Is there a way I can nip my depressive moods in the bud?
March 8, 2013 6:41 PM   Subscribe

I have major depression, and I am receiving treatment. However, I am still not master of my own mood, and now I would like some specific tips, pointers and ideas on how to stop myself from harassing my poor husband about imaginary problems.

I was diagnosed with depression about a year ago. I have been working really hard on getting better, and I can tell that things are improving. I still have some low points, however (they get more frequent when I don't have therapy, for example right now), during which I am selfish, manipulative, suspicious, and ridiculously oversensitive to my husband. It usually follows this pattern:

Memories of (abusive) childhood or cruel internal dialogue creep on me --> I feel worthless --> I am *positive* my husband has finally realized I'm worthless, too --> I willfully misinterpret anything he says so I can confirm my suspicion that he secretly hates me --> I GRILL him and examine every letter of every word he says until I get him to accept that he said something horrible to me and he doesn't love me anymore --> poor husband is confused, hurt and there is nothing he can say to defend himself, and I am miserable and at the same time happy that I got him to admit I am crap.

I don’t know if I can convey to you how horrible these conversations are. I cry and make him go through an inquisition about inane stuff. I make an effort to see things in a wrong light and I manipulate the things he says to make them look like he hates me. I feel like an insecure mess and he ends up paying for it. During really bad weeks I do this a couple of times. He does not deserve this. Nobody does, but he particularly is so sweet and patient and mellow and he truly cares and suffers for me. I feel like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, since in between these sessions I’m my usual chill self and we enjoy life together, and that crying and insecure woman feels like a different person. He must be bewildered.

Until today we both thought we were just fighting and we had serious communication problems that came and went. But when we sat down together and talked about why our fights are so ugly, I had a little epiphany and realized it was all me. I told him everything about my internal dialogue, and I apologized for dragging him with me. He was relieved to finally understand and now we’re left with the issue of how to deal.

I am in between therapists right now (the last one was not a good match, I’m actively looking for one), and I am sorry to say I am afraid of my own behavior in the near future. I want to take responsibility now and plan what to do when I recognize the pattern beginning. I asked my husband to not engage, and that’s all I could think of.

But how can *I* prepare? How can I learn to recognize and stop this? How can I make my depression more tolerable for him?
posted by ADent to Human Relations (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you have some distorted thoughts about your worth as a person and your husband's feelings about you, and they are one of the main causes of the problems. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) was really helpful for me in working on my own distorted thoughts.

It's good that you're actively seeking a new therapist - that's going to be key for long term success. In the meantime, you could consider buying a CBT workbook like this one to work through on your own. It would probably be most helpful if you read through it & did the exercises every day - not just when you're feeling at your worst.

Also, I just want to send a message of hope - I had some really severe distorted thoughts myself (including about how I was a terrible, worthless person) - and they changed. Some of the thoughts took years to start changing, and I think it was a combination of a lot of things - CBT, other types of therapy, changes I made in my behavior that all contributed to the distorted thoughts getting better, but they did get better. Of course I still have some distorted thoughts here & there, but they no longer interfere with my quality of life.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:51 PM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Chores. Small, simple tasks that you can finish without too much trouble, that take a modicum of paying attention, and at the end you've got a little emotional cookie of "I got something done". Unloading the dishwasher, ironing something, taking out the trash. It distracts you with something tangible and offers a little positive hit. Moreover, training yourself to react to the recognition of the start of that downward slide can make derailing depression into a habit that becomes automatic over time.
posted by fatbird at 6:53 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am SO SO happy that you had this epiphany! This will change everything.
Now, when you realize you are having one of those fights, you can put in words what you are really trying to say and he can respond lovingly and honestly. So if the "fight" is really "you can't love me" then call it that and don't get distracted by what you thought the fight was about. His job is to just calmly let you know that he does love you - still loves you - even when depression is making you be irrational. (Depression is good at that because it is all about emotions and emotions just aren't that rational.)So it might look like this:

Usual start to fight
You (think) Why am I being so mean. Oh! It's one of those fights
you (out loud) Look, I'm feeling crappy and worthless and can't image that you love me
Him: Well, I do
You: I don't believe you
Him: You don't have to. I still love you.
you: start to cry
Him: makes an offer to do something for you (you two need to plan ahead what he can do to help you in times like this. And also, what he can do if he doesn't feel up to being loving at very moment EVEN THOUGH HE DOES STILL LOVE YOU.

