Overcoming Depression: Thoughts and Feelings

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I’m rather too familiar with the inner workings of vicious circles of doom, so skipped on to the bit in the book, Overcoming Depression, about what to do about them.

On this, Prof Gilbert has to say: “Another way you might break the circle is to say, ‘Even though I’m not achieving much right now, this doesn’t make me a worthless human being’”.

Meh. The upside is that within the same paragraph, he writes:  “Now if you are depressed, don’t be surprised if these arguments don’t impress you”.

Good we might yet be in the same solar system.

I didn’t have much luck the last time I tried thought diaries. But this book gives quite good explanations, so maybe it would be worth tracking and challenging my thoughts. Also, I’ve noticed that, while earlier last year my mind felt like a mix of festering soup stains or sticky spagetti, as I think I variously tried described it, now my thoughts are more like piercing icy gusts through my mind. I suppose the clarity is a bit of an improvement at least.

Still, looking at my written down list of thoughts that have upset me the past couple of days, (all in the context of people asking me, probably innocently, how work it going, or else when I’ve been in a group of people, at work or at the rowing club, but not feeling comfortable enough to talk), no wonder I was feeling mentally exhausted this weekend!

I’m going to see if avoiding writing down the ‘evidence for’ these thoughts helps me – I know from experience that the more things I think up as ‘proof’, the more things I give myself to worry about! I’m trying my best at shielding myself from new worries on top of what I’m already thinking about!

I’ll also try to accept my thought and not try to trash them altogether, which wouldn’t be believable to me.

Here are some of them, and alternative kinder thoughts and things to change:

I can’t cope, look after myself, organise things, without help


  • it’s ok to need help.
  • Second opinions are always good, not a weakness that I ask for someone else’s thoughts on something big like what house or flat would suit me best.
  • Most people would involve their partners in decisions, and make a joint decisions. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I have to, or should, do everything single handedly.
  • People who live closer to home would naturally pop home once in a while for a meal see friends, family. Just because I’m living 1,000’s miles from home doesn’t mean it’s weak to wish I could do that too.
  • People are willing to help because they can, not because I’m useless and couldn’t do it myself. Other people might be better at certain things, like arguing over the phone with internet companies. If someone’s offering to deal with them for me, I should accept gratefully and not see it as yet more proof I couldn’t do it myself. If I were good at something and they asked me to do it, I’d be chuffed they asked and not see it as a weakness on their part. So I should think the same towards me.

I don’t know how to ask for help with a question.

Alternative: That is true. But could be solved by being more aware of how I ask for help. Try not to make it sound like a comment to myself that I’m expecting to be ignored. Try to make a specific question to a specific person, so that they can’t shrug it off.

I am so slow with work

Alternative: I haven’t got much experience yet, and everyone around me knows that. I won’t have any possibility to get faster if I give up now, so might as well keep practicing.

I am incompetent, but saying so, with the expectation of help, only confirms that I am.

Alternative: that’s just a negative assumption. I won’t get anywhere without at least trying something myself first and then asking for help if I’m still stuck. I could ask for help on something and test out what their reactions are. I could also follow my notes I’ve already written for myself here.

I’m not a fun person to be around, I don’t contribute to company

Blah. Still a major sticking point for me. Smile, (pretend) eye contact. Worrying isn’t helping me be a better person either. Try to move conversation on to something else or onto the person I’m talking too. Except…

I don’t know what to say to people, how to break into a conversation or start one

Make up lists of easy things to ask people about themselves or what they’ve done recently. Ask others who I’m comfortable with on conversation topic ideas, which could be a topic of conversation in itself.

I don’t have anything interesting to say. I don’t know how to show I’m interested in people. I don’t know how or what to say or write to people


  • Blah again. Make list of conversation topics to refer to, as above.
  • Actually I haven’t been totally mute. I can think of a couple of things I’ve chatted to people about. (eg about a co-worker’s prize guinea pigs, another co-worker’s son’s A-level choices, and today I asked after another’s baby who’s been ill, also talked about the type of stone Bermuda is made of,  and found out where the local running club meets)
  • Although mostly that was in December and I can probably count the number of conversations I’ve had my fingers I have been able to chat to people, so I can do it.
  • At least I’ve got myself into the situation where I could be talking to people. That must be better than sitting in my room totally alone.

