I’ve been a relatively positive person most of my life. I try to see the best in everyone, find positives when others lose hope, care for others when they are down. But there have been times in my life when I needed a little help of my own. I’m not one to ask for help. I always want others to notice that I need it and then offer it of their own free will. If they truly love me, if they are my true friends, I shouldn’t have to ask. Right?
Well, that’s not how it goes. Just because I am in tune with others’ emotions, because I am empathetic – affected by the emotions around me – doesn’t mean everyone else is. Most everyone else. So, I need to learn to ask for help when I need it. Not be afraid I’m dumping on them, not be afraid that they will see me as weak, not be afraid of being a burden. Because most people can’t see the need just by looking at someone, especially when that someone is quiet, doesn’t share their life’s trials and tribulations with the world, or hang laundry out for everyone to see.
I’ve always hated drama, even when drama was all the rage in high school. Hated it. So I didn’t participate. Drama is negative. Even before I learned psychology began to evaluate my friends and way of thinking, I knew I didn’t want to be around drama or negative. I wrote about having an epiphany about the company I kept back in 1999. But really, it’s been longer than that now that I go back further. I just never set a name to it. Now, I am vowing to change my thought process and change what voice is heard loudest. I can’t “evict” the negative voice. It will always be there. But I can sure try to drown it out! I started this journey last year. It will probably be a never-ending journey where there may be bumps and bruises along the way but I will do my best to keep the path straight on to positive so when I look back, I can smile and show off the deep smile lines I’ve earned.
Last year saw a year of healing for me. Like I said, I started that journey, taking care of myself physically, going to doctors I’ve neglected for years, and trying to just get out of the funk. I took all the knowledge I had gathered over the many courses and years and tried to apply them to my everyday life in order to combat the depression and anxiety. While sometimes it worked and got me through to the next day, it generally started all over again. I could no longer do this all on my own. I had to ask for help.
I’ve always found psychology fascinating. I almost majored in it when I was in college. Looking back, though, I am thankful I changed my major because in all honesty, I don’t know if I could deal with not being able to “fix” everyone. I’ve always been a perfectionist. If I couldn’t do something perfect the first time, I would avoid doing it ever again because of that failure. I’ve also had a need to control everything around me. It’s one reason why I dislike getting drunk (I’ve only been drunk once in my life, never again), or even having surgery. Both circumstances mean I lose control over myself, which causes me horrid anxiety. So, if I couldn’t control the outcome of being a therapist, I could only imagine my own mental state degrading.
In all actuality, though, that is exactly what I’ve become over the years. Not just for my friends, but my husband as well. Especially my husband. He has been my longest friend. He is my love and my life. It is my duty as a wife to keep him happy. And if I can’t do that, I’m a failure.
That was my thinking for the longest time.
Slowly, over the last year, I’ve become better at realizing it’s not my fault, there’s no fix, that just being here for him is enough. The problem I still face is squashing the negative self-talk. No matter what I do, or how I try to “trick” my brain, I always hear it. It screams sometimes. Not as much as it used to. But it’s still there. I thought I could evict it. I thought that by training my brain to see the positives in every situation, no matter how small, I could make the negative just go away.
What was I doing wrong? None of the cognitive therapy techniques I’ve practiced over the years were working. The negative never went away. Sometimes, the anxiety would be so bad that I couldn’t even get my heartbeat to slow down with meditation and breath control exercises. I was starting to get scared.
Cue the vicious cycle.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the idiom – misery loves company. I’m here to tell you that this, indeed, is a fact. Not just because miserable people want to share, but because of the negative emotions feed on one another and keep their fires blazing. Anxiety feeds rumination. Rumination feeds depression. Depression feeds the negative. My thinking becomes so impaired that my problem-solving abilities are now replaced with irrational thinking. I didn’t really notice the irrational until I started communicating with my husband and understanding his PTSD brain.
Realizing your irrational thinking is one thing. But to recognize it and head it off at the pass is something completely different. Another idiom comes to mind – hindsight is 20/20. I started understanding that how I’ve acted towards his emotions has been irrational. I started trying to recognize those thoughts when they happened and stop them. This has been so very difficult to do. I’ve done everything I can that I know of, so I thought it was time to ask for help from someone who is trained.
This year, I started seeing a therapist. I’ve had one session already and the thing that most stuck out in my mind throughout our conversation is that I ruminate.
The word ruminate has its origins in Latin, and means, basically, chewing cud. We most often hear this phrase associated with cows, deer, goats, and sheep (among others). We do sometimes give it to a person; but only lightly. When a problem arises, one can say, “let me chew on that for a while.” This is not a ruminator. A true ruminator, like me, will take a situation or a problem rather than react immediately, we will mull on it, over and over, until we need it again. When we finally spit it out (bring it up again) we may have a little forward movement on the whole thing, but generally, it makes things worse. Our mulling, our problem-solving, has been squashed by our low confidence. We fall down that depressive rut of a rabbit hole and chew our cud some more.
I tend to look at the big picture, which overwhelms me. If I continue to do this, I will only see the negative. Because the mountain blocks the little flower the blooms. I can’t move that mountain if I try to pick up the whole thing. I must focus on that tiny speck of beauty, the positive, and learn to take that mountain on with one pebble at a time. (It’s why I chose the tiny Viola peaking through the dead grass near the concrete as the image for my mantra.)
Yes, it’s only been one session so far. Yes, I’m learning official names to what I am and already knew. Yes, I understand a lot of what the therapist tells me. I am going to learn a new way to distract myself from the rumination. If I can distract myself, I should be able to focus on more positive aspects of my life and become more self-confident.
Here’s the article my therapist gave me to read for homework. Probing the depression-rumination cycle. It is what inspired this post. If you are a woman and a caregiver, like I am, chances are you are a ruminator, too. If this sounds like you, stick with me and I will keep posting any tips I can that I’ve learned during my therapy sessions. Any questions, please let me know and I will try to address them. If I can’t I will find a way. Please don’t be scared to talk to me. It is on the pillars that the building gains its strength.