I have been reading a book called Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. It addresses OCD and the behaviors that are “locked” into a repeat mode. He discusses medication as an aid toward making changes, but primarily his focus is on four steps that a person can use to “unlock” their brain using a cognitive behavioral approach. I do not have OCD in the classic form of repetitive hand washing or rituals like this. I do, however, think a bit obsessively. I might “perseverate” on a particular thing: should I get the forsythia or arborvitae? should I have hydrangeas or roses? And then when I make a decision (often after many years!): why didn’t I put the hydrangea there??? or The arborvitae was the right choice.
I have realized that not making choices keeps me in paralysis mode. But if I don’t decide, then I haven’t made a mistake. Of course, this is folly. If I don’t decide, I don’t move forward, regardless of whether it is the right or wrong choice, which really you can’t know until afterward if there even is a right or wrong. The point is to decide something.
My last post was titled “To Depress or Anti-Depress; Is that the Question?” I’ve been thinking a lot about the question. I know that depression and behaviors like OCD are genetic. Yet, I think they are also facilitated by learning. If I didn’t have a model that perseverated, or obsessed, or was depressed, perhaps I wouldn’t have “learned” that approach. Let’s forget momentarily that I have siblings who did not develop my tendencies, which would point to nature. Nature is strong, but nurture is vital. And if we lost out on some in childhood, might we nurture ourselves in adulthood?
In this book on “brain lock”, the author shows through studies and brain scans that we can change our behaviors through a cognitive behavioral approach and thus change our actual brain function and that which allows obsession. In simple terms, if you smile you’ll be happier. There is truth to this. At any rate, I know that doing and accomplishing …getting things done… makes me happy. Stagnating and not doing makes me unhappy. But the trick is forcing myself to do things. That is, instead of ignoring the pile of laundry or books on the floor, actually doing something about it. Instead of going to bed as in my favorite “Frog and Toad” story “Tomorrow”, actually doing something today.
I don’t want to simplify depression. It’s not simple, and it comes in different forms. By all accounts, I should be happy. But sometimes, you can’t get up to do stuff. Just like the flu can hold you back, depression can hold you back. But you can fight each of these by good nutrition, rest, and being good to yourself. It can also be fought by changing behaviors that have become poor habits.
To force myself out of my own self-imposed exile, today I did stuff. Not in the house. I went out! What a novel idea. When you are a stay-at-home-mom, it’s easy to get stuck in the stuff you have to do at home. And there is so much to do! My two older children go to camp, and then I have the two younger children. It feels like so much energy to get the first two going, that I tend to hang back with the younger two. But today I signed no. 3 up for a morning sports camp and took my younger one to a toddler gym class, the library (where I met another mom!), and to the park before going back to get no. 3. Okay so no. 3 said he didn’t like it (it seems he liked the class but not being dropped off), but still, he tried something new and so did I! I left my house for the entire morning! This may not sound big, but it is to me. I know this isn’t a big deal to other people, but I tend to stay home a lot. Today I made a change. I did not allow myself to be “trapped” by all the trappings of my house, and let go and went out. This is big for me.
And yes, I did start a low dose of meds, which is not supposed to have kicked in yet. I tried it before and abandoned it because I hate the idea of it. I’m trying it again. It is not the answer; it is not a “cure”. I’m hoping that it will help cut down on the obsessive thinking so I can stop being stuck. But I also know that doing is the main key. Doing and walking away from what holds us back is what ultimately unlocks our poor habits and the behavioral patterns that we don’t want or need. Sure it’s easy to say. And I say it to myself all the time. But I have to do too. Many years ago, I also did cognitive behavioral therapy, and it did work. But just like a diet, you have to keep doing it. Unless I sit down and write, the writing won’t happen. Unless I get up and go, the couch is awfully accommodating.
Yes I can anti-depress with medication. But it levels out. I really believe that the ultimate anti-depressant is the doing. It’s breaking old patterns and making new ones. Lots of bad habits are hard to stop. Some of mine are obsessing over people or choices, negative thinking and self-criticism. These may never go away, but I have to fight those tendencies. Today was one day on a good diet: I took a step away from my piles and toward my freedom. The piles are still there, but I didn’t allow them to keep me home. I have to address the stuff, but I can ‘t allow the stuff to trap me. That is not living.
How about you? How do you get stuck? How do you anti-depress? How do you get down to the business of living?