The No 1 reason why you could keep yourself depressed without realizing it and how to avoid this trap.
Do you ever feel so guilty...
Like you aren't doing enough to beat depression? Blaming yourself for not getting better faster.
Feeling like you’re just playing the victim all the time?
And although you know logically that this isn’t true. The more you think about it the more you find evidence to prove it.
But could there be some truth to this?
Is it possible that you could be keeping yourself depressed without realizing it?
And if so, could this be holding the missing key to the puzzle of depression for you?
Before I answer this question, I must first reveal a psychological concept that is smack bang in the middle of this puzzle...
You see, one of the biggest enemies you have fighting against you in depression is a psychological concept called "meta cognition."
You know how when you start thinking about something good, then suddenly start picking at all the bad things in that good thing.
And then you automatically blame yourself for thinking this way and making yourself depressed when you did not need to.
This is meta-cognition in action.
Essentially, meta-cognition is the thinking you do about the thoughts and feelings you have. It is responsible for making you feel lost in your thoughts. It's what makes you feel depressed, anxious or frustrated with yourself for being depressed.
But the 2 biggest reasons why this is a massive enemy to recovery is that...
1. Most people do not even know Meta-cognition is driving them.
2. The stream of negative thinking pattern produced by meta-cognition starts deep down in your subconscious mind.
This is why negative thoughts often feel totally outside your control. This is why depression can feel completely random and unpredictable.
If your depression has been long term and treatment resistant, then meta-cognition is the main culprit.
So, if meta-cognition can be this devastating, how can you prevent its negative impact?
To prevent meta-cognition from anchoring you in lifelong depression, you must do three things
1. You've got to decipher the lies meta-cognition has tricked you to live with
2. You've got to keep reminding yourself of the truth meta-cognition have blinded you to.
3. You've got to keep doing both step 1 and 2 repeatedly as you journey through life.
I will now break these three things down into practical steps so you can apply them easily in your personal situation
If you would like to do some further research into meta cognition here are a few recent studies:
It Was All My Fault'; Negative Interpretation Bias in Depressed Adolescents
By Faith Orchad, Laura Pass & Shirly Reynolds
Anticipated and imagined futures: prospective cognition and depressed mood following brain injury
Fionnuala C Murphy, Polly V Peers, Simon E Blackwell, Emily A Holmes & Tom Manly
Because no two people's experience on this planet is exactly the same, there are as many meta-cognitive lies as there are people in the world. This makes meta-cognitive lies hard to pinpoint.
Fortunately, over the last 21 years of working professionally with multiple mental health disorders, I have noticed that all the meta-cognitive lies fall under 5 themes.
So all you need to know is which theme your meta-cognitive lie falls under in order to break free from it.
As such, I'll now share the 5 themes with you so you can use them to determine which lie you need to break free from.
Do you know what triggers your depression every single time?
Or does it often feel like you're just doing normal things round your flat…
Like having lunch or putting the shopping away and then literally with no trigger,
depression just pops into your head, hitting you like a ton of bricks.
If you feel this way, then you have fallen for this first meta-cognitive lie.
Why am I saying this so confidently?
You see, when most people think of depressive triggers, their mental picture of what a trigger can be is...
Something big and external... like a death in the family, a failed exam, relationship break up or job loss.
Whereas in reality, depressive triggers could be little things which could occur in three different ways...
Sometimes the trigger is external. For example, from a movie or from a manager at work who is not listening.
Sometimes the trigger is internal. For example, remembering something that happened years ago or forgetting something important.
Sometimes the trigger is biological. For example, feeling tired, exhausted or foggy.
Why is this crucial to note?
You see, if you believe there is no trigger for your depressive episodes, you will most likely point the blame for getting depressed at yourself.
This is how Meta-cognition kicks in, locking you the vicious cycle of depression.
Has a family member ever told you that…
"You use your depression as an excuse a lot"
"Everyone is going through things. Stop pitying yourself."
"You can choose happiness, you know. It's all in your hand"
Er… if you can choose not to be depressed, who wouldn’t?
