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My Stinking Thinking

I first heard the term “stinking thinking” when I was attending a 12-step program to deal with my food and body-weight obsession. I heard the term again recently and I thought back to how upset it used to make me when anyone suggested that my depression stemmed from my “negative” thinking. Truth be told, whenever my mother (who was doing her best to support me and I’m sure felt quite helpless) said to me, “Think positively,” I really wanted to strangle her.

I guess I hated the idea that I alone could be responsible for feeling the way I did. After all, could I hate myself so much that I would actually cause myself this pain? I really believed that my depression was caused by more than just negative thinking; it had to be caused by a chemical imbalance of some sort. And miraculously when I finally started taking medication I did feel better, much better. But I still struggled.

Mental health statistics show that about half of people who’ve had one episode of major depression go on to have another. If you’ve had two bouts of depression, you’re 80 percent more likely to have another. If you’ve had three depressive episodes, you have a 90 percent chance that symptoms will return again. I personally have had about 4 major depressive episodes separated by periods of low-grade depression.

Please understand I am not in any way knocking antidepressants. Medication saved my life and I have been taking meds for the past 25 years. However, from my own experience I can say that medication is NOT always enough.

After recently reading “The Mindful Way Through Depression, Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness” by Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn, I started taking a closer look at my thought patterns and mood. If you have not read the aforementioned book, you MUST get your hands on it. It has really changed my life and made me see how important it is to practice awareness. I knew meditation made a difference in my life but I never saw how much it helped my thinking patterns and therefore my mood, until I read this book.

Reading this book was like looking in a mirror; I saw myself on every page. Moreover, I saw so clearly how my thoughts, feelings and behaviors would trigger my downward descent into depression.

Read the following passage from the book and tell me this isn’t interesting stuff: “One of the most critical facts we learned was that there is a difference between those of us who have experienced an episode of depression and those who have not: depression forges a connection in the brain between sad moods and negative thoughts, so that even normal sadness can reawaken major negative thoughts.

A lightbulb went off and it really got me thinking. How many of my relapses were due to mental patterns caused by uncomfortable feelings? My guess is, close to all of them. What’s so interesting (and unbelievable) is that I am so aware of it now. I can see it as it’s happening. Here’s an example: Last week I played tennis. Because of Covid I hadn’t really played since last fall and I was rusty to say the least. The more mistakes I made the more angry and frustrated I became until I just put my racquet down and went home. Here are the thoughts that were going through my head at the time:

I’m such a loser. I suck at this. In over 25 years I haven’t gotten any better. How is it that I have spent so much time and money over the years playing and taking lessons, and I still can’t hit a decent serve?! I just want to be good at something. If I couldn’t make it as a famous actress, can’t I at least be a decent tennis player? Is that so much to ask for? How pathetic am I that my goal in life is simply to be able to hit a yellow ball into the service box? I’m not good at anything. Life sucks.

Wow! Talk about stinking thinking. Now, I don’t know about anyone else but for years this is the kind of self-talk that’s gone on in my mind. No wonder I was always depressed; I never really gave any thought to what was going on in my brain; I never saw how just one tiny thing could begin my descent into that black hole of unhappiness. Moreover, my responses to any type of discomfort were automatic. So every time something happened to me that was uncomfortable in any way, whether a situation, feeling or thought, this pattern of thinking automatically kicked in.

This is why I believe that in addition to medication it is imperative to my well-being that I have a practice to deal with negative thoughts, feelings and emotions when they arise. For me that health practice is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

Interested in learning more? I really encourage you to get your hands on The Mindful Way Through Depression, Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness. It will change your life.

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