Battling Depression

Dear Dr. Darcy: 

How do you be happy when part of you fights against it? For the last year I’ve been coming out of what I term “walking depression.”  I met my obligations outside, but inside was pretty bleak. My life is actually pretty good, although my job is soul sucking (child welfare worker).  I’ve experienced depression before (cycle every 5 years or so) with some suicidal ideation when things got really tough.  I usually just wait it out; however, this was pretty bad and lasted for about a year.  I got to the point that wishing/fantasizing wasn’t enough. Fortunately my brain wasn’t working that well and my suicide plan sucked.  Even though I’m no longer actively suicidal, I find myself wishing that it had worked because coming out of this sucks. I’m working with a therapist because I figured I needed some new/better coping skills but it has not been as simple as that. Shocking, I know.  I hate therapy and it’s been harder and taken longer to get out of this dark place than any previous time.  One of the hard days I mapped out an “exit strategy” because I’m not going to go through this recovery process again.  I figure I have 5 years before/if it gets really bad again.  In the meantime I can’t rely on my old coping mechanisms because they obviously weren’t that effective, but I kind of suck at all the new ones I’m supposed to be developing. I’m trying to take care of my body through good nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc, but I’ve discovered that part of me is just fine staying here in this place where it’s not so bad but it’s not so great either. I hate being half assed but that’s where I find myself.

ANSWER 

When people have been depressed or anxious or [insert struggle here] for many years, the ailment becomes familiar. And humans crave familiarity because it helps us feel certainty, which is a basic human need. In trying to rid yourself of the depression, you’re essentially threatening your nervous system with uncertainty, which your body is going to fight against. The depression is like an old friend. You know what to expect. Change sort of blows. Especially in the beginning when all you feel is the discomfort of the unknown and little benefits that will eventually come from sustained change.

All of this means that you cannot rely on how you feel to guide you on which actions to take. What will feel better is the old pattern of thinking and behaving, which, as evidenced by your suicide attempt, has not worked. Essentially, the less comfortable it feels, the greater the confirmation that you’re on the right track.  

You’re going to suck at your new coping mechanisms because they’re new. Stick to them anyway. Stop considering how you feel before taking action and just do it. Just eat. Just drink water. Just exercise. Just call or visit a friend. Just take the shower. Just do your journaling. Just do your meditation.  Just go to therapy. Just do what your shrink told you to do. At the end of the day, your best thinking got you where you are today, so it’s OK to rely on someone else’s thoughts for guidance. At least for a while.

PS: You should be on meds.

Gender & Orientation: Female, Straight.

Taming Your Inner Bitch

Welcome to Tuesday's Tips at Ask Dr. Darcy.  

Let’s talk about your inner bitch. We all have one. I named mine Marcy. She pops into my head whenever I’m faced with a dilemma that scares me; she presents me with a myriad of problems to every potential solution.  She’s quick to confirm my greatest fears which include (but are certainly not limited to): you’re not smart enough, you don’t think or speak fast enough, you suck at [insert skillset here]. She’s telepathic. She knows that people’s intentions in my life are usually laden with malintent. She has a crystal ball that tells her things aren’t likely to turn out my way.  

For decades, Marcy ran the show, and although I took positive action despite her pessimism looping through my head, she made me fucking miserable. She was like the meanest of the mean girls, but worse, because I couldn’t get away from her. Shrinks suggested that I silence her. “Darcy, just press the mute button in your head and you’ll be rid of her.” What a great idea, as though if such a button were within reach, I wouldn’t have pressed it before spending a hundred thousand dollars on therapy.  

I’m not instantly resourceful when it comes to myself, but when it comes to my clients I’m a passionate problem solver. Years after the therapist instructed me to press my non-existent mute button, I discovered the following:

1.    It’s impossible to instruct oneself to not have a thought. The mere suggestion of the subject directs the brain to hunt for the thought non grata.

2.    What we can do is redirect the brain to a preferred thought. Which got me thinking: Who would I want to reside inside my head instead of Marcy?

3.    Ideally, I’d have wanted Dr. Darcy, however, early on, I wasn’t able to tap into the part of me that takes care of my clients. This is a very common occurrence for people. Initially, we find it easier to channel the voice of a nurturing friend, a coach, or a mentor. So I tapped into my friend Michelina’s voice, who has always been a super supportive force in my life. And I named the voice my Supportive Voice.

4.    Anytime Marcy would rear her nasty head, I’d call up Michelina / my Supportive Voice.

5.    Over time (a few months of real conscious intention), my brain automatically hunted for my Supportive Voice whenever the bitch voice began. 

So it’s less about taming your inner bitch than about developing your supportive voice, but let’s be honest: Who the hell would have clicked on a post entitled, Developing Your Supportive Voice?

Why Attachment Matters

Dear Dr. Darcy: 

My therapist doesn't want to end therapy, but I do. I've been seeing him 3 years. I can feel my self getting attached that's why I want to leave. I'm not for sure what I should do???

ANSWER 

Healthy relationships require us to attach. When people have intimacy issues, the idea of attaching can be terrifying, even in platonic relationships. The relationship with your therapist is triggering your attachment issues. Good therapy triggers our shit. It’s supposed to. That you’re feeling a desire to run for the hills is reasonable. That you’re contemplating doing it is not.

I rarely say this, but your shrink is right. If you bounce now, you’ll miss the opportunity to learn how to attach. Choose this path and your attachment issues will continue to hamper every relationship you have. It’s the easier path in the short run, but you’re going to pay for it.

You know the answer. It’s in your question. If you want a more specific answer, here it is: Tell him why you want to end therapy, ask him for guidance on how to stay engaged in the process and ask for coping mechanisms to use when staying in the process becomes very uncomfortable.

In the final analysis, all that matters in life is that we’re happy – and happiness is largely contingent on the quality of our relationships. If you can’t attach, your relationships will consist of other people who can’t attach, and that, my friend, is not a recipe for a happy life.

Gender & Orientation: Female, Straight.