Photo by Ashley St. John
Sixteen months ago, my daughter was born. After a difficult first week, the first month was great, challenging, but overall things were really good. Then the depression crept back in.
I’ve been dealing with depression for almost as long as I can remember. It comes in waves for me, where sometimes I’ll be generally feeling good, or ok for weeks, then seemingly out of nowhere, the depression knocks me down, and would stick around for one or a few weeks. Life was this cycle of feeling good for a while, getting depressed for a while, then fighting my way out of it and starting the cycle over.
I was generally happy when I would get home from work, but I’d spend the days being miserable, and wanting to quit my job. I don’t have a bad job, and in a lot of ways, it’s a really great job, but this was what was really bothering me at the time.
After Lydia was born, I decided that being depressed was a real hinderance to my ability to be the sort of father that I wanted to be. I wanted to be able to set a good example, and not act irrationally or impulsively because I couldn’t think of an alternative. I wanted to be able to pass on some tools for dealing with life better. So, after years of dealing with this, I made an appointment with a therapist.
I ended up only going to two sessions, because that’s all that I felt like I needed. Those two sessions were so useful, and illuminating, that it has taken me a little over a year to get to a point where I might need to go back for a refresher. The therapist that I met with introduced me to a version of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT). CBT’s model is that our thoughts are what cause our feelings, and if we change the way that we think about things, then we can change the way that we feel. It can be broken down into a few parts: cognitions, goals, and behaviors. (As a note, there’s a great book called “Feeling Good” that goes through all the basics of CBT.)
One of the really basic CBT tools is a chart that helps you to identify specifically the thoughts that are triggering your negative emotions, and then asks you to come up with alternate ways to think about the triggering event or that idea that might be more balanced. This requires paying close attention to how you’re feeling, and working backwards from there, which is tricky initially, but you get the hang of it.
Using this technique, I was able to begin to see what was bothering me so much, and it turned out that if I forced myself to restate what was happening, in a way that might be more balanced and not as distorted, I felt better about the situation. After going through this exercise a number of times, I started to internalize the process and could run through this exercise in my head, faster and faster as things happened. I also was becoming more conscious of how I felt, and why I felt that way.
It has also highlighted to me a basic thought pattern that I had of taking a negative default view of things, which I then was able to shift to start take a more positive view. I’ve also started figuring out different strategies for handling difficult situations better, a big part of which is simply setting expectations differently, revising expectations as needed, and changing my approach.
Things aren’t perfect, and probably will never be, but overall, I have been happier in the last year than any other time that I can remember. That’s mostly a result of focusing on the best parts of my life, instead of the few not so great details. At this point, I certainly feel like I have more to give Lydia that will hopefully help her to avoid the trap of depression that I fell into. As a bonus, I can enjoy my time with my family to a much greater extent than before.