Saturday, 15 June 2013

"Write about the dog" - literally, in this case; and a purely personal critique of CBT

There’s a reason only stories make sense for me.  However incomplete, you have enough of the story to get the beginning, a bit of the middle, a bit of the end – more than you ever get in Real Life.  Even the most postmodern, non linear, ambiguous, reality mimicking stories do, basically, have a narrative that you and I as readers, struggle to make linear sense of.  We try and work out what happened.  Why.  What for.  We try to make sense.  Desperately.   And because we wouldn’t read anymore, ever again, if there was no sense at all in our fiction, nothing to take back to real life to help…there is always some sense there.  The authors know that no matter how teasing they are, we need to be pulled along by the hope of understanding life better.

I have been hoovering up books lately.  Gorging.  I have done hardly any writing.  Partly because I have been too damned tired, which makes it feel like a chore, something that must be ACHIEVED and crossed off a list; rather than the quiet fizzing joy release it usually is.  And I have decided, at present, to minimise stress and worry as much as possible.

And partly because, good old reason, had nothing to say.  (That I think you’ll want to hear.  I don’t particularly think you want to hear any of this post either; but you are my trusty friend, Reader, so I’m hoping you don’t get too bored.)

I was reading back some of the earlier entries to this blog the other day, and was dismayed to find its been months since I did a proper footnoted essay type post on something other than my daily life and frame of mind (which as we all know, gets beyond samey, doesn’t it?).  I used to write properly good, educated, enjoyable, informative posts.  (I remind myself of Hystery here: I Do Not Feel Clever Anymore, and its bugging the hell out of me.)

Bah.  As usual, time and tiredness are the culprits.  So, until things improve, you are stuck with this warbling.

So.  Get it together.
Say what I was going to say.

Gorging on books.  Mostly female written, with some exceptions.  Fantasy.  Ghost stories.  Life uplifts, life learners.

I am deliberately reading nothing too heavy and anguished, or too political, as I am on a bit of a downer recently.

Usual reasons: Fluffhead had a bug that lasted a month, sleep frayed to nothing.  Then I got a sort of kickback anxiety insomnia.  Grand!  After a while of that, nothing much makes sense.  You have to impose sense.  Make deliberate decisions as to what to put in front of your face in terms of stimulation[1], in order to carry on with life without just sinking into a chair and staring at the floor.


“Why what?”

“Why anything?  Plus, why am I so rubbish?”

There, that cut short for you, an immensely long internal dialogue that sludges on, particularly when I am overtired.  (In case you wonder, Fluffhead bore his bug with extraordinary resilience: bumptious and snotty, sneezing, wheezing and hot, he nonetheless smiled and ran about through it all.  Aren’t children amazing?  They know they don’t feel right and can’t seem to do all the things they usually do, but they keep forgetting about it, in the fascination of whatever they grasshopper to next.  So they have a mostly ok time.  Well, except for the bits where they scream and tantrum because they feel bad and they don’t get it, so are moved to rage from overtiredness.)

I wish I could be more like my 3 year old.  Just be in the moment with nothing around it.  He looks up at me, nose streaming, cuffing it again so that I have to change his top for the 3rd time that morning.  But in his eyes what I see is trust and affection for me, he feels so safe and loved.  He snuggles up to me, seriously like a kitten, and watches ‘Ivor the Engine’.  (Little Idris says: ‘Do you know Land of My Fathers?’ in a gorgeous lilt.  If we watch Ivor for more than an hour I start talking in a Welsh accent, with that upturn to my voice.  I think it may well be my 2nd sexiest UK accent, after Devon and Cornwall farmer accents.  So slow and lovely, reassuring.  Anyway, so I go Welsh, Fluffhead goes contented.)  Oh – to be more like him.  He has the right attitude.  No projecting ahead, or working over what has gone before.  I love him so much it hurts me, everyday.  Sigh.

I keep ploughing through the books, not because they must have a happy ending, though they often do, but because I am very fed up of living in my head with my thoughts.  I am too tired to defend against them, so I’m going to ignore them and have other people’s instead.  Judiciously selected.

In a way, that’s part of the idea of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Ages ago, I had a psychiatrist, and he deemed CBT a treatment that would aid my mind.  Sadly, I could not help but perceive it like a game, a school exercise.  The way it goes, sort of, is:  you have a sudden bad feeling.  The concept states that this feeling was caused by a thought you had.  You might be so used to having this thought that it slips right by you incredibly quickly, too quickly for you to even notice any more in some cases.  But I’ve thought about it (ha!) and I do feel this makes sense (more ha!).  You try and pin it down.  You stop and examine it for actual objective truth from all angles. 

E.g. ‘I am rubbish’.  Well, no, actually I’m not.  Clearly this is not a well made thought.  It’s hostile to myself, judgmental, all or nothing based, and a generalisation.  For a start.  In terms of evidence: I have a family that loves me and whom I have not offed (or they me) in a senseless slaying in a public place with innocent bystander casualties (despite all those films and horrors you watch, silly girl).  Your family seem to think you are nice human being and want to hang out with you.  A smattering of friends think the same way.  You provide good care for your small son – you try to feed him the right foods, see he socialises a bit, read to him for hours a day, ensure he plays outside and gets fresh air and isn’t too hot or cold…he trusts and loves you.  This is an objective reality that can be corroborated by others, not just me.  You have a high educational attainment in your field of expertise…blah blah blah, I was sending myself to sleep there.  I’m not describing it well, as today I am doing it a bit flippantly, but basically, you observe how the thoughts you think directly give rise, immediately, to your anxious/ depressed [whatever] mood and any physical symptoms [ migraine, palpitations, shaking hands, acid stomach, general intense heaviness of body and mind etc].  “I’m rubbish” = wanting to cry, starting to get a headache, feeling heavy, wanting to go back to bed, feeling unable to cope, actually crying, starting to get stomach pains…etc etc etc.

