Tame Your Mood is a monthly newsletter focused on the noble challenge of overcoming anxiety and depression. Psychotherapy for depression and anxiety requires many approaches, among which is the critical need to develop your understanding of what these wild moods actually are, how they work and function, and how we can get ensnared. These writings are here to help you build an understanding that supports the uprooting of the wild moods.
Below, you will find about 10 years of writings to help you understand the wild moods more deeply, practices to experiment with, and hopefully inspiration that anxiety and depression are not permanent, and there is actually a way out of them.
Sarah, 27, who is about to finish graduate school with a PhD in engineering, hates to call her mother…and does so, dutifully, and with dread, every week. Saturday mornings come with a call that her father always picks up. “Hi Dad, how are you?” She’s not close with her father, who has never seemed that interested in her. “Well,” he says, “Retirement is better than not. Doing some golf. Things are going ok,” this being a version of what he always says before, “Oh, here’s your mother. Be well.”
I think that virtually everyone I’ve worked with (myself included) at some point (or perhaps chronically) finds themselves saying, “I can’t believe they did that!” It could be specific: “I can’t believe my mother criticizes me about my partner!” Or general: “I can’t believe that people drive like such idiots!” Or very broad indeed: “I can’t believe that God allows suffering to happen!”
I’ve gotten to thinking about the experience of awe, especially in how it figures into the project of dismantling depression and anxiety. So the question for this essay boils down to: how does awe affect mood?
Ok. If we start with a brief definition from Websters, we get:
“Awe: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”
My family had hamburgers for Thanksgiving. In my case, as a vegetarian, I had a veggie burger. We had decided last year that the efforts of turkeypotatoesrollssomethingforthevegetairiancranberrysausecornbreadetc was just too much, given that none of the family likes to stuff themselves, and the work takes days and is then gone in an hour. For Christmas, we were planning to have pizzas for Christmas, but my mother buckled under the pressure. Change comes in measures.
This has been the most rancid election cycle I’ve ever experienced, and although I generally have a good working filtration system for mental toxins, this year has hit me a bit like a sudden surge of sewage into the treatment plant. I’ve had to be more proactive in my “detox systems” to allow me to not just crawl in a hole and pull the dirt over me, nor become so overwhelmed by the toxic sludge that I can’t function, either way risking depression.
[Movie totally spoiled herein: don’t read if you have not yet seen it!]
Pixar’s “Inside Out” is so remarkable to my therapist’s eye because it really got the human mind right, particularly in presenting a depiction and map of how depression happens, and what is depression’s cure. It was also quite moving to me personally, as someone with a long (and thankfully now resolved) history with depression, that the film presented it with such compassion and wisdom, and especially with such a credible and real understanding that there is indeed a way out.
This article was published at the Huffington Post (on the Psyched in SF blog), focusing on the question of what happens if we only trust Love, and how “trusting” is different than “hearing.” It’s meant as a quick sketch of the terrain, and idea that is certainly not new, but nonetheless remains as radical as when proposed by any of the greats.
We’re going to start here by pinching a concept from the field of economics, being, “Cost externalizing”. This is a term that describes how a business maximizes its profits by off-loading indirect costs and forcing negative effects to a third party. For example, when a chemical plant pours its industrial waste into the river next door, it is externalizing the costs of proper disposal of the toxins to the citizenry in general, who both have to pay for the medical effects, and eventually for the cleanup when the state agencies have to get involved.
I have been practicing psychotherapy for about 15 years now. I’ve worked with abandoned children, abandoning mothers, schizophrenics, a few sociopaths, folks who want to kill themselves more often than not, and deep, chronic depression and anxiety (which is the center of my private practice). In these years, I’m asked by patients, with some regularity, and bafflement, “How can you stand to listen to all this all the time?” Good question: how is it that we psychotherapists can engage day in and day out our patients’ suffering-which is to say, the stream of human suffering-and not become burnt out husks?