Thinking My Way Out of Depression

“I don’t understand why you are like this. He’s dead, life goes on. Why are you wasting your time?”

It’s great that the rest of the family can move on with life while I sit around and lament about the death of my father, the lost future with him as a grandpa and how life just sucks. I always thought I was adaptive to change, but obviously it’s not true when it comes to life changing events. The docs tell me I have PTSD due to my looping of the last day before his death over and over again, along with major depression which makes it hard to do anything. Even calling up a friend feels like the energy will drain out of me and I’ll collapse.

Many pushed anti-depressants on me, but given I get stoned on allergy meds, I decided I’m not sure if I want something that could rewire my brain. Instead, I am trying something called “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (CBT). Basically I’m trying to think my way out of depression by going to counselling and doing lots of thinking homework every week. The idea is that CBT will help you stop the thoughts which are spiraling you into depression.

In my case, one thought that comes back over and over again is that “I could have saved my father.” This consists of all the would/could/should have scenarios which contains millions of possibilities and endings. Then guilt and sadness enters into the equation and I end up lying in bed, being very depressed and not being to do much as I fall into this deep well of horrible thoughts.

This is a classic case of complicated grief in which the brain is rewarded with feeling closer to the deceased while suffering and in pain. A Neuroimaging study done by the University of California shows how complicated grief rewards the brain which makes adapting to the reality of the loss more difficult.

This week, by filling in worksheets with my situation (similar to ones found here) I find evidence for/against if the thought is true and what is the cost of the thought. For the “I could have saved father” thought, the scenarios could have or not have worked out and by doing this looping, it has a high cost of neglecting my family/work but at the same time I am rewarded by feeling like my father is still alive (glimpse of hope). Taking a step back, the situation is the same – father is dead, so no matter what I think I could do, it is useless since he is gone.

Ideally,every time the looping about saving him starts, I need to be mindful and respond to myself by thinking “Yes, I could have done more, but it’s too late. Father would want me to take care of the rest of the family now and carry on his legacy.”

George Micheal’s “Praying For Time” lyrics come to mind:

Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

A lot of this mindfulness stuff is based on Buddhism, but with the religious component stripped out and scientific methods applied. Asians are such practical people, sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me. I am such a failed Asian…

In a way I’m starting to do what the rest of the family has done by forging ahead into the present/future. Instead of forgetting the past though, I think it`s valuable to learn from it. I’ve written an article on how to handle healthcare crisis in the family (sent off to magazine publisher but no response yet) and thinking about writing a book which may help others.

These quotes struck a chord with me and I find them comforting:

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”
~ Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

I know I can’t wallow too long in depression or else I’ll drown in the puddle. CBT has helped me quite a bit, but I know the road for recovery still has a while to go for me…

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