And yet if you try hard to act normal and don't "look" depressed they say you just don't look depressed enough so you must be faking it.
There's just no way to please these family judges.
The worst part is…
If the culture in your family is to deny emotional difficulties like this. They're are bound to have a negative influence on you. Subconsciously, you would internalize their negative interpretation bias of emotions as. So whenever you complain about depression to yourself, you feel like you're lying and should just shut up and deal with it quietly.
This merges denial of your depression, guilt and massive self-criticism together to impede your recovery and promote more mental illness.
And the negative cognitions would be embedded so deep down that you won't realize that they are the source of the constant tension you feel in yourself.
You won't realize they are controlling you.
Sadly, this negative family perspective makes our next meta-cognitive lie 10 times harder to break free from.
If depression was a little lady following you around and always pushing you down the stairs. Eventually you’ll learn to live in the basement.
Meta-cognitive lie no 3, is a flip of lie no 2. Meta-cognitive lie no.2 has its roots in an external source whilst meta-cognitive lie no.3's source is internal.
But before I dig into it, please remember that I am sharing all these points with you in love. If some of what I share sounds hurtful, it is because I want you to see these patterns clearly so you can break free.
So, has your depression become normalized in a bad way?
Like how banging your head against the wall is wrong, but if you do it for too long, not only does it stop hurting, but it almost becomes pleasurable. In a strange way depression becomes that thing which you know you shouldn't feel right about
but because you have had it for so long, you feel wrong without it.
If you can relate, then chances are that you have begun to see the symptoms of depression as part of your personality.
This creates a very strange problem.
You see, depression can unintentionally become a blanket excuse for avoiding things.
What starts out as a genuine situation where depression really stops you from doing something becomes your default coping style.
Your brain starts to remember that one time that you were uncomfortable or did something wrong or hurtful, and how blaming your depression gave you an escape.
So when similar situations come up, your brain pulls out depression as a convenient trump card without you even realizing you are doing it.
What's sad about this is that your brain could literally generate physical body illnesses to encourage you to avoid the uncomfortable situation. No Joke! I have seen people lose the ability to walk for years because of this.
It often results in psycho motor retardation as well.
And sadly, because this is all happening at the subconscious level in the brain, this meta-cognitive beast could leave you debilitated for years.
A quick story to help explain this meta-cognitive lie.
Peter mostly focused his negative thoughts on blaming himself for being in the position he was in.
Then one day because of his circumstances, he needed to move in with his brother Albert. Peter poured out his heart to Albert explaining how he felt stuck in a depressed mood. But Albert did not do anything, or say much to support him.
Sadly, over time Peter began to resent Albert.
"How could Albert be living right across the hall from me and yet he doesn't have the time to say "hey dude, how have you been doing lately?" he thought…
Here he was... Drowning in an ocean with someone close enough to throw him a life line, but who chose not to.
One day, Peter discovered, that Dan was neck deep in problems too. In fact, Dan was also depressed, but had been so good at hiding it that Peter hadn't noticed.
Peter now realized that resenting Dan wasn't only unfair, it was also not getting him anywhere.
Why am I telling you this story?
The truth is that there are many ignorant people out there who do not make any effort to educate themselves about mental health issues.
And if all these people could just make the effort, things would be so much easier for everyone who’s suffering.
But, sadly if you let this truth drive you, it could make you get so angry and bitter with the world that your bitterness creates the cognitive vulnerability that traps you in a mood disorder for life.
Does your depression make you lie to your loved ones?
Maybe because you don't want to affect them with your bad emotions.
One of my client's, Tiffany, felt exactly like this.
On deciphering her triggers. We discovered that she could be watching a film with an actor depicting a lonely part. And this would trigger sadness. Once the sadness was triggered, she would immediately latch onto this sad feeling.
Suddenly, she'd feel people's eyes watching her like they could notice she was unhappy. This would then trigger a strong urge to isolate.
And like clockwork she would excuse herself from family and friends, retreat to her room and try her hardest to work out why she was making herself depressed again.
This would lead on to days of feeling worthless because she could not control her depression.
Can you relate with this meta-cognitive battle?
