Sunday, 29 October 2006

Dragging me down

Originally uploaded by nozzman.
J has been depressed to a greater or lesser extent for about half his life now. That's a pretty harsh predicament. I can see how that would make anyone feel hopeless.

For the past couple of days, J and I have had little therapy sessions at our dining table after supper (I don't really say 'supper'; I just put that in for the sake of variety in the sentence, honest!).

He was feeling despondent a few days ago after yet another fruitless visit to his therapist; I really don't think she's doing too hot of a job.

I am by no means expecting her to do wonders, and of course he needs to put in some work himself, but he really does, and it doesn't seem to be helping anyway.

We had a chat about the concept of depression; what causes it and how it feeds itself.

After talking about cycles of negative thinking and unhelpful responses to situations etc, I have arrived at the conclusion that he really is terrified of giving up his negative thoughts.

I think it's kind of like an alcoholic; watching their life fall apart around them, yet refusing to give up the drink, because the drink is the only secure and safe element in a crumbling existence.

How do you tell someone, nay, convince them (J insists he must be convinced) that the way they're thinking is in fact wrong and making them feel bad?

How do you convince someone that their incredibly low self-worth does not correspond to reality?

The fact of the matter is that depressed people have a more accurate view of themselves and how people see them, than do healthy people.

So how can I tell J to let go of the overly realistic thoughts and become mildly delusional instead (i.e. a 'positive thinker')?

We also discussed his completely unrealistic expectations of life and himself; his black and white thinking leads him to think he's "a complete failure" because he is in a less challenging position jobwise than his friends, all of whom are of course graduates from a very top university and thus completely unrepresentative of the general population.

When we discuss these things, he always says: "I'm not being negative. I'm just being realistic." And in a way that's true. Despite being completely fine, he has perhaps to some extent underachieved in life; a common consequence of depression. But rather than feeling like a complete failure, he has to force himself to count his blessings.

I don't want you to think that J is some kind of self-pitying moaning wreck, because he's not. I just don't know how to convince him to take some things on fate and give himself a break.


  1. It's difficult, because depressed people are convinced they're shit, so when you confirm they are thinking in bad or damaging ways, they think take that as evidence of their particularly shittiness. A good way to make them more positive/optimistic is relentless complimenting and harassing them to do something, anything. Once they achive something, be it running a marathon or eating you out, the achievement should help their self-esteem. Deep down everyone has an untapped well of insance and unreaslitic ambition - they just need external confirmation that they are not deluded, as you say. Confidence building. It's a trick, but the contrick works.

  2. Many thanks for the advice. Arrrghh... Yes, I know you're right; it's all about confidence building. I try to be encouragint all the time, which is surprisingly tiring. His therapist gave him some books on raising self-esteem, but of course he dismisses them as "ridiculous".

    I have got a reputation for being the most persistently optimistic person in the world, but even I am finding myself in over my head here... See today's post.

  3. What an interesting post. And I think self-help, or rather self-awareness, is an important part of the process of "getting better" - whatever that means.

    You said something that I'm not sure that I agree with... "The fact of the matter is that depressed people have a more accurate view of themselves and how people see them, than do healthy people." Why do you think that's the case? Is one type of perception more "real" than the other?

    I suspect that you're wrong, in as much as our view of ourselves goes a long way to defining other people's view of us. But at the end of the day, it's how we feel within that influences how we behave, how we interact with others, and what we're capable of achieving, be that spiritual, material or .....(add your own suggestion here)

    Was I rambling?

  4. Thanks for the thought; WDKY, you are (probably) lovely and hence couldn't ramble if you tried. At least not on this occasion ;o)

    The thing about self image; it's actually been scientifically proven that normal (ie non-depressed) people have an inflated self image (see this ancient "psych today" article)! Knowing yourself too well, as it were, is actually not a good thing in a sense. Weird, innit.

    What they compare is basically how clever you think you are compared to how clever your peers deem you to be etc. You're not as clever as you think you are, apparently... This doesn't bother me, but J can't live with the discrepancy (of course he thinks he's way less clever than he is, so just getting him up to an accurate perception would be good!).

    I guess philosophically this is interesting; is our relentless search for "truth" about ourselves actually undermining rather than contributing to our happiness? Or is it just that knowing the truth also has to come with some kind of "couldn't care less"-ness?

    And your last par I completely agree with; so CBT should work then, with some interpersonal kicks in the behind; so why isn't it??


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