Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Effective Alternative to Anti-Depressant Drugs

I struggled with depression from early childhood until my early 40s. Yet after years of believing that there was nothing I could do to escape that dark place, I turned the corner and left that neighborhood for good. What changed my life? Reading the first chapters of a little book called, "Feeling Good."

I'll never forget that day. I saw the book on a table at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, thought it sounded interesting and bought it. I started reading it as I rode the bus home. I skimmed through the parts that described studies done to determine which treatment methods worked best for depression.

I skipped ahead to find out which one was the winner. The choices were: talk therapy, drugs, a combination of drugs and talk, or a method that sounded crazy - just monitoring thoughts and when painful thoughts came up, changing the subject to something more pleasant.

I expected that the drug/talk combination would come out ahead. So I was astonished to find that the winner, by a substantial margin, was simply - changing the subject. When I read that, the proverbial light bulb went on for me. All my life, I assumed that I had no control over how I felt. I believed that my emotions were in control of me. I believed I couldn't help thinking the thoughts I thought because I felt so bad.

But this research showed that just the opposite was true. I might have control after all. Instead of repeating unhappy thoughts over and over in my head, I could deliberately choose to think about something else. As my thinking changed, my mood would change.
Just change the subject. What a concept! I had never considered that before.
And so I tried it. It wasn't easy to break thought patterns accumulated over a lifetime, but I began to catch myself when I got caught up in depressing thoughts. I began to think of cleaning up my thinking as good "mental hygiene."

Most importantly, it worked and continues to work. I am quick to notice now when I start to go down the path of negative thinking. I know where that path leads and I no longer choose to spend my time there.

I am grateful, too, that finding this book helped me avoid the path called "drugs." Every time I see one of those commercials for anti-depressants and hear the list of side effects, I'm glad I avoided that choice.

Note: The copy I read was the original, published in 1980. A new, updated edition was released in 1999.