In my long journey through depression, I had to learn to think differently. In order to do this, I had to pay attention to my thoughts and examine them to be sure I wasn't confusing them with my feelings. For example, thinking I am unattractive is different from realizing I feel unattractive.
If I make a stupid mistake, I may feel stupid afterward. But if I consequently believe I'm stupid, I'm allowing my feelings to become my reality, and that is where depression can sink its ugly roots into my life. It took me a long time to learn to make these distinctions habitual, and meanwhile I began to observe how people around me were behaving. I realized that a lot of unhappiness in this world is generated by mixing up thinking and feeling.
For example: once I was with a lady friend (I'll call her Wendy) when a mutual acquaintance walked up and greeted her, "My, you look nice today." As the acquaintance walked away, Wendy turned to me and asked, "What did she mean by that? Was she saying I don't usually look nice?"
Think about my lady friend's reaction. Ordinarily, people are pleased to receive a compliment. Why do you suppose she responded negatively? How do you think she was feeling at that time? Was she aware of her feelings?
I remember very clearly the two incidents that made me aware of how my feelings could deceive me. The first was when I was spending an enjoyable evening with a group of friends. I looked around the room and marveled at how attractive all of my friends were. Not long after that I boarded a bus after a long, difficult day. As I sat down and looked at the other passengers, I was struck by how angry and hostile they all appeared to be.
At that point in my therapy, I was just beginning to examine my thoughts and feelings, so I tried to put my emotions aside and look at the situation logically.
These people don't know me. They have no reason to be hostile to me. Most of them aren't even aware of my presence. What was I feeling when I got on the bus? I was tired, discouraged and feeling vulnerable. When do you feel vulnerable? When you feel threatened.
Suddenly my perceptions made sense. Because I felt vulnerable, I was seeing the other passengers as threatening.
That realization was an eye opener!
Since then I've learned that even though our feelings are a necessary part of being human, they aren't always an accurate reflection of reality. Does this mean we shouldn't pay attention to our feelings? NO! What it does mean is that we have to learn to figure out where our feelings are coming from. How do we learn to do this? The same way we learn to do anything: PRACTICE,PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
More on this subject later.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.