Dealing with feelings about my first post

My primary tool for fighting depression is a worksheet I created for myself based on the triple-column technique, which is the first technique described in the classic cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) textbook, Feeling Good. The basic idea behind CBT is that your thoughts about a situation determine how you feel about it, and those feelings then influence your actions. With depression, people have a tendency for their thoughts to be distorted by eleven cognitive distortions. This means that that we may not see the truth of a situation very well, so we overreact and make ourselves miserable.

The first line of defense in CBT is to train yourself to notice the negative thoughts that flit through your mind, then examine each one and see if there’s any cognitive distortions in it. For example, once upon a time “I’m so ugly” was the kind of thought that made me feel crappy about myself. This led to behaviors like binge eating, not taking care of my body and not putting forth the expense and effort to buy clothes that make me feel good — all of which lead to my feeling even uglier. But once I learned how to notice and examine that fleeting thought, I learned how it was influenced by cognitive distortions, such as:

• All or nothing thinking — as if a person can only be the Socratic ideal of beauty or a complete eyesore, and because I’m not the former I must therefore be the latter. When examined logically, that makes no sense whatsoever: there’s a wide range of appearances, and they can’t be ranked objectively because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
• Mental filter — perhaps I’m “filtering out” my charming smile, pretty hair and cute little toes, and focusing on my wispy eyebrows and tubby tummy. Why should I give them so much weight while I give my nice features short shrift?

There are several more distortions; I appreciate this summary of them for the cute little illustrations. In my worksheet, I only describe them in an abbreviated way to jog my own memory, but it’s well worth reading about them in full.

As I went down through the list and decided if each distortion applied to my thought, my distress decreased, until I realized that I may not be gorgeous by my own standards, but I’m not horrendous, either – and anyway, why should I accept that my worth hinges on my face and body? Then once I started feeling a little better about myself, I became more likely to treat myself better, or at least better able to keep my mood from sinking because of that negative thought.

As I learned more about CBT, I added extra steps to this simple exercise, such as examining my emotions about the thought, the “vertical arrow technique” that identifies silent assumptions, the root of the fear behind the thought and so on. So what I fill out now is significantly more detailed — and requires lots more emotional work — than the triple-column technique, but it also helps me work through my thoughts and discover exactly what’s troubling me. I communicate with myself through writing, so the more fine-grained the worksheet became, the more valuable it became to me.

I easily did one of these a day for over a year, spending one or two hours on it. It’s emotionally grueling, but going through a thought so thoroughly means that it usually doesn’t reappear. As my mental state and habits improve, I outgrow my tools; after two years, I’m not troubled by a lot of automatic negative thoughts, so I tend to only use this sheet when I’m unable to shake something and need to pin down exactly why it’s affecting me.

I’ve written down and examined a negative thought that I had about posting my first entry on this blog, and I’m sharing it here so that I can refer to it in subsequent posts about CBT. If I hadn’t wanted to make an example of it I wouldn’t have bothered, because this thought is like the slimes in the first area of an RPG: two years ago it would have been paralyzing, but by now I can dispatch it without even writing it down. The thought didn’t stop me from publishing my blog post and posting it to Twitter and Facebook, after all. It just serves as an illustration of my CBT process, and I’ll use it for future posts that refer to CBT.

Negative Thought: A Little Too Much Honesty? (note: After I finish the worksheet, I always go back and change the title, so that I have a list of positive titles to look at, instead of negative ones. The revised title is “Negative Thought Rebutted: Being True To Myself Without Fear”)

1. What was the automatic thought  or downer cloud you had?
People in my real life will think badly of me for being depressed and writing fanfics and writing honestly about it

