Healing the Mind, Handling the Weight

"A Contented Skull"

Chiho Aoshima: "A Contented Skull"

The reason I’m re-entering therapy this evening actually has only a little to do with my intent to lose weight. At the very least I can honestly say that my weight is only one part of the larger motivation to try once again to heal my thought patterns and emotions.

I won’t be rehashing my past woes on this blog, but I think it’s important to be up-front about the fact that I have dealt with recurring major depression since my late teens. I don’t blame my obesity on the mood disorder, but I do see the destructively tight-knit relationship they developed over the years as being very problematic to my well-being. To be blunt, I don’t think I can achieve and maintain a healthy, stable weight unless I get a handle upon these darkest parts of my mind and emotions. I don’t think I can maintain a healthy relationship unless I find some peace in this aspect of my existence. I don’t think I can achieve much of anything unless I put some work into finding a different way to approach sadness and setbacks.

I have seen a psychiatrist regularly for years. Let’s just say I became resigned to popping the pills, and I don’t have immediate plans to go off of them. That being said, I knew in my heart that it’s true what they say: The best hope for recovery lies in combining the medications with some form of counseling that addresses what’s going on upstairs. Still, I have procrastinated. I felt deeply cynical about my chances for a life not ruled by these unexpected deep chasms that open up at my feet without warning. I tried halfheartedly with a psychologist last winter, but it just wasn’t on. Before you could blink, I was a therapy drop-out. Again.

I don’t zealously subscribe to any particular religion, but I do believe in synchronicity. This is, after all, what has led me to where I am today: Mentally preparing to try again. It started when I came across a letter on Slate.com from a woman pleading desperately for help in escaping her painful self-loathing. I read the advice columns on Slate and Salon regularly, and the most outlandish scenarios hardly make me blink anymore. But her letter (the first one on the page) brought tears to my ears because some of her words could have been written by me. I got prickles of instinct (or maybe it was just cold in the office that day) and decided to pursue the options Prudence suggested to the advice-seeker.

Which is how I ended up making an appointment for this evening with a Dialectical Behavior Therapy counselor. It’s a mouthful, right? It’s also a style of counseling I hadn’t heard of before in all of my attempts to excorcise the demons, and it didn’t sound too bizarre (i.e., no magic crystals or talking about my aura). And the people it seems to help sound quite a bit like me in some aspects.

Tried and true cognitive behavioral techniques play a part in DBT, but it differs from this well-known (and often very helpful) therapeutic model by including an additional focus on mindfulness, which is the idea of entering a Being state of mind rather than a Doing state of mind. “Being” involves being aware of the present moment while simultaneously suspending any judgments of it. However, most of us live almost entirely in a “Doing” state of mind. And that works very well for solving external problems, because your mind is constantly busily comparing where you are to where you want to be, and finding similar situations in your past that have come up and analyzing how they might offer strategies that would be useful in achieving your current goal (whether it’s driving to the grocery store or building a house).

The Doing state of mind often fails miserably—and actually increases your misery—when applied to internal problems, however. Let’s say you’re simply feeling a bit melancholy one evening. The Doing mind will start doing what it does best: calling up past situations that are similar and incessantly comparing where you are to where you want to be . . . but in this case it’s just hammering home painful memories and your perceived shortcomings, all the while reinforcing a powerful negative circuitry that connects your mind, emotions, body, and behavior. Before you know, you are in the grips of an all-encompassing despair and you don’t even know what happened. I have been there. MANY times. I’ve started reading The Mindful Way Through Depression recently, and it discusses this phenomenon and how to seek out mindfulness as part of the healing process.

At any rate, giving a new style of therapy a try is something I owe to myself. Maybe I haven’t had great success in the past with either counseling or weight-loss, but that’s no reason to give up on myself. I mean, I could live for decades. And decades. Why live them chronically miserable and fat? Hopefully you aren’t giving up on yourself, either. Let’s do this thing, shall we?

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7 Responses

  1. Thank you for the comment and support Liz! I appreciate it!

    Also, I have gone through a good portion of DBT, and let me tell you- it helped me out greatly. Unfortunately, due to a hiccup in my insurance, I never got to finish- but please let me know how it’s working for you!

  2. That’s really cool that you’ve done some DBT. Good to know that someone out there has found it effective! I’ll definitely be making periodic updates here regarding how the whole process is going.

  3. I’m so happy for you that you’re doing something so positive for yourself. You deserve it! Whether the process works for you or not, please remember (and give credit to yourself) that you made the effort. That’s huge!

  4. I think it’s amazing that we are both seeing DBT therapists! What a coincidence. Glad I checked out your blog too….I think the relationship between my depression and my weight is a reality too, although it’s taken me a long time to really admit that I’m depressed again. Best of luck on your endeavors, I’ll be cheering for you.

  5. Cammy: Your comments always make me smile . . . thanks for the encouragement and reminding me to give myself credit no matter how things work out :).

    Anna: So glad you stopped by! That’s really interesting and cool that you’re doing DBT too. I look forward to comparing notes as I really get into it.

  6. What a journey. I see you are on twitter…going to look you up!

  7. Thanks for stopping by and following me on Twitter, Mark :).

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