The trickier thing is for the two of you to come up with a way for him to let you know when he suspects that you are having one of those fights. Tricky because when you feel bad about yourself, it is so easy to take things wrong. However it will usually be much easier for him to recognize when it happens since HE isn't the one being overwhelmed by the lies that depression tells you. So, the simplest way is to use his ability to recognize it and send you a signal - all you have to do is commit yourself to trying to acknowledging the situation when it happens. Not that you have to be all calm and rational - but by being genuinely irrational about what is actually going on it will be much easier on him and less guilt afterwards for you.

This is really an incredible insight - you need to give yourself full credit for how hard you are working that you could figure this out - and even between therapists. Please celebrate this success - it's just one step forward but it is real and it is forward.
posted by metahawk at 7:03 PM on March 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

So, hey, this pattern sounds like it's fundamentally driven by your seeking reassurance (in this case, seeking reassurance that you are "worthless"), and really when you think about it, it's pretty cruddy to rope your husband into it. It's fantastic that you're recognizing this pattern and want to change it. What I would recommend for now, while you're between therapists, is to read up a bit on "self-soothing techniques" and do your utmost to recognize when you're feeling triggered and go ahead and feel as awful as you need to without involving your husband.

You really do need a qualified practitioner of CBT to help you out with this though and I wish you the very best in that regard. Good on you for recognizing a bad fit and moving on -- keep at it until you find someone you can trust and feel good about. I've been through this process myself, and EMDR helped me immensely.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:13 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah I was going to say that you need to find a way to manage your anxieties alone in the short term and how to self sooth at least the ones you know are irrational. This will change your life. It's something the people around you that seem do together and confident have mastered.

A lot of people run or do chores or knit. Physical activity is certainly helpful. I find doing something caring for someone else or one of my animals gets my head straight more effectively. Repetitive physical tasks make me brood and scheme.
posted by fshgrl at 7:58 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, I am going to secularize a thing I learned in some prayer ministry classes.

Write down those thoughts that are dragging you down. Label them what they are-untruths.
THEN, take some thought and write down a truth to replace the lie.

Example: Lie: My husband can't stand me. Truth: My husband is patient with me, kind, helpful and loves me very much. He is here for me and will help me.

Of course you need a therapist, but short term, I have found it is very helpful to attack the thoughts at their source. I was a depressive years ago, severely so, and I know the battle. But it is so sweet to be on the other side!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:59 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have our shorthand. So when we're getting into one of those fights I simply let myself wail "and then we'll end up homeless in a box that's on fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire." It doesn't matter what we've actually been fighting about, that's where my brain goes. So I say it, he knows that we've gone into unfixable territory and from here on out the only escape is terribly practical plans OR humour. Or sometimes leaving the room. Mostly humour.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:50 PM on March 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

I recently watched a documentary on being happy. Oddly enough the movie is called Happy. The movie has some really good, basic ideas about the types of things that make people happy.. and the lifestyles of groups of people who rate their lives happier than most others. If nothing else, the documentary will make you smile, and hopefully inspire you to try out some if the ideas!
posted by makeshiftjoy at 9:45 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found a book called "loving what is" very useful in helping me to diffuse some of these distorted snowballing thoughts (which are basically negative emotions plus an active imagination trying to creatively justify the negative emotions). It's a bit cheesy (IMO) but the core ideas are pretty solid I think, and it gives a specific exercise to dealing with these thoughts. It's similar in a way to what St. Alia of the bunnies mentions, and my memory of the details is fuzzy but i think it's basically an inspection of the 'truth' of a thought (is it true? Can I be sure it's true?) and then how that thought effects you and how you would feel without it. I thinks it's in that Buddhist suffering is created by the mind vein but is in very straightforward language (no koans or meditation).
posted by pennypiper at 9:53 PM on March 8, 2013