2. The event that lead to the negative feelings
Posting a link to my website to Twitter and Facebook

3. Date
March 16, 2019

4. List the emotions related to this thought and rate how intense each one feels on a scale from 1-10.
Sad (blue, depressed, down, unhappy)
Anxious (worried, panicky, nervous, frightened)
Guilty (remorseful, bad, ashamed)
Inferior (worthless, inadequate, defective, incompetent)
Lonely (unloved, unwanted, rejected, alone, abandoned, unappreciated)
Embarrassed (foolish, humiliated, self-conscious)
Hopeless (discouraged, pessimistic, despairing)
Frustrated (stuck, thwarted, defeated, trapped)
Angry (mad, resentful, annoyed, irritated, upset, furious)

Sad that I’ve kept myself apart from the people in my life for so long that this stuff that’s central to my identity will come as a surprise to people I like and care about 7
Anxious about being judged and mocked and looked down on 8
Guilty because it’s not like I have a lot to show yet, I feel like I’ve wasted time 6
Lonely because I feel like no one really cares what I’m doing, even if I know objectively that’s not true 6
Embarrassed because I feel like there’s something embarrassing about writing fanfic and dealing with mental illness 8
Self-conscious because I’m bringing a new fact about myself out into the world 7
Hopeless because I have a history of starting and abandoning projects and even though I feel more confident about this one after a lot of depression treatment, I still feel like I come off as a flake 8

(Don’t forget to copy them underneath and delete the rating numbers!) (Note: This helps me compare the way I feel before doing the worksheet with the way I feel afterwards. Deleting the numbers lets me approach them with fresh eyes.)

5. If this was actually true, what would it mean to me? Why would it be upsetting to me?
People in my real life will think badly of me for being depressed and writing fanfics and writing honestly about it => I will be mocked and privately judged by people whose good opinion I’d like to have, or people around whom I feel self-conscious already
If this was actually true, what would it mean to me? Why would it be upsetting to me?
I fear other people’s negative judgments and would rather hide myself than undergo them
If this was actually true, what would it mean to me? Why would it be upsetting to me?
I assume that people like me better when they don’t know the truth of who I am
If this was actually true, what would it mean to me? Why would it be upsetting to me?
The person I actually am is unlikable

6. What’s the silent assumption affecting this thought?
If I want to be accepted, I have to hide who I am

7. What value is this statement trying to add to my life?
It’s trying to make me more acceptable to people so that I’m more likely to fit in

8. What fear is the negative thought based in?
Fear of extinction (existential fear, or direct physical fear)
Fear of scarcity (deprivation, inadequacy)
Fear of judgment (social anxiety, risk aversion)
Fear of losing autonomy (claustrophobia, intimacy)
Fear of separation (abandonment, co-dependency, being unlovable)
Fear of ego death (humiliation, loss of identity, change, bigotry, confidence)

Fear of inadequacy – I don’t feel like I am enough as I am for people to be in my life
Fear of judgment – I fear being judged by other people
Fear of separation – I fear being shunned when I act honestly
Fear of ego death – I fear having to revaluate my image of myself as a decent person who’s generally acceptable to the people in my life

9. What are the distortions present in this thought, and what’s a rational response to each one? (Note: Finding a way each cognitive distortion applies to every single negative thought isn’t necessary – many thoughts might only have two or three main distortions. I just like to be thorough.)

All Or Nothing Thinking: Thinking of yourself as all good or all bad, then labeling yourself as all bad.
I’m thinking of myself as either someone who’s acceptable to other people, or someone who gets rejected. This is, of course, way too much of an oversimplification – no one is 100% acceptable to everyone in the world, and no one is always rejected. There are things about me that I know people like perfectly well, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of people who like my writing and like me. Even if people did reject me it would hardly be the end of the world, either. Rejection is just people’s opinion, not a catastrophe and a reflection on my value as a person.

Overgeneralization: The idea that something unpleasant that happened once will always happen again.
A lot of my issues stem from feeling like an awkward, rejected new kid during my childhood. But I’m more stable in my sense of self and my ability to bounce back, now, and I’m confident in the regard of the people I care about. Even if I was rejected by everyone else it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Mental Filter: Ignoring good things and dwelling on negative ones that confirm your negative self-image.
I’m ignoring the good things of the family and friends who already know about this side of me and love me no less for it, and dwelling on the idea that other people MIGHT reject me. Which, of course, makes no sense.

