerns. Thanks for reading!