Depression - taming the critical voices
Escaping depression is rather like taking on an octopus - it is a combination of attacks from all sides. Those who have suffered from depression will have no doubt remembered a rage of signs and symptoms. If you have experienced it, you will feel down, lethargic and nothing will feel ‘right’. You will want to sleep all the time yet are never rested, and you struggle to concentrate. Although in more lucid moments you will want the depression to lift, you will be unable to motivate yourself to change.
In your head there are the critical voices - not a hallucination, but your critical voice trying to undermine everything. This stream of destructive thoughts is experienced in the depressed individual's head, discouraging them from taking any action that might make a difference and might help them change their mood.
Perhaps the hardest battle we face when taking on our depression is to face down that critical voice so that we can push through and make a difference - accessing the changes we need to make. The challenge is to engage the thought process and try to understand what might be behind those unhelpful thoughts. What is that voice trying to get you to do or become? Perhaps there is a fear behind what is being thrown at you. When you know what the motivating factor is you can perhaps decide what you want to do.
Perhaps you have been feeling down for weeks so a friend invited you out for a meal. Your inner critical voice perhaps challenges you that “They are only doing it because they feel sorry for you, they don’t really like you! You should stay home”. As you take some time to reflect you realise that behind the voice is a fear of rejection that your friend might walk away because of your illness, or that they are hiding their true feelings. As you recognise that it is fear that is behind the terrible judgements you are laying on yourself you can check whether they are right. Is it likely that this friend of 20 years has hated me all this time or is it more likely that they are worried about me?
This is a very simple (and drawn out) example of how challenging your inner critical thought process can let you make changes that will be of benefit. It is a simple solution, but one made infinitely more complex by depression and the critical voice, which makes that momentum difficult to find to make the changes you need.
There needs to be a second prong to your attack. Self-care and self-compassion look at ways to acknowledge what you are doing and achieving (even if it is only trying). It’s also important to give yourself time to recover, perhaps mindfulness mediation or gentle exercise will help - offering you some time to challenge the critical inner voices and make the differences.
Finally with depression it is often a journey which is more easily made with someone you trust so that you can talk over your fears and thoughts. That might be a friend or it may be a counsellor. Many have managed to challenge the critical voices in their heads, tame them and overcome their depression.
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About Graeme Orr
I am an Accredited Member of BACP offering counselling for both individuals and couples on the Southside of Glasgow.
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