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.
“Vinyl Thought” Interview on Depression and Obsession
Here is an interview I did with the good people at the Vinyl Thought, a radio program here in San Francisco. Originally slated as a short talk on depression, we ended up talking for 45 minutes about depression, medication, and regulation versus healing. Then we explored the nature of obsession, as they had earlier interviewed a journalist who was connected to an OJ Simpson interview that is now being released. So, a wide-ranging conversation.
This is the link to the Vinyl Thought’s webpage, and to get to the recording you click on the icon labeled “Audio MP3”. My section begins 45 minutes in.
In this issue, I give a brief take on the comedian Russell Brand’s brilliant new book on addiction, entitled “Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions”, and its connection to depression. If depression is a compulsive behavior, both literal and mental behavior (beliefs), then depression would qualify as addictive: it kind of runs on its own, but draws our energy and input, and rewards us with a kind of protection from the overwhelming larger realities of the world, and ourselves. I don’t go into the 12 steps themselves—Brand covers those all in depth—but the basic principles all translate to healing from depression: admit there’s a problem, be open to a solution, get resources to support the change, put in appropriate work towards that change, and be open to feedback.
In scuba diving, “buoyancy control” refers (generally) to the skill of maintaining “neutral buoyancy” while underwater. That is, through regulating your breath, you keep an internal density that’s equal to the density of the water around you. Meaning, it’s your ability to float while immersed, rather than getting pushed around by the always changing currents.
When we’re feeling balanced in our lives, we are experiencing the all-around sense that we get physically when we’re amongst the kelp. Things are happening, changes are occurring, the boss did that thing again, and Uncle Harry has the politics of 1955, but we don’t internally feel upset, thrown, or imbalanced. We’re buoyant. It has the qualities of feeling grounded, often pleasant, but primarily safe and under control (without being overly controlling).
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.