A woman wrote to Adam Khan:
I am a lady of 35 years
and quite moody and get depressed often. I had a emotionally
disturbing childhood. Six years back I had a major depression
and was treated medically for it. My mood fluctuates frequently
and I make some wrong decisions accordingly. My depression increases
during the afternoon time and I feel very miserable at that time.
I am basically very staightforward and any dishonest and cunning
behavour of people affects me immediately and I take everything
to heart. Besides I get angry fast.
I am getting scared that
my depression will affect my health and the happiness of my family.
Please help me.
Your message was one of the most straightforward,
to-the-point notes I've ever received. You can do something about
your condition, but it will require work. If you do the work,
you will see real progress.
The main task is to change your mental
habits. Do not try to think positive. Do NOT try to think positive.
If you try the method I am about to suggest, you may slip into
a habit of trying to think positive, but it will not work for
you very well. The thing for you is a vigorous anti-counterproductive-thinking
You have habitual ways of thinking you
formed to deal with an emotionally disturbing childhood. The
childhood is over, but the habits remain. You must change those
Your depression will definitely affect
your health and the happiness of your family, but you can change
it. It will take time and regular effort. The effort is simply
sitting down with paper and pen every day and going through an
exercise. The exercise, done every day or nearly every day, will
retrain your mind, it will change your mental habits, and negative
moods will become less and less frequent.
Now maybe you believe your problem is a
chemical imbalance. And you may in fact have a chemical imbalance.
But changing the way you think will change your chemicals, just
in the same way that when you think someone has deliberately
wronged you, your bloodstream is pumped with adrenaline and cortisol,
even if you were mistaken and find out later they did not deliberately
wrong you. It was only your THOUGHT that caused that assault
on your heart and nervous system.
What I am advocating is not to fool yourself
into thinking everything is great when it isn't. All of us make
certain kinds of mistakes in our thinking, and those mistakes
can have devastating consequences, making us feel defeated, hopeless,
helpless, depressed, angry, and so on, all perfectly unnecessary.
It's just a mistake. The problem is, our thoughts are often quite
automatic. They happen almost without our awareness.
The process I suggest is simple: When you
feel any negative emotion about something, sit down and write
down what you're thinking. You can do this with me over email
at first if you'd like to get a clear idea of what I'm talking
about. So you write down one of your "negative" thoughts.
Now get a different colored pen and look at that negative thought.
What's wrong with it? If you were taking a stand against it,
how would you argue with that thought? Does it make ungrounded
assumptions? Is it an overgeneralization? Does it have more certainty
that you could really justify with your evidence? Look at the
thought and write out all the arguments against it you can think
That's it. That's the exercise. If you
did that every day, spending maybe a half hour or so at it, you
could change the way you think over time. You'll find you make
the same kinds of mistakes, and often you'll argue against the
very same thought on different days. Your thoughts are habitual,
and it takes awhile to change a habit. But when you do, what
will happen? Many of the overly-pessimistic thoughts you now
have that make you depressed or angry will stop occuring. So
the negative feelings they regularly give you will become less
frequent or less intense, or both.
I also have three books to recommend to
Feeling Good: The New Mood
Therapy Revised and Updated
by David Burns
Learned Optimism: How to Change
Your Mind and Your Life
by Martin Seligman
Good Mood: The New Psychology
of Overcoming Depression
by Julian Simon
They will give you some good insight into
how depression works and what needs to be done to make it happen
less often or less intensely.
And I hope you use me as a resource as
well. Depression is a miserable thing to live with. So let's
get rid of it if we can. Write back to me. Ask me questions.
Argue with me. Give me your negative thoughts and let me help
you learn to argue against them.