Writing through Depression

In Creative Inspiration on March 12, 2013 at 5:10 am

So the last couple of days I’ve felt stuck. Stuck, stuck, and stuck. I don’t know what to do. I’m just pushing buttons on the keyboard in order for something to happen. It’s like a black cloud crawled across my imagination, as if my ability to visualize has become overcast and I can’t see anything other than the gray I feel.

Man, that seems like a mopey, self-indulgent description of teenage angst. And that last sentence of self-criticism was a symptom of the depression I’m actually feeling. I’m reminded of the book The Midnight Disease by Alice Faherty. In it she discusses writer’s block and depression and how depression is a force that suppresses and inspires writing. Right now I am trying to just shamble forward with this creative act in hopes that I will somehow write myself out of the well, scrambling word by word to pull myself out.

Writing is actually my number one tool for crawling out of depression. Many other useful tools I’ve found in David Burns’ book Feeling Good. The tools in his book have worked for me off and on, but if you suffer from chronic depression, your mileage may vary. One of the tools is his distinction of the difference between sadness and depression. It’s not simply one of degree. “Either sadness or depression can develop after a loss or a failure in your efforts to reach a goal of great personal importance.” The main difference between the two is that, “sadness never involves a lessening of your self-esteem.” This was an important distinction for me. Sadness I can tolerate as part of a healthy grieving process, but depression I’ve come to realize I have to do something about or it will start to erode my sense of self-worth.

Burns says, “Depression is an illness that always results from thoughts that are distorted in some way.” Depression is not caused by the external circumstances of your world, but by flaws in thinking that are distorted and unrealistic. Recognizing and confronting these cognitive distortions is helpful.

The ten basic cognitive distortions are:

  1. All –or –Nothing Thinking – this is the mental state of the self-defeating perfectionist, who believes if it isn’t perfect, it’s worthless.
  2. Overgeneralization – the belief that one problem, obstacle, or defeat is demonstrative of how you will never get things right.
  3. Mental Filter – focusing only on the negative to the extent that it colors every possible outcome.
  4. Disqualifying the Positive – deciding that anything good that comes along doesn’t really count
  5. Jumping to Conclusions – there are two main ways this occurs:  a. Mind Reading – jumping to conclusions about what someone else is thinking with little or no evidence.  b. The Fortune Telling Error – making guesses about the negative outcome of a future event with little to no evidence
  6. Magnification (Castarophizing) or Minimization – exaggerating the negative consequences of a mistake or failure, or shrinking the good and helpful qualities of something, such as your own strengths.
  7. Emotional Reasoning – believing that because you feel so badly about something, your negative thoughts about that thing must be true.
  8. Should Statements – obligations you give to yourself to motivate you, but if you fail in meeting them, your sense of self-worth decreases.
  9. Labeling and Mislabeling – this is basically name-calling, giving yourself with a negative label instead of dealing with the problem or behavior itself.
  10. Personalization – feeling personally responsible for something that has gone wrong when you weren’t the primary cause of the problem.

Burns suggests talking back to your internal critic by identifying which cognitive distortion you are exhibiting and write a rational response to yourself about what is really going on. It may seem odd, but recognizing the truth in this manner often puts me on the road to feeling better and more motivated. If you want more detail on this process and his other tools, an approach called cognitive therapy, I suggest checking out his book.

I wrote this as, like a lot my blog posts as of late, a reminder to myself, but also as something that I hope other might find useful since a lot of people I know seem to suffer from occasional feelings of low self-worth and depression.  I’m going to end this post here because I have a lot more writing I have to get to.


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