Tuesday, August 15, 2006

a diet of the mind

Yesterday I woke up depressed. I was depressed all day long. I got nothing done. I not only wasted a day of my life, I was miserable to boot.

The thing is, it was all self-inflicted. It was my fault and not only should I have known better, I did know better.

It started with a negative thought the night before. I assumed (thought, guessed, fantasized?) that someone had lied to me. Then I thought of probable consequences if that person had lied. Then I imagined further consequences. I didn’t sleep because I was thinking and rethinking, stewing about it, imagining the various possible outcomes and all the outcomes were bad, very bad. By morning I had had only one or two hours of sleep.

I found out in the morning that the consequences imagined did not come to pass and that it was improbable that the person had lied. By then it was too late. I was tired and depressed. The truth was good but it was too late. I already was realizing the negative fruit of my negative thinking. The truth being delayed as it was did not kill the fruit. To just snap out of it doesn't often happen with depression.

I knew better. This had happened before. There are about ten categories or types of lies that are usually part of negative thinking. I had accessed and used a few of them. I knew it as I was doing it. As I told you, I knew better.

There was a probability that I was lied to. If lied to, then there was a high probability that it would have some of the consequences imagined. If those consequences imagined happened, then there was a good chance that other bad things would happen. A problem is, if you string together a number of even high conditional probabilities, you end up with a small probability. It is essentially taking a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, etc. Now matter how big the original fraction, you end up with a small fraction. Another example, if you flip a fair coin ten times in a row, it could come up heads each time. However, the chances are less than one in a thousand. Not a smart bet.

A bigger problem is that I assigned near certainty to probabilities to which I hadn’t a clue as to their magnitudes. My brilliant insight is such that I was pretty certain that I was lied to. Of course, if that was so, it is only reasonable to conclude…. Looking back, I can see no justification for my certainty but given the wonderfulness of my brilliant mind, I must have had a good reason at the time. Yeah, right.

The reason I did it was because I enjoyed it at the time. I love what I call “the joy of discovery” of working things out, of figuring things out. Sure the outcomes are not pleasant, but the process is enjoyable. It makes me feel smart: I’m not going to be caught by surprise; no one can put anything past me; I’m way ahead of the game; I’ve got it all figured out.

In the movie A Beautiful Mind, when asked how he coped with or managed his severe, debilitating mental illness, Professor John Nash commented, “It is like a diet of the mind, I choose not to indulge certain appetites." Sunday night I was indulging in certain appetites for negative thinking. It was like someone who overeats and suffers indigestion, or like someone eats delicious food that he knows will later disagree with him or cause a painful reaction.

What I did is very common. I see others doing it all the time although they are unaware that they are indulging in destructive diets of the mind. (I’m sort of like the reformed alcoholic who can easily spot someone with a drinking problem.) Just the other day I talked with a young woman who was having some difficulties working out a particular situation. I suggested alternative approaches but of course she had already considered all the possibilities. She knew what perfect strangers would do, she knew their hearts, she knew that anything suggested would not work and why it would be a waste of time. She suffered this old guy’s attempts at being helpful, tolerating my limited understanding despite, or maybe because of, her overwhelming confidence in the brilliance of her insights. It would take far too long and be too, too much trouble to bring me up to speed. She was smart; she was not going to be caught by surprise; no one can put anything past her; she was way ahead of the game; she had it all figured out.

She also has an obvious problem with depression. Talking to her at different times, I have observed such negative thinking as a pattern, a habit. It bears fruit.

Now, do not accuse me of blaming the victim. I am not blaming people for their own depression. Yes, depression can have a bio-chemical basis; there even can be a genetic predisposition to depression. The young lady in question could have had all sorts of bad things happen to her (e.g., physical or emotional abuse) and this is her way of coping, of protecting herself from future hurts.

My point is that many, but certainly not all, people with depression unknowingly feed the depression with a diet of negative thinking. They habitually believe one or more of the ten categories of negative-thinking lies. Depression is deceptive and all too often depression relies upon deception. The problem with effective deception is that the lies are held as truth. It is hard to get someone to give up what they think to be truth, especially if that truth was obtained by their hard work and that truth validates some of their few positive self-images.

No blame-game intended. Many are in a trap of deception, a vicious circle of self-deceiving negative thinking, a poisonous diet of the mind. I have been there. Sometimes I am still there. I take no pride in what little “overcoming” that has happened. It was not my brilliance that occasionally led me away from lying to myself with negative thinking. It was not even my understanding of how screwed up I was. It was a path, a series of events, that I did not plan which forced me to realize that not only was I screwed up, but that many of the few positive things I thought about myself were not there. I'm not so smart nor am I insightful. I never had it figured out and I was most often flat out wrong. I was far worse than the bad person I imagined myself to be. I was far worse even taking into account that I was even wrong about the many bad things I held as truth about myself.

I also was very blessed to have had someone to show me how to begin to manage a diet of the mind, to choose not to indulge certain appetites.

I would have never have entered that path voluntarily. I would have never wanted the pain of discovery that accompanies finding out the truth about myself.

I would have never have figured it out. I know because I tried for many years to understand. In the end, I found out I was never even close to understanding.

My, I do go on. Sometimes my wife sees me at the computer and asks me what I’m doing. If I am blogging, I tell her I am writing to myself and she understands what I mean. I’m afraid that really applies to today's post. If people happen to come across this, people who need to understand what I am writing, they are quite unlikely to see themselves. I know there was a time I wouldn’t have recognized me in this post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No --- you were not just writing to yourself!