With so much to be getting on with and with a leak causing disruption in one of the offices, I wasn’t going to write a blog this week. A couple of contrasting emails (both from ladies suffering with depression) gave me reason to consider putting fingers to the keyboard (a modern day pen to paper I guess) when a blog from someone who had decided to go back to anti-depressants after five years, compelled me to do so.
I will apologies now for any grammatical errors as it is being done on the fly, but I feel it carries a few points that need to be made and will hopefully be of benefit to someone in the future.
The two clients who had sent the aforementioned emails had, in many respects, presented themselves as being very similar and suffering from, for the sake of generalising, depression related to their personal relationships and family dynamics. Because no two individuals are the same the approach(es) I used on each were vaguely similar in some respects and different in many others, but the one overriding thing which was exactly the same was that I solicited a firm commitment from both to trust whatever process we felt would benefit them best and ‘do the work’ that we had agreed on.
Now as many of my clients will know, ‘the work’ may involve some relaxation and self hypnosis, identifying with a desired self, it may entail practising gratitude on a daily basis, may be instructions to move and exercise more, to use affirmations, to be mindful of the things they focus on and the meanings that give situations, events and feelings. I may teach them techniques to counteract anxiety or demonstrate to them how to breath and instruct them to do it ten times a day. I may ask of them to listen to their internal dialogue using techniques akin to cognitive therapy, or I may get them to focus on the external; to find a new hobby or do some voluntary work. For some I may even get them to do the whole caboodle. One thing is that I definitely get most of my clients doing ‘stuff’, even if it is to test resilience to situations that previously caused them upset.
I reiterate time and time again during the sessions that the homework is building new skills, developing resilience and ultimately empowering an individual by giving them techniques and ways of being that will hold them in good stead throughout their lives. I lay the foundation to using those skills in the sessions using hypnosis and post hypnotic suggestion, often after some hypnotherapeutic work has been done and it has been emphasised to the clients that the process is a collaborative one and they must do their part in it.
These two clients were no different and much of their homework was, for all intents and purposes, entirely the same as one another. They had both come as part of the work that I am doing (for free in the right circumstances) with people suffering from depression and were finding no joy with medication or other therapeutic approaches. With depressed people and those suffering from acute stress, I actually try not to overload them with too much to do and I certainly didn’t with these two.
Before I go any further, for those that don’t know me or my story, I suffered from stress and depression a number of years ago and lost time off work and almost my sanity because of it. I just feel the need to explain that because, as much as I empathise deeply with those that suffer from depression (its why I do what I do and I’ve even chose to niche in it) I do understand it and I also understand that in hindsight, I was only ever a shift in focus, a reframe, a few strategies and a different perspective away from pulling myself out of it. But when I took some responsibility for being in that position I also knew I had to take on a huge amount of responsibility to get out of it. I really think some people need, and I imagine I drive the point home harder than most, to take much more responsibility to a lesser or greater degree, to get themselves out of the holes they are in and this will include taking some advice.
Now as you have probably guessed, the point about these two clients is that one had taken on board both the work done in the session and their commitment to the pre-agreed homework. They had contacted me, again as pre-agreed, a fortnight later from our appointment together, to tell me not only how different they had felt, but how they could feel that they were experiencing a real shift in terms of self-empowerment and awareness and for the first time (in a long time) experiencing feelings of having control and having choice. I can empathise with these moments too and I do so very strongly as I remember my own wonderful feeling of realisation that sure there may be bad days but there will never be black ones again. She recounted that the last two weeks had presented itself with situations and people had tested her but she stuck to the schedule and kept coming out the other side stronger. So happy was she, I replied by giving her the advice that persistence was now the key to happiness and to not stop doing the things that were helping, just because things were no longer hurting. She committed to this too and we scheduled a follow up after a further two weeks.