Well jury’s out if that exercise will have helped me, and I probably have the wrong end of the stick over all it this, but I guess I should keep it up and not ignore it as a one-off.


Overcoming Depression: Learning to Cope, Initial Steps

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I’ve been slowly poking through Prof Gilbert’s ‘Overcoming Depression’ book, and now trying to copy out my scrawled notes and all the bits I’ve underlined, circled and spiralled round.

Right now I’m following the suggested exercize for the chapter, Learning to Cope: Initial Steps, by identifying the suggestions that I can relate to and could find useful.

There are lots of fairly generic suggestions, and nothing totally new to me. On the one hand I had vaguely hoped for something earth shattering and amazing (dreaming on…!) but on the other hand, the generic-ness of the suggestions also means I’m bound to identify with at least some of these solutions. I suppose it is also a good thing that it’s backing up and reinforcing everything I’ve heard before, from Enise (uni mental health advisor), SG & Celine (IAPT CBTherapists), Living Life to the Full cCBT course and various other self-help types book-on-prescriptions:

  • Changing your behaviour
  • Breaking down large problems into smaller problems
  • Planning positive activities
  • Coping with boredom, increasing activity and distraction
  • Creating ‘personal space’
  • Knowing your limits
  • Dealing with sleep difficulties.

I’m pleased to find that since I’ve been making a real effort to help myself, I actually recognise that I’m already quite a lot of the suggestions already. (Though if I weren’t then that might offer more of a possibility to improve my feelings, which aren’t totally great at the moment!):

  • The reason I’m bothering to read this book is because I’m clinging to the idea I can change my behaviour to help myself.
  • I know that when I see something big, it automatically turns my mind into sticky spaghetti. So I know it helps me to break things into smaller steps, or identifying specific options to then weight up. It’s just that it’s a lot easier when the small steps are obvious. I’ve had success doing that on a few notable occasions, but it’s quite hard to do for a lot of things that are just mush from the start!
  • Planning positive activities: This is something I’ve made a point of doing, and have found it valuable. Remembering the activities is as important as planning them, I’ve found. Although it was hard at first trying to make plans and do them, to feel something more than simply going through the motions, by persevering, I definitely have started to find myself actually enjoying what I’m doing more, since the summer. It’s helped making a point of taking photos of things I’m doing or visiting, to remind myself at the end of the week that I have done something interesting, and even occasionally taking a photo that I’m pleased with as a bonus! I’ve even surprised myself a couple of times where I think I’ve had a blurry monotonous week to then see photos I’ve taken and remember I smiled that day, if only at a flower or a wave.
  • I could have done with putting the ‘increase activity and distraction’ under Enise’s nose: “Sometimes, when people feel very depressed or unptight, they can also feel agitated. At these times, trying to relax does not work so well…anything that involves physical activity can be helpful” – Too true! Despite me fitting that description, Enise still pushed for yoga and beauty treatments…urggh. Although I’m not  a complete convert either: As I said before, while I appreciate keeping active while ill helps, for me it’s not a cure, and is merely useful as keeping something going that can be enjoyed again when not quite as ill. However it is still true that doing something unhelpful, such as trying to relax when it’s impossible, is only making problems worse and magnified.
  • Knowing your limits: This is the one I think I really need to work on. “Various patients of mine have become exhausted from overwork and then couldn’t cope with the demands placed upond them. They noticed that they are failing and becoming overwhelmed, felt ashamed about their failings and then became depressed”. I recognise that pattern a bit too familiarly. I suppose it’s meant to be reassuring that I’m not alone in feeling like that, but that’s not much comfort. I try to tell myself I’m improving and being kinder to myself by going home from work not too late and simply saying to people sometimes, ‘I’m really sorry but I just can’t’. But that can’t be a solution for everything either! It makes me feel horrible in myself that I’m just giving up on things, and doubly horrible when I’m then annoying to others for letting them down when I don’t do what they asked or what I said I could do initially.

