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Lying to yourself for mental health

Anything can be fun if you convince yourself that it is

Mar. 6, 2013
 
KeithUhlig
KeithUhlig
  • Filed Under

The foundation of my psyche crumbled around me about a year ago.

A combination of lack of exercise, dark winter days, inordinate job stress and a lifetime of fighting the blues left me lethargic, pessimistic and struggling to meet my personal and professional obligations. More importantly, my bleak mental state had my wife at her witís end and she virtually shoved me into my doctorís office to get help.

I sheepishly, fretfully explained what was happening to my doctor, how it seemed not only to affect my noggin, but my heart and soul. I talked to him about how I once loved running, but now simply taking a shower seemed to take up all my exercise willpower.

He asked me whether I thought about suicide. (No. Well, not really.) He talked about brain chemistry, neuro-chemicals and other stuff, and sent me off with a prescription.

Meanwhile, I talked to my supervisor at work who encouraged me to see a counselor through our Employee Assistance Program. ďI canít make you do it,Ē he said, ďbut I strongly encourage it.Ē I made the call.

The counselor told me she thought I was suffering from dysthymia, a chronic type of depression during which a personís mood is regularly low, but not as severe as major depression.

My counselor also spoke about ďreframingĒ issues. Really that meant looking at things in a different way. For instance, when I talked about my struggles with writing, she suggested that I might reframe them as a sort of mental exercise that will help sharpen my brain. I wasnít supposed to think about me being such a lousy writer that even I didnít want to read my stuff.

Iíve since learned that this reframing concept is a part of a cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has been found to be effective in treating mental illnesses such as depression.

Now if you have been a pessimist all your life, constantly preparing yourself for calamity and believing the worst will happen, this form of namby-pamby positive thinking stuff sounds a lot like lying.

At the time, I figured, why not? After all, I had been lying to myself about the depression for years. It would get better, I told myself, when winter was over, or if I could lose weight or if I bought a convertible.

Meanwhile I started exercising again, reframing it as not something I had to do, but something I wanted to do. I wasnít going out for a run, I was going out to check on the neighborhood. Riding a mountain bike was playing in the woods. Soon exercise wasnít a chore, but a pleasure, and it remains so to this day.

Hey, I figured, if it works with exercise, why not other things? Ironing has been transformed from a silly waste of time but a necessary evil to a meditative activity that allows me to watch guilt-free television.

Winter isnít dark and cold, but a bracing challenge that makes me stronger and more determined.

Broccoli isnít a bitter vegetable that gets caught in my teeth. Itís a superfood that will make me healthy and strong, and help shed the weight. (Iíve tried going the other way, saying that ice cream isnít a delicious treat, but actually a form of slow acting poison that will slow me down and make me fat. Hasnít taken yet. Crave it every night.)

I still struggle with daily deadlines and pressure in a high-stress work environment. I havenít been able to adopt a Pollyanna-ish ďitís not a problem, itís an opportunity!Ē credo, but I do tell myself that by embracing the mental challenges, maybe Iíll keep my job, stave off Alzheimerís and get to enjoy some years of retirement. Maybe.

Keith Uhlig can be contacted at 715-845-0651 or kuhlig@wdhprint.com. Read his blog on wisconsinoutdoorfun.com or follow him on Twitter @Uhlig.

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