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Don't tell me to think positively

One of the defining features of depression is the way it affects your thought patterns. Depression makes it difficult to take a positive outlook on everyday events, long-term goals, relationships, memories, self-image… basically everything.

The following thought experiment illustrates this nicely. Imagine you're in this situation and note what goes through your mind. You’re walking down a familiar road when you see someone you know on the other side. You smile and wave. The person makes no response - just doesn’t seem to notice you… walks past without recognising your existence. What did you think? I myself jumped to the conclusion that the person deliberately ignored me. But if you’re in a good mood you might have assumed that they simply didn’t see you - perhaps they were preoccupied or they weren’t wearing their glasses.

I find this kind of thought process difficult to avoid unless I’m in an unusually good mood. For example, recently I was sitting in my living room with the back door open when a robin flew in, performed a mid-air U-turn, and crashed into the glass on its way out. As it fell to the ground, my heart sank. I thought it was seriously injured, that I’d have to call the RSPB and have it rescued. I couldn’t move. Two seconds seemed to drag on for an eternity. Finally it picked itself up and flapped away and I let out the biggest sigh of relief.

This situation might cause stress to any animal-lover. But the worst part is what happened next. It’s something that occurs on a regular basis. My mood drops as a result of a temporarily stressful situation. Next comes a series of negative thoughts. I start to worry about the future and stress over my past. By the time I’m finished, I feel awful, and I’ve forgotten what initially made me so stressed.

I’ve noticed an intimate relationship between my emotions and the sensations of my body. When I’m in a particularly bad mood, my head starts to hurt and all my muscles begin to ache. This feeds back into my mind and stresses me further, creating a downward spiral of thoughts, emotions and physical pain, all linked to one other. It could be anything that triggers these episodes: a headache, a comment someone has made, or even just having a bad day of weather. It’s not the event itself that I end up stressing over - I’m not living in the present. I’m trapped in the past and in the future. I’m trapped in my own mind. And I can’t seem to escape.

The problem with depression is that sometimes you just can’t think positive thoughts. The more you try, the more the negative thoughts come fighting back, and then you just get angry at yourself for failing. You can’t force the mind. I hate when people tell me to ‘be positive’ because I get annoyed about the fact that I can’t. Believe me, I’m trying. And I won't give up.

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