Do you just want to cry and sleep forever? But you know you can't because you don't want people to know what you're really like.
Now you’re tired of pretending to be fine. Exhausted from making jokes and coming up with 'interesting' things to say to make yourself appear normal.
The happy image you have maintained makes you feel so fake and artificial that you yearn to be alone all the time. Hence you are never living life but always only surviving.
This is how meta-cognitive lie no.5 places you under constant tension. Enough pressure to make you lose the will to live.
And that is why you’ve got to…
As you can see, because of meta-cognition, depression can easily become a cancer that warps your thinking with cognitive distortions. Slowly spreading itself out into crucial areas of your life.
It's a hard trap to navigate because life always requires you to push yourself to do things,
Push yourself to work... Push yourself to have relationships... push yourself to look after yourself... etc.
But pushing yourself when you struggle with depression can also keep you depressed.
At the same time, not pushing yourself at all because of your depression keeps you depressed. It is like you are fighting a lose, lose battle.
How can you win in this almost impossible situation?
How do you ensure you can push yourself just enough and make much needed lifestyle changes so that you can start to have a fulfilling and enjoyable life without pushing too much and bringing back the dreaded symptoms of depression.
You win by treating your depression with compassion.
I know, that’s a hard thing to do.
But the truth is that…
Compassion for your depression is only difficult because beating yourself up has become your default habit.
So, to help you master compassion for depression, here is a quick story that will make the process as clear as daylight.
When Anna got depressed, she always treated herself aggressively. She’d force herself to get up out of bed. Force herself to do things.
Because her belief was that she needed to push herself to get better. Sadly this always backfired and just made her depression worse for days on end.
In contrast to this, Anna's depression would always disappear whenever she stayed at her boyfriends.
She didn’t quite understand why. She just knew that staying with him was good for healing her.
You see, her boyfriend looked after her whenever she visited him feeling depressed.
He'd do all the cooking and the cleaning and he'd help her get out of bed and he'd literally cuddle her for like an hour without saying anything because he knew she didn’t want to talk. And he did all this with no judgement whatsoever.
In therapy, Anna was Gobsmacked when I hinted that her boyfriend was treating her the way she should be treating herself when she felt depressed.
That was why she became depressed whenever she was back home on her own.
Now Anna realized that her depression only got better because her boyfriend cared for her and treated her kindly
She’d never looked at it as something she should be doing for herself.
What's my point in telling you this story?
You've got to do the same for yourself...
You've got to develop a neutral attitude to your depression.
And you do this by gaining proper knowledge and understanding of what depression is doing to you.
Because the more self-awareness you gain about why depression makes you feel the way you feel, the more power you gain over depression.
Being able to justify why you perceive something as negative when someone without depression wouldn't be bothered at all, or why sometimes you wake up and life just feels like you're at a funeral whilst everyone out there go about their business feeling happy go lucky.
Having the knowledge and justification that you suffer from a real illness can make it easier to push through.
Yes it’s weird, but the truth is that this works for thousands of people.
So when depression gets tough…
Remember why you are so down and low in energy and assure yourself that your situation is no different than anyone else's. Remember that depression isn't just in your head. And that if everyone had this illness it would make them feel as bad as you feel.
Go against common wisdom and occasionally indulge in your depression.
Because when you do this, you'll recover faster than trying to push down on your depression and causing it to attack you more aggressively.
But note, I am not saying that you must ignore dealing with the hard parts of life. If you do this, you still get trapped in a meta-cognitive lie.
All I am saying is that when you are feeling weighed down by a million ounces of negative energy.
Don't try to lift all the million ounces at the same time. That will become overwhelming and discouraging.
Instead learn to lessen the weight you carry a little at a time so that you can achieve your goals without bringing depression back.
And to make doing that easier remember to speak to yourself as you would speak to a suffering friend,
Speak to yourself with understanding.
In a way that makes you feel less alone.
With words that make you feel more valued.
Remind yourself that depression is not your fault.
And when you make doing this into a habit…
Your brain will respond by getting on your side to set you fully free from depression.
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