Arggh, back to the whole ‘Good enough is good enough’ dilemma. What is good, what is enough, and who gets to say?? Gilbert goes on to try to say reassuringly: “All of us vary on this. Although some may seem to be able to cope with anything and everything, this does not mean that we should.” All I can ask though is, really? What is the alternative? Why shouldn’t I be able to do as well as the person next to me? Isn’t it a depressing thought in itself to accept that? Physical disability or cognitive deficits may be one thing, but as far as I can see, the only thing really stopping me is tiredness. And that, after all, is supposedly only a symptom of depression in the first place…

Obviously this is something I need to work on, to find a balance between over doing things and not doing enough: something where both me and others are happy with what I manage….I hope that I’ll find somewhere in this book some ideas on identifying suitable levels of ‘enoughness’.

  • Finally, sleep difficulties is the last that Gilbert mentions as something to tackle. I’ve not really concluded whether this is a problem for me. Certainly I’ve noticed that less sleep=bad. But I’ve never had a problem with the sleep itself. Rather it is the letting myself sleep. Lavender oil and hot milky drinks won’t help that! The other half of the problem is that now that I’m making sure I get a decent amount of sleep, when I get a bit less than that, I suddenly suffer majorly. I haven’t worked out if that is because I’m more used to sleep now and need more of it to maintain the same baseline mood, or if my idea of a ‘baseline’ mood is lower when I have less sleep, so I don’t notice a bad mood  like I do when it is a blip in otherwise better moods?

The ‘initial steps’ section also goes on to talk about identifying if there are physical or biological causes of depression. I have thoughts on that too, and lots of scribbles on the page, but I’m making the executive decision that re-writing those notes are not worth losing sleep over right now!

First impressions on ‘Overcoming Depression’

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For one reason or another, a couple weeks ago I ended up buying a copy of Prof Paul Gilbert’s Overcoming Depression from an Oxfam book shop.

When I’d looked at the book before on Amazon Look inside preview, I’d found it condescending. I don’t remember quite why, as now I’m finding it reasonably readable and mostly friendly. I have a feeling it is more likely me who has changed, than the book itself!

That first impression this time came when I read the first I flipped to, which happened to be a chapter called, ‘Thoughts and Feelings’. Gilbert gives a quick example of how one might change thoughts in an everyday situation: that someone bumps into you and your initial reaction may be anger. But when you turn and see they have a white stick, that reaction may turn to sympathy and/or guilt etc. I don’t think I’ve had it shown to me so simply how it is actually a natural thing to do to change feelings and thoughts depending on your understanding of a situation, and that it doesn’t need to take superhuman abilities to understand something differently, or that changing a thought is only ever going to be superficial.

Another first impression is how I’m enjoying having my own copy of a book. For however many years I’ve been a student, I’ve always put up with borrowing books from libraries to not shell out for my own copies. Now I can make notes all over the page and margins in glittery gold pen if I like, and fold down as many corners of pages as I want, in origami fashion even! As a bonus, I get to see the previous owner’s underlinings too. At first I thought we had a lot in common and it would be strange to bump into them (I’m fairly sure this particular Oxfam has a small catchment area!), though we’d never know a way of identifying each other. In fact further into the book we’re not underlining and highlighting the same things so much.

This post (and subsequent ones as so far I’ve only got through the book’s first section) isn’t meant to be a review of any kind, it is simply me working my way through the book: at the end of the first chapter in the ‘Learning to Cope’ section, Gilbert suggests making a list of all the things in the chapter that are relevant to you. Also, as I’ve got notes scrawled across a lot of the pages in sheeny gold ink which is difficult to read in the best of lights, I think it will be useful to me to type them out anyway. I haven’t got that far yet, though!