Friday, May 30, 2014

The ANTs Ruin the Picnic

ANTs are "Automatic Negative Thoughts" and the phenomenon works something like this according to the founder of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dr. Beck. Beck wrote that basically you can't help this army of negative thoughts from entering your brain, they just do. You find yourself saying "I'm a failure" and "I can't do this" and "I suck." These thoughts influence what you then actually do, which is to beat yourself up over the thoughts and then you get depressed. The behavior follows, which includes things like wanting to sleep twelve hours a day and isolate from the world, then that feeds back even more into a rumination mood where all you can think about is how bad you feel. It's depression and it's a vicious cycle. Add anxiety and it's essentially unlive-able. You can't function.

When you're being treated for depression and anxiety, there is, if you're lucky, a great deal of group therapy. I myself have done three rounds and I don't even know if I'm done. The group therapy goal, using the basics of CBT and/or its follow-on, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), is to un-make these automatic connections in your brain and rewire your thinking. You sit in rooms with other people who feel the same way and you read from hand-outs pulled from the many books on CBT and DBT, you discuss your goals and your group leader -- social workers or clinicians -- guides the discussion and then you go home and try to practice the tools you've learned.

My brain is as stubborn as the day is long. I have been trying all the tools I learned in group, yet still I find myself thinking "We're not going to make it without my paycheck and I can't even face the want ads, I'm really screwing us by being saddled with this condition, why can't I snap out of it?" That's an automatic negative thought, and it would have me wanting to crawl back into bed where I feel "safe," and so I do, only once there I find myself ruminating on what happened at work last November, could I have done something different, why couldn't I have this, why not that, and I think "I'm going to be like this forever." The cycle gets me again.

I try to tell myself "You are stronger than this." I say "You ARE safe." I say we're going to be fine, I say that people have come out of the Facebook woodwork to tell me they have been through battles with depression and anxiety and that you CAN come out of it and that I WON'T be like this forever.

I keep trying to use meditation to "come back to the breath," and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. What I mean by that is, I'll settle into a comfortable position and focus on my breathing. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, using a DBT tool called "Mindfulness," just keep focused on what you see, hear, feel right now. Only now, in this moment. Don't let your mind race backwards to when all this started, race forward to the next set of problems, ruminate. Just breathe and focus. Then I'll have a thought such as "I used to be a writer, now I can't even put two sentences together and I'm always going to be like this." I'm supposed to immediately recognize this as one of those horrible ANTs, set it aside, and come back to the breath.

I'm working on it. My brain is just so...see now that's another Automatic Negative Thought, I was going to say that my brain is just so stubborn it's impossible. See how hard it is? My positive affirmations need to step it up. I need to be my own cheerleader or I'll never get out from under this heavy cloak of depression and anxiety.

I know these essays are more for me than they are for you, but if you're reading, I could really use some "atta girl"s in the comments just for getting something out of my head and into a piece of writing, because before this week, I really couldn't even sit at the desk and do it at all. Maybe I CAN come back. If only I can get these ANTs out of my potato salad.


  1. Those negative thoughts are so hard to fight. I hate them. We cannot let them win!!

  2. Buddy, I am so proud of you for writing and sharing this story. I'll give you all the atta girls you need. Keep writing and letting us in. We're here with you...reading every word.