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Fighting Depression Is Like Having an Angel and Devil on My Shoulders

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It’s a slow, Monday afternoon. I’m alone in my apartment, lost in ruminating thoughts. I’m bored, depressed and tired. The more I think, the more my mood continues to spiral downward. I have the urge to crawl back into bed and aimlessly scroll on the internet or take a nap. Thanks to several months of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) training, I can recognize this urge is my depression talking. I know crawling back into bed probably won’t help me feel better, though depression says it’s the right thing to do.

A few weeks ago, in a moment like this, I would have called my DBT therapist for coaching. I would explain to her the situation and we would come up with coping skills I could try in lieu of lying in bed. Since I’ve been in DBT for a while though, now a lot of the times I don’t have to call for coaching to know what my therapist would say. I can hear it in my head, even imagine it in her tone of voice and style. I know in this moment, using a coping skill would likely be more effective for changing my mood. There is a dance class in an hour I could go to. Getting out of the house and exercising would probably help. But I don’t move. For a while, I stay in bed.

It’s like I have a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil is depression. It tells me, “Stay home and take a nap.” It encourages me to not bother using coping skills, that they won’t work. The devil says, “Life sucks and will never get better.” On my other shoulder is my therapist. She says, “Don’t listen to depression. It’s lying through its teeth, though I know it feels true. Use a coping skill instead.” She encourages me to get out of bed and to go to the dance class. The two characters on my shoulders go back and forth talking, arguing even. They each give strong reasoning why they are right and why I should take their side.

So how do you choose which one to listen to?

Usually I side with the one that screams louder: depression. But when I take sides with depression, when I doubt that things will ever get better, my therapist tells me to keep practicing. She tells me to practice distancing myself from depression’s demands and to use coping skills despite my doubts. She insists that every time I listen to the angel on my shoulder, it’s voice will grow stronger. Depression will weaken, and one day the angel will speak louder.

I don’t know yet if I believe this is true. I do know that ceding to depression’s demands has yet to make things better. For now, I will have to harness the little bit of hope I have that it will work, jump in feet first and do as the angel says.

So, I make myself get out of bed. I get ready in 10 minutes and go to dance.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

Originally published: July 24, 2017
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