The second client on the other hand had message me earlier than arranged to say that she had failed to last more than one day. She mentioned that she was unable to do anything that I had instructed her to and described in rather negative language how it was feeling futile and that her only response now is one of anger. Now let’s start by saying maybe it was my fault. Maybe I should have hypnotised the shit out of her and just made her soft and floppy and happy so that people could walk all over her and she just wouldn’t take it personally. Believe it or not, when I started doing this I genuinely believed that a nice dose of confidence and self love under hypnosis was almost a cure all for anything. Until I realised it wasn’t. I now work on coaching and strategising with people, combined with hypnosis and multiple other techniques, to build their own identity and to take a little responsibility. Not doing something different for two weeks when your life has been apparently blighted for years by something, I’m sorry, just isn’t good enough. I vehemently believe that if something isn’t working you have to something else and approach life from a different angle and that flexibility is the key to doing this. The work I had agreed with this client was very much about being flexible in approaches to how they focused and spoke to themselves and how they dealt with key players to their problem differently. But even the simple premise that what she had been doing was so ineffective it might as well be worth a go, was not enough to make her try it basically at all.
Now there could be a number of underlying reasons why there was a stubborn refusal to try and maybe one of those reasons is that I am not, nor was I in possession of all the facts. But there are also plenty of examples of reasons why it would have been worth it to try for more than just half a day before giving up. Either way not having a plan isn’t advantageous so even if you fall off the horse once you should at least be prepared to jump back on one, two, three or fourteen times before you admit defeat.
But what is insightful about those that do not do their homework or quit immediately is that the definitions, labels , language and meanings they attach to thoughts, feelings and events are decidedly negative and terminal and this is an area in which I put a lot of focus and effort in educating my clients; from a depressed wife or husband or a high flying trader in the City, to avoid doing.
So invariably my first homework will not be, take up a sport, use self hypnosis, or enrol on the first pilates class you can find in the yellow pages, but simply begin persistently monitoring the language and vocabulary you use to talk to yourself and give feedback.
In our rush to find quick fixes it seems that not only do we often put too much emphasis on others to ‘fix’ us, but some tire very quickly of anything that even slightly implies a bit of hard work on their part. It is a shame that some of the traditional cognitive approaches are less fashionable nowadays, as they still very much have a place in fixing people, but good cognitive therapists are obscured by a mass of clipboard, form ticking robots or don’t empower and educate, much in the same way good hypnotherapists are blighted by psychotherapists with a pendulum and a reclining chair.
People need to understand that how they talk to themselves and the labels they give things, give feelings, give events and the background commentary they constantly have playing in their life, can define that life entirely.
In depression there isn’t always a bogeyman in the past, an emotional thorn to be removed or a quick neurological fix. Sometimes people just end up in shitty situations and bad relationships. They can only escape situations, remove themselves from situations or indeed, take control of those situations by developing good cognitive skills and tooling themselves with resilience and flexibility. Giving themselves (and accepting) the same positive advice they would give their closest of friends.
We live the stories we tell ourselves and are players in the landscapes of our lives and if we paint them as depressing, grey, angry, inescapable and we use bleak and negative language to define those stories, then that is how we will experience them.
The negative self-talk is a consistent theme amongst my clients who fall at the first hurdle and I even have clients telling me when challenged on this that they don’t have time to monitor what they are saying to themselves (while invariably challenging anything everyone else says to give meaning to the negative emotion they are focusing on)!
One of the best bits of advice I can give you is this. Mind your language. Now I don’t mean don’t swear , what I mean is be aware of when your words and definitions are magnifying or distorting reality and giving your emotions permission to run away with themselves.
If you describe yourself as always angry – guess what? You’re going to feel it and be it. If you describe something as impossible the chances are you are not even going to try and if the meaning you give to something is that there is no point then you are completely limiting your self and your possibilities.
