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How I Break the Loop of Negative, Paradoxical Thoughts from My Depression


A few years back, when I was in the middle of a really bad depression attack, I found myself sitting on the floor trying to reason my way out of the darkness.

I’m no MENSA member, but I’ve always enjoyed critically thinking about problems and figuring out a solution. Sometimes this was a business problem, other times it was a personal issue, but I almost always found a solution. This is why it was so infuriating that, despite exerting a tremendous amount of brain power, I just couldn’t reason my way out of it.

Then, like a thunderbolt, it hit me.

When you have a rash that won’t go away, your brain tells you to see a dermatologist. When you’re having problems with your knees, you see an orthopedist. But when the concern is with your brain, “self-repair” becomes almost impossible because you can’t use the thing that’s broken to fix itself.

Case in point. If you ever visit a psychiatrist, part of the intake is a standard form that asks, among other things, “From a scale of 1-10, 10 being always, how often have you had feelings or thoughts that you didn’t want to live or wanted to harm yourself?”

First of all, I am waiting for someone to tell me what the difference is between say a 4 and a 5. That aside, if I’m seeing someone because my brain isn’t processing my mental state correctly, then how can I fairly answer a question about my mental state?

See, when you’re in “the soup,” (my term for being in the middle of a depression and/or anxiety attack) you are simply unable or unwilling to recognize you need help — to say nothing of what type of help you need.

You’re stuck on a merry-go-round that is extremely tough to get off. But that’s not the worst part. One of the telltale signs of depression is experiencing a lack of self-worth. This lack of self-worth causes negative thoughts like, “I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t blame you for not wanting to talk to me. I’m just not good at this or that.” It also sometimes translates into self-harm because you don’t care about the consequences, or you don’t feel you deserve happiness.

For some, this translates into alcohol use — and abuse. For others, it’s cutting. For others who are really struggling, it’s suicide. Now here is where the paradox comes into play, and why getting help can be so challenging.

Follow along with more inner thoughts:
“My depression is really bad…I don’t deserve to be happy…Why would I want to get better, I don’t deserve it…I’m not even gonna bother seeking help because it won’t work and I don’t deserve happiness…my depression is really bad…”

See how quickly that turned into a vicious, paradoxical loop? I need help, but I won’t seek it because I don’t deserve the help. No “normal” mind would say that. So how on earth can those who can and want to help, help? It’s not easy, but I do have some advice.

Like any good plan of attack, try to find the weakest link, and penetrate the loop. Depending on the person and the situation, the link can be about the depression triggers, the feelings of self-worth, the right to be happy or the comfort they are not alone. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a tough one to break, but it can be broken.

For me, the most successful ways I can break my loop is to work with the people and/or services that can help me slow down the clock and focus on today. This moment.

I don’t need to worry about being happy tomorrow. Hell, I might not be. But how can I be aware of this moment, and take stock of my happiness at this exact period in time. It’s not easy, but for me it yields the highest rate for success.

Sometimes the help comes from my wife, other times my friends, but it has also come in the form of meditation, acupuncture, hikes, listening to good music, podcasts, therapy and exercise. It’s not fool-proof and sometimes these loops take much longer to break, but at least I’m finally in a place where I want to break the loop. Trust me, that’s a big first step.

If you struggle with your mental health or care for someone who does, remember this is not always a “fixable” disease. For many of us, it’s maintenance, not repair. But I believe those living with depression should make it a priority to try to break the loop and avoid the paradox. While no easy task, it could be the foundation to build ongoing improvement upon.

Getty image by francescoch