My therapist says I can be less depressed by acting less depressed. I know this is a fairly common idea in cognitive behavior therapy, what with the CBT triangle and all that, but it still tickles me.
The CBT triangle is not something I am very good at, and I think I’ve talked about it in this forum before because it confuses me no end. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in a vicious cycle that you can make or break by changing one of those things. As the folks at the mental institution that failed Jesse pointed out, it’s hardest to change feelings, less hard but still hard to change thoughts, easiest to change behaviors. So, they like to work on behaviors. It’s like the opposite of how I imagined therapy would be. Instead of, “tell me about your dreams,” it’s all practical. Do this, do that. Bossy Pants Therapists. Who knew?
The classic CBT triangle, I was taught by the Institutional Fails, involves hypothetical dogs. You get bit when you’re a kid, so you decide dogs are dangerous. So every time you see a dog, you feel scared, and then you have an associated behavior, like screaming and running.
So someone stuck in a dysfunctional cycle like this, to the point where, say, a chihuahua is making them scream and run, might try something. Instead of talking about whether 2-pound dogs are actually dangerous, or about your feelings, the institutional fails will place you in the presence of a dog and ask you to stay there. It’s called an exposure. Stay there, and don’t scream and run. Theoretically, you realize in a few moments that the chihuahua is not in fact dangerous, and that in turn starts to change your feeling of fear.
Unless the chihuahua bites you and sepsis sets in and next thing you know, you’re in the ER. Then what?
(By the way ooooh lookie I made a thing in powerpoint!!)
When I draw CBT triangles, I think they come out wrong. Granted, I haven’t done this specifically with my expert therapist, because we’re still in the “getting to know you and build trust” phase I think, but I like to forge ahead so I’ve been thinking about these triangles. Here’s my basic run at myself, big picture:
I don’t know. But yeah, that’s about right. So now I’m supposed to act less depressed by replacing the wall-staring and poor-hygiene behaviors with something else.
I think I’ve tried that a bit already, like this:
Still not right. Definitely not right.
THAT’S IT. I just need to stop walking around muttering about everyone sucking, and then I will be cured.
The thing is, the alternatives to depressive behaviors and hating people are all exposures, and I do it all the time. I really do. I may not shower as regularly as I should, or brush my hair in the morning, but I do lots of things to try to convince myself that people — including me — don’t suck. I volunteer for things and help people and show up and try to do stuff, and I smile and shake people’s hands, but it doesn’t really make me less depressed. It triggers my social anxiety, it gives me the occasional full-on stomach-gurgling panic attack, but it doesn’t get to the meat of my down-ness. I also have dear friends, new and old, wonderful people who somehow understand that when I say things like “I hate people” and “people suck,” I don’t actually include them. These people actually tolerate me. Why? Why?
I mean, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that people don’t suck, there’s always the news. Look at the politicians we elect. Look at our stinking president. Look at global climate change and the global indifference to it. Look at how hard it is for women and people of color to get a fair hand, still, even now in the 21st century. Look at how we’re treating children at the Texas border. Look at the way the rich oligarchs are running our world into the ground — look at how much wealth a few people have amassed, while millions and millions of really desperate people could live for years just on the value of the diamonds and trinkets they own. And it’s STILL not enough to assuage their greed. They want more and more and more.
I’ve been having recent conversations with my kids about wealth. What does it take to amass, say, 8 BILLION dollars in wealth? It’s not just hard work. Let’s face it, most of the richest people are folks who got rich investing other people’s money in someone else’s ventures. Is it hard work to sit at a desk and roll dice? Plus it takes a hoarding mentality to keep that kind of wealth. You have to be unwilling to give it away. How much of that money can one person — or even one extended family — spend in a lifetime?
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I think I lost track of myself here. Right. I was talking about acting less depressed. Clearly, I can’t just stop thinking people suck. I also can’t just stop thinking I suck; that’s a big ask.
I can, however, make a birthday cake for Nick. He’s having a little birthday party tomorrow, and (as is typical of Nick) he made a verrrrry specific cake request. Flat cake, a little bit of frosting, lots of marshmallow fondant. Decorated in 2D: castle, moat filled with sea creatures, draw bridge, dragon peering on from the side but not burning the castle down. I wanted the dragon to be attacking the castle, but Nick says absolutely not. I’m not allowed to add flames. Check.
But I think making and decorating this cake for Nick will make me happy and, for a time, less depressed.
There, so I think I can draft a proposed replacement CBT triangle.
This is an exposure therapy I can make a run at. Wish me luck.