The Climb Step 2 - Cognitive changes
how changing mental habits helped me take control of my depression
Hi everyone and welcome to part three and step 2 of the climb, where I will do my best to explain how and why cognitive change has been crucial to helping me take back control of my depression instead continuing to let the depression take control of me.
So what do I mean by cognitive change? simply put I refer to cognitive change to mean changing the ways in which thoughts and reactions are processed mentally, and this is where I found talking through it with a professional really came into play.
It became clear to me that even though past events and circumstances had taught me to select certain emotional and behavioural responses to situations, these responses could be changed from negative and destructive to positive and constructive. By talking through each situation and circumstance, and talking through my thought processes, I was encouraged to look at things from a different perspective by analysing myself, and through this process was able to realize that what I had been doing mentally had become habitual and, as with all habits, these needed to be broken in order to stop repeating the same destructive and negative cycle I had found myself in; habits that had become mentally ingrained in me by my cognitive processing and memory recall and caused by circumstances that had been instigated by others behaviours and choices.
Right from an early age I had been subjected to verbalised negative adjectives being thrown at me by both children and adults in equal measure in school and outside of school, at home and outside of the home, adjectives such as stupid, useless, thick, ugly, weak, being called a baby when I got upset over what adults saw as something stupid; being repeatedly told as I got older that I got everything wrong and could never do anything right, that I wasn’t liked. Hearing this on a daily basis is it any wonder I felt negatively towards myself when no matter what I did to try and improve people’s perceptions of me nothing worked? I felt worthless, useless, I had zero confidence and self-esteem and felt constantly put down degraded and humiliated and felt that I didn't deserve to be here by the time I reached my 30s everything that anyone had ever ingrained into my memory that was a negative had become a lead brick tied to my ankle in a very deep ocean.
I couldn't cognitively change the circumstances that had led to my depression, or the negative way these had impacted on the ways I had become to view myself, or the memory of how they made me feel in that moment and beyond, how I responded was learnt behaviour, but what I could do with the help of my therapist was revisit them, or at least revisit those circumstances that had the biggest and most devastating impact on my mental health and unlearn them and learn a different way of being. This helped me to realize that some responses and processes were justified, but also helped me understand that each terrible moment had taught me something and learning that if I was to face them situations again, how I would be able to handle them mentally in a much more positive and constructive way because by re-learning I am also able to understand myself and my thought processes on a deeper level, so instead of automatically reacting oppressively or attacking as a defensive mechanism, I learnt to be brave and find my voice and speak up, I learnt to question instead of making assumptions about peoples motives and intentions, and more importantly I learnt that trying to counter-act others behaviours by trying to please them not only had the opposite effect, but also that I could not control or change the way other people behaved verbally or physically towards me, and I was not responsible for the negative choices they made.
Once I fully understood this and my reasons for trying to change others behaviours it was like a light bulb went on in my head. I actually started to believe that all that had been put on me was not something I deserved and also realized how long I had become submissive to the down grading and the disrespect and humiliation that had been imposed on myself, So in order to unlearn and re-learn how to change my cognitive habits I was given a tool called positive self-talk. And self - praise.
My therapist suggested that I started by saying good morning to the world every morning when I opened my eyes no matter what the weather and then tell the world that no matter what obstacles I faced today, today was going to be a good day. At the start I didn’t fully believe it, and yes, it felt a little silly, but after a while I started to feel better about facing the day ahead, and that was the other crucial important factor, not thinking beyond the day taking each day as it came instead of worrying about what was happening in the following days or weeks that followed. I then started finding little things to praise myself for without my therapist needing to prompt me in just 6 weeks of therapy sessions; praising myself for the little things such as getting out of bed when all I wanted to do was hide under the duvet, getting dressed even though I had no one coming round or planning on leaving the house.
Then praising myself and being proud of myself when little things went wrong and I delt with it in the right way. These all sound pretty obvious things to do when you're reading this or even writing it but when you're in the darkest of mindsets and have been for so long that it has become comfortable for you to stay there it really isn’t as easy as it sounds. It really does take work and effort to step out of that comfort zone but it works!. I cannot stress this enough that once this self-talk and self-praise starts you will eventually become comfortable with talking to yourself in this way and the magic happens when you suddenly realise that you are actually giving yourself the love you have always deserved and the respect that you have always deserved that no-one else has given you. What is even more magical is when other people see this in yourself through your positive actions and that includes standing up to them for yourself whenever you feel disrespected by them. Those around you will not always see the change in you as a positive one, but it is these people that have been use to using negative manipulation to oppress you and keep you down , and yes these people will fall from your circle because they don't deserve to be there unless they listen and give you the level of respect you give yourself.
This is how I started to control my depression, even on the bad days I reclaim my power, I give my inner self the respect I now know she deserves, even when I get it wrong I self-talk myself by telling myself that I’m human I won't always get it right and that’s ok I just need to set it right in ways that I can and learn from it. when I get upset I acknowledge that its ok to get upset and try and analyse why I am upset to understand myself better. It’s not about the circumstances anymore that I use to see as feeding my depression like a hungry starving dog, it’s about how I react and respond, I don’t give the depression dog the negative bone that it is snarling for anymore, instead I give it the healthier option and give it the most positive response I am able to which in turn stops the depression snarling and prevents it from biting the hand that feeds it.
It is this tool that has allowed me to find my voice again, find a level of confidence again, raised my self-esteem, eased my anxiety, helped me to sleep better but more importantly it has helped me to believe that no matter what happens in life I have the torch inside me to help me find my way through the dark and guide me to a better place in the same way sailors use the stars in the night skies to navigate their way to the safety of the shores. I still have my down days as I call them, but the more positively I remain cognitively the fewer the down days get, and yes some things and circumstances are still very much a trigger for negative responses but I am fine with that because I know I have the positive tool to rectify the negative response , but you don't have to take my word for it, after all what has worked for me maybe won't work for you or for everyone, but as the saying goes , you won't know until you Try it,
what have you got to lose?