I also, after studying strategic coaching through the Robbins-Madanes Training Centre, apply Tony Robbins human needs psychology with many of my clients and you can tell which of their fundamental needs are being met and in which way, by the same language they use. In the case of many of my clients, especially the ones in unhappy relationships (or no relationships at all) the vivid and expressive language they save to describe their negative emotions almost makes them too compelling to let go. It is this pattern of language and focus (combined with identifying how to fulfil the needs constructively) that I get the clients to work on diligently because I have already heard it to be a problem.
The diligence was the difference in the emails that I received this week. When I replied to the second client a few days ago, I re-emphasised that their internal dialogue was trapping them and their behaviour, as well as their lack in willpower to do as they were asked and that, if they ever truly wanted to overcome their depression, be it with the help of me or someone else, a shift in their own narrative would be needed at some point.
It may sound simplistic and a little lacking in sympathy and it is entirely meant to. People need empathy not sympathy and they also must be very determined to improve themselves and put a greater amount of effort (initially) into developing strong patterns in order to remove themselves from a negative situation than the effort they put into doing the things that aren’t working.
That clients narrative and lack of conviction in applying any of our mutually agreed suggestions told me that she was getting something out of her problem or rather the story she was telling herself about it. She may not be aware of the fact, but until she can detach herself (and this why the self talk training is so important) and dissociate from that commentary to test its validity, she will struggle to understand why depression is connecting to her beyond the lure of familiarity.
I have every confidence that she can overcome it, but becoming self aware is the key. The first client I spoke of actually shifted when she became aware of that self awareness and associated into that better, positive state (by herself and by doing the exercises).
It was while I was contrasting the two and pondering more on the second, less happy client that I read someones blog entitled “After 5 years I’ve decided to go back on anti-depressants” telling of the authors journey and ongoing relationship with depression and medication. I found it an interesting piece, but one where I struggled to empathise, let alone sympathise with the writer, forcing me to reread it a couple of times to check whether my first impressions of the author and her problems were fair or not. The reason being, in relation to the comments I have made regarding descriptive language, the piece very clearly highlighted for me, a few reasons why she had been having this prolongated battle with mental health.
The language and use of adjectives throughout the piece define her story:
“For the past 9 months, I’ve been engaged in an intense war within my mind, as I’ve seen my symptoms of anxiety and depression grow worse and worse“.
While she flits from embracing the drama to almost gleefully discovering more issues to add to her existing ones (and I am comfortable in saying this as I recall doing the same in the past) with weird sentences such as;
“and discovered that (whoops!) — I also had an anxiety disorder in addition to depression and a previously diagnosed mood disorder.”
Which dark humour you could argue was helping her, except it wasn’t because the basis of the piece was about her ultimately being driven back to medication for her sanity.
I got the general impression that for her; depression, or rather her story of her depression, was fulfilling more than one of her primary human needs and it was being demonstrated in her romanticising of her circumstances. I also struggled to see what the exact point of the piece was – was she actually suggesting that if you were like her, the best thing was to hop back on the anti-depressants? What ever the message was it was lost, for me at least, in contradiction and advice and observations steeped in irony.
Thanks to the words she used, the meanings she attached to her situation in the final three paragraphs and with her summation of actually having made no real progress (but instead adding a few more ‘disorders’ to add to the mix), it was clear that some of her primary human needs* were being met negatively in keeping her depression very much alive.
I don’t see the piece as constructive nor being of any merit. But it certainly illustrates an emotional connection she has with depression and a need for significance in sharing it.
I would urge you, especially if you suffer from or have suffered from depression to read it too and then be mindful of the first and then subsequent layers of internal dialogue you have once you have done so.
Do you find yourself connecting with her in an almost kindred way?
If so, do you get comfort from the fact or does it, upon reflection, make you recoil in discomfort that you do?
What are you saying to yourself as you read it, what could you, or indeed the writer say to edit and change the story to make her issues seem more manageable and assailable?
How could you change the words you use on a daily basis to lesson your own discomfort and empower yourself day by day?
Mind Your Language. Do your homework.