Yesterday I attended the group workshop. I had the worst nights sleep because I was so anxious, in the morning I was even more so!
It was not what I expected, there were only 5 of us sat around a table, all female interestingly but a wide range of ages. Must have been from 16 – 70. The leader practically floated into the room, I have never met anyone like this lady. She was as bright and smiley as sunshine, she lit up the whole room when she first stepped in.She made me feel so relaxed and strangely happy in her presence.
We all had to fill out the same questionnaire as over the phone and sunshine lady was saying exactly what we were thinking; we were all nervous, we were all wondering what everyone else there thought of us (ironically as we were all focused on ourselves).
Our first task was to talk to the person next to us (which I desperately did not want to do, not because of the lady just because my stomach was in knots) for five minutes about anything at all. Afterwards we had to write on their information pack positive things about them and read our own when we got home. My partner was a lovely, gentle, very shy older lady and she wrote about me:
Pleasant, friendly, well educated. Likes travelling to different places, appears confident although she said she was nervous. Caring, likes animals, good listener.
I felt really touched by that because I did not think I was a good listener, pleasant (remember I have this hate-everyone vibe) or caring. I was very surprised that she picked up on the fact I’d like to travel and love animals as we only touched on these subjects. This was a good exercise as I felt happier after reading it.
Sunshine lady spent time explaining the different areas of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), stress, anxiety, self esteem and depression. But the way she talked about them made me feel like they were so easy to conquer, I was strong enough to fight these and win. I had not felt that energized or interested in anything in a long time, it felt really good.
Throughout she also explained her own situation. 13 years ago her husband died and she had two young children at the time. He died of a random heart attack one day at work, completely unexpected. She began to get herself into a cycle of negative thoughts and one she referenced in particular was ‘catastrophising’ which means thinking the worst possible thing has or will happen. For example, if her children were late home from school she began to think that they had been involved in a car accident and she would lose someone else that she loved. She also watched violent dramas and began to believe the world was a awful, horrible place. She even said she would go to a supermarket and think everyone around her was a pedophile or a murderer. Her story was extremely sad and I could not even imagine going through what she had to but she told us in a way that seemed like she was recalling a past life. I could not process that this wonderful, happy person could have suffered like she had. It was amazing and so inspiring (and makes me want to cry), she is who I aim to be.
The way she won her battle was by techniques she taught to us;
- Challenging Negative Thoughts: There are 12 types of negative thoughts (catastrophising, mind reading, black and white thinking, etc) and it is hard to identity them because they pop into our brain unnoticed and we just believe them because why would our mind make something up? She told us to pick apart every thought possible and ask a question for each type of thought. We have to write them down, analyse every word, write the opposite etc until we realise that thought is completely incorrect. This can take about half an hour per thought, painstakingly long, but if we get into the habit of it eventually, like sunshine lady, we can do it in seconds in our head. You can read each of these on my blog post ‘Challenge Negative Thoughts’
- Poisonous Parrot: Imagine our thoughts being said by a parrot on our shoulder in a silly voice. They will become more comical and you can laugh at a bird that doesn’t know any better rather than believing them. This makes our negative thoughts seem silly and less valid whilst also making you think of funny things creating a more joke-like, laughter filled head.
- Mindfulness: we all felt pretty silly but she made us close our eyes and become mindful (not meditation as we were not clearing our minds). I will explain how to do this in detail as this really helped me and I walked out of the room feeling elated and happy.
And loads more! The class was one of the best things I have done for depression so far. It was so friendly and made me feel immediately better after walking out of the room – I could have stayed there all day!