You don’t, In CBT, need to go and have 50 years therapy to discover the root cause of these thoughts, you just deal with them in the now: seeing them for the overblown generalisations they usually are.  (“I am rubbish”.  Condemnatory, unrealistic as a statement.  No nuance, no understanding of circumstance: just a judgement.  Neither balanced, kindly, nor accurate.)

So, in CBT, you judge and assess these thoughts and then formulate newer more positive ones that you also assess as you go along, and try and have those ones instead (theoretically leading to feeling better: you feed your mind different food, it responds with a different reaction).

Sadly, I am too tired to do an alternative and more realistic thought than “I am rubbish”, which is unhelpful of me in terms of explaining these ideas to you.  Sorry.   But the point is/ was, here, that when sufficiently mentally awake, I could play this game like a pro.  I handed in all my many worksheets of my thoughts and their breakdown analysis; and my newer more helpful thoughts inserted at the end instead, and the psychiatrist loved me.  I was top of the class.

I totally missed the point.  I did the whole thing intellectually, but found I couldn’t use it all in Real Life.  Whilst seeing that my self-loathing thoughts made no sense was helpful, I didn’t believe the newer more balanced thoughts at all.  I believed the old poisonous ones, because they FELT true in my entire physical body.  No doubt through years of repetition and forced gouging out of neural pathways, that sometimes gave me these thoughts so quietly and immediately that I feel their impact even as the thoughts themselves have whispered past me and gone.  Stealth missiles of shit stirring.  All that I am left with is a migraine that just won’t go, a face heavy with downwardness and sorrow, and eyes that ‘naturally’ look down, not up – shoulders slumped.  Body language of defeat, sending its own repetitive signals back to the brain.

You ARE how you physically feel, in my case.  I have such admiration for anyone coping with Parkinsons or cancer or amputees – anything that messes so severely with your sense of physical embodiment I fear would undo me.  But then, I don’t really know, do I?  I might surprise myself.  I speak from a place of fear and unknowing.

CBT didn’t help me[2].  My new shiny thoughts felt hollow and pretentious (even as I could objectively see they made far more sense and WERE TRUE).  My old entrenched thoughts sniggered  at them as New Age white lightey crap.  (Which was inaccurate: they weren’t – they weren’t affirmations: “I am wonderful!  I am empowered!” etc.  No.  They went more like this: “I am basically a good person, as good as anyone else, feeling dodgy today because I have a lot of stressors in my life and I haven’t slept for 36 hours, except for a couple of catnaps.  My thoughts are skewy due to lack of sleep, and brain chemistry starting to go awry as a result.  All will return to normalcy and seem brighter after some good food and a rest.”  Hardly New Agey whitelightey crap, eh?)  The new thoughts shivered, and grew thin and cold from lack of use and substance.

On perfectly good days, the new thoughts – the reasonable, obviously true thoughts ARE me.  I don’t need to make an effort to think them.

But most days are not those days.  I used to sleep it off, once upon a time, when I felt bad.  Usually worked.  Not an option anymore.

So I read instead.  10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, on and off throughout the day.  I read other characters having good thoughts, taking action, doing things, having a life.  I brainwash myself through another’s more balanced mind.  While I read, the black dog has to sit in a corner and play solitaire by himself.  He’s pissed off, of course.

But reading is the only defence I have, apart from TV.  Even when I am out taking action myself, walking to town with Fluffhead, there I am with those thoughts, the ones that tell me, repeatedly, all about the worst parts of myself.  My brain fries from lack of proper sleep (the best non invasive torture method in the world, I suggest) and I have nothing to offer as an alternative, except my back.  No sophistry to combat.  Not even when Stanley tells me to remember my happy thoughts of horses, daisies and ginger beer.  Light of the sun on grass green as green.  Not even when I remember, when anxious, how Troubadour told me to float on the surface of my mind, and not dive in, just float...

This is how it is sometimes.  I did warn you, in the very first post, that I get solipsistically, egocentrically downered sometimes.  It’ll pass.  It always does.  It’ll be back.  It always comes back.  And if I am not too tired, I will remember all my psychological and magickal knacks to put my focus elsewhere and manifest good things.  I will remember to make new neural pathways.  But you do need to be quite awake to use these techniques properly.  (Not so easy when tired and stuck indoors caretaking, not able to pursue work or projects: it's vital to try and concentrate on something, and even better to DO something.)

So in the meantime, I thank all the people who write stories where things sort of make sense and heroines act as I wish I would, as a role model for me, so I can understand life, even if only for a minute.  Through their eyes.

[1] Informative things.  Productive things.  Good things.  Happy music.  A lot of music that purports to be peaceful, is in fact sad.  Have you noticed?  ‘Don’t Mess with Mr Inbetween’.
[2] CBT works for loads of other people, by the way.  Perfectly good method.  Not everyone is going to sabotage themselves and make a game of it.  I know lots of people who didn’t and have been massively helped by it.  Good.

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