Practicing Happiness

In Peter Pan, the characters have to think happy thoughts in order to fly. In the Harry Potter books, characters have to think happy thoughts in order to produce a Patronus, that keeps the Dementors at bay.

Thar is what I thought of when a old friend of mine told me this:

I’ve got a project for you. I want you to make a monthly calendar. On the calendar, mark one special date every two weeks. On those two special dates, you are allowed to have negative thoughts and remember all of the bad stuff. On all the other days, you have to force positive thoughts no matter what else is trying to get your attention. You can write the bad stuff, that comes to mind, by hand in a journal. I read an article written by a child psychologist that uses this method to help young people through depressions. I’m serious, girlie… try it.

Focusing on the good things in life can help carry you through the bad times. That’s something I’ve noticed, either personally or in others. Similarly, by my therapist’s advice, simply keeping busy can distract you from the bad thoughts and memories. It’s all about breaking that rut, changing our habitual and learned reactions.

With that in mind, though, happy thoughts aren’t going to bring you out of the depths of severe depression. It’s almost impossible to be happy in the deep, dark days. For such serious depression, medicine helps tremendously. To fight the battle, you first must have energy. There were days where I would sit down and stare off into the distance, unaware of the passage of time. There were days where I would cry for no reason, and then I would cry because I was crying for no reason. And days when I barely had any energy to work, and yet I managed to move around, albeit extremely slowly. Medicine gave me a boost to start climbing.

Still, I have years of learned reactions to overcome. See, whenever faced with trauma, my reaction was to retreat to my room, and curl up, staying quiet, under my covers. I read books to escape from the moment. (I actually read books about escape, but that’s a post for another time.) Curling up is what I still want to do, when I’m faced with memories, stress, disagreements, things like that.

But my therapist says that’s the worst thing one can do. By stopping all physical action, your brain just churns in place. That’s where the psychology of tapping therapy and EMDR come into play. EMDR keeps the eyes busy so one can stay in the present when processing memories. Tapping is similar–the hands on the knees, the toes on the ground, things like that. Or, one could simply walk. Run. Something that engages both sides of the body, and keeps you grounded in the present. All are better than slowing down.

I’ve been doing pretty good, actually. Ever since she explained the psychology behind that, I’ve been practicing amending my reactions. It’s like how I’m practicing exercise, to try to drag myself out of the sedentary depression habit. (That’s the whole marathon thing, right there–I need a goal to keep me moving!) Little steps at a time. I’m practicing eating healthier, instead of gorging on junk food.

And now, I need to keep practicing at changing my thoughts–moving them away from the negative thoughts and reactions, toward something more positive. It’s been hard. After church, I felt tired and decided to take a short nap. I curled up into bed, and started unwinding…but as I slowed down, my brain began working harder at reminding me of all of my faults and mistakes I’ve made recently. If I hadn’t gotten out of bed and started baking, my brain would have kept on going further into the past bringing up more shit, until I felt completely like shit. Even then, it was hard trying to fend off my “dementors.” For each negative thought I blocked, another one appeared. And another. And another.

It was then that my friend made the suggestion above, on Facebook (perhaps I share too much of my struggles on Facebook…but all of the support from my friends have been invaluable.)

I’m not sure I can make it two weeks straight off the bat. It’ll take practice to get there…just like it’s taken slow baby steps with my exercising and eating healthier. But see, those steps add up. I’ve pretty much kicked pop out of my diet, and rarely crave junk food anymore, and I can run 13 miles.

So, instead of going for two weeks, I’ll take it one day at a time. I will try to take tomorrow “off” of the sad thoughts. Then I’ll try to do the same on Tuesday, and so on. However, Thursday, June 14th, will be tricky. That’s my brother, Tommy’s, birthday. The one who is also hard of hearing, like me. I can hardly believe he’ll be 13!

Anyway. I very much like my friend’s suggestion, and wanted to share it with you all…and I’m going to try to get to that point of taking 2 weeks off of bad thoughts.

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