If you feel unlovable, there can be this conflict between being seen and being loved. If your husband says he loves you, he must not really see you (you feel, because you know yourself to be unlovable) so you try to show him how unlovable you are by fighting with him. The goal is to be really seen by him rejecting you, though at the same time, the goal is that he will love you anyway, but you can't stop until he rejects you because, well, you know yourself to be unlovable.

What you need to do is to identify the part of you that you deem unlovable (it's usually aggression, or anger, or sexuality--something that made your parent(s) turn away from you) and reunderstand it in the present context. Easier said than done, but that's what you need to do.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:49 AM on March 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

My last relationship got this way near the end - everything I said was contextualized in a way that made me seem controlling and malicious. Things like, "This conversation is not productive; maybe we should go" got responses like "I don't need your permission to go anywhere, stop trying to control me!" My advice to you is simply to let him have more space when you're depressed. My ex-S/O said that it was important to have me be near her more when she was depressed so she felt more emotionally connected, but she did stuff like what you are describing and we ended up fighting a lot, which only made her feel worse. It can be hugely draining to be around somebody who is suffering from depression and you need to give him some space to "recharge his batteries," so to speak. You're probably going to be a horrible person when you're in these moods and to some degree that may or may not be fixable, but what you CAN control is how often he has to deal with it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Make finding your next therapist a top priority. Do it like it's a job. It sounds like you really need to make sure you stick with it and the more time passes, I worry you won't go back to it.

I can't advise you on how to deal with your marriage, but I would say it's good to have projects or goals that can keep your mind from drifting off into paranoid anxious depressed land. Projects and goals keep you busy, give you something to channel your energy toward and can be rewarding when you complete them or make progress. Some possible ones include joining a gym/working out, cooking classes, learning/re-learning Spanish/French/etc, photography classes, teaching yourself how to knit, making claymation short films, re-organizing your house/life, scrapbooking, building a birdhouse, buying and training a new puppy (that's a big decision), remodeling your home, painting, etc.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:06 AM on March 9, 2013

This is gonna be a long shot, but I often get depressed and start to think super negatively about my career, lovelife, friendships, etc. If I'm in bed when this happens, I won't want to get up. I won't want to move or do anything to change the situation.

But what it all boils down to is I'm actually just hungry. I don't have a good hunger reflex so my first sign of hunger is what I wrote above. I've learned that the best thing to do is to just go eat something. Start with something high glycemic index (ie. something sugary like juice, but not too much) to fuel you quickly and then follow with a healthy snack or regular meal.

Never -- NEVER -- start a big important discussion with your significant other on an empty stomach. You will not make good decisions.
posted by cman at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Another long shot (and I agree about considering your blood sugar/hunger): Do these moods have any correlation to your menstrual cycle? PMDD can be like what you describe.

Also, I've read (though never managed this myself!) that a good hard bout of exercise--go for a half-hour run, say--when you feel a mood coming on might help you more quickly "reboot."
posted by Ollie at 10:30 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My suggestion would be to decide for yourself that the next time you feel this way and are prepared to engage with your husband, you first take a slow deep breath. This may help in giving yourself a bit of conscious separation between your mental triggers and your external reaction, which is what you really need.

Then you can decide whether you want to pick a fight, or not, or say "husband, i am feeling really worthless right now and could use some soothing and support."

It's hard the first few times, but give yourself a break. All you need is a few sections between stimulus and reaction to turn it into a conscious response instead.
posted by softlord at 11:57 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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