Disqualifying the Positive: Making positive experiences negative by convincing yourself they’re not true.
I know for a fact, as I wrote in the blog post, that when I share the truth about myself, people respond positively to it. I haven’t yet had an experience where I’ve felt worse off after putting myself out there. But part of me is always cautioning myself: “maybe THIS will be the time everyone rejects you.”

Mind Reading: Taking the actions of other people far too personally and responding defensively.
Fanfiction isn’t exactly the most mainstream hobby, and talking openly about mental health is still taboo in a lot of ways. I’m envisioning people rejecting me because of it, and then imagining that that reflection would reflect on my worth – when all it would really reflect on would be their own values and view of the world, and actually have very little to do with me. So the defensive feeling of not wanting to share this blog post on facebook and twitter comes from that mind reading of taking rejection personally. But the truth is, it’s not personal and I don’t need to defend myself when there’s really nothing to defend myself from.

Fortune Telling: Picturing the worst thing that could happen then treating it like it will happen.
What’s the worst that could happen? I could be mocked by my extended family, shock my in-laws, fired from my job and unfollowed left and right. Do I really expect those things to happen? For the most part, no, and even if some of them did I would cope, or not really care.

Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating negative things and discounting positive things.
I’m exaggerating the possibility of my social world, such as it is, collapsing around me, and I’m discounting the fact, again, that being honest about who I am has had positive effects in the past.

Emotional Reasoning: Treating your negative feelings as facts and acting on them.
Because I feel like the risks are too high, I hesitate to share this side of myself, which means that I miss out on the benefits of it.

Should Statements: Believing people “should” or “must” do things because of your high standards.
“I should be more normal” Why? Where’s that coming from? I don’t even truly believe it, I just feel like it would help me avoid criticism. But I’m not actually unhappy with who I am.

Labeling and Mislabeling: Putting a label on yourself or others that doesn’t reflect reality.
I’m labeling myself as weird, but that’s not really true. Heck, one reason I’m doing this is my belief that low-grade depression is incredibly common.

Personalization: Believing you have control over people and beating yourself up for what they do.
I feel like, if I acted in some specific way then I could get everyone to approve of me. But no matter what I do, that could never be true. Trying to control other people is a losing game — the best I can do is think about what makes me feel happy and fulfilled, and not worry about what’s outside of me.

10. Rewrite the silent assumption affecting this thought
If I want to be accepted, I have to hide who I am => I attract the people I want in my life when I’m true to myself.

11. Revisit the emotions and give each one a rating from 1-10
Sad that I’ve kept myself apart from the people in my life for so long that this stuff that’s central to my identity will come as a surprise to people I like and care about 3
Anxious about being judged and mocked and looked down on 2
Guilty because it’s not like I have a lot to show yet, I feel like I’ve wasted time 2
Lonely because I feel like no one really cares what I’m doing, even if I know objectively that’s not true 1
Embarrassed because I feel like there’s something embarrassing about writing fanfic and dealing with mental illness 3
Self-conscious because I’m bringing a new fact about myself out into the world 2
Hopeless because I have a history of starting and abandoning projects and even though I feel more confident about this one after a lot of depression treatment, I still feel like I come off as a flake 2

12. Define the real problem, and class it as an alert or an echo (my terms for “something new this negative thought is trying to tell me” and “a negative thought I’m having about something in my life I’ve already started changing”)
I’m starting something new, and every time I start something new I have a burst of negative thoughts that try to hold me back and keep my life safe and small. As time goes by they get easier to navigate – and indeed, I wrote all this AFTER I published the blog post and posted it to Twitter and Facebook, not before. So this is just an echo.

13. Think about solutions
No real solution besides just keeping it up!

14. Postscript
I posted my first blog entry on the 16th, and wrote this the same day. Three days later, despite my low-level worries at the time, I don’t regret it for a second.

One Reply to “Dealing with feelings about my first post”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *