Monday 2 January 2012

"You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover"

"Wow - you always seem so positive and happy! I never would have guessed."

I get that a lot.  Nearly every person who I have ever shared my struggles with depression with for the first time has said that to me. Many times I have thought, how could you not have seen it? Well, part of the reason is that after all these years I have gotten better at faking it. Sometimes I put on a smile and force myself to see the positive side of things. One thing that you learn in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is to become conscious of the negative thought patterns in your head. The book "Change Your Brain. Change Your Life" by Daniel G. Amen, MD, refers to these as automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs. As Dr Amen says, "ANTs are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep marching in all by themselves." Damn right they do!

By nature I am an optimistic person - the glass is almost always half full with me. But depression is an illness of the brain and negative thought patterns are often a symptom. My history with depression has been marked by two significant milestones - major depressive episodes which began in 2003 and 2010. On both occasions it was a gradual descent into hell. Slowly I went from someone confident and outgoing who loved to host parties for my friends, to a person I didn't recognize, someone who didn't think that life was worth celebrating, let alone living. I didn't think I was smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough or worthy enough. I simply didn't see the point in anything.

In 2003 I visited a psychologist a few times to talk about the depression and it helped. But I hadn't quite made the complete connection between the power of my thoughts and the health of my brain. It wasn't until I began working with a psychiatrist in 2011 and reading more about CBT that something clicked for me. Telling myself that I couldn't do something right or that I was worthless was not helping me! Sounds simple, right? Not so when depression has you in its relentless grip.

Like anything in life you need to practice identifying and stopping those pesky ANTs. Yesterday, I was in line waiting to order a latte and a muffin and the girl behind me was standing much too close to me for my comfort. I was instantly annoyed. But a second later I caught myself. Why ruin the sunny mood that I was in or the anticipation of what was sure to be the perfect latte with something silly like being annoyed with this young woman? She was probably just as eager to get her morning coffee, right? So I stopped being annoyed. I simply took a step away from the girl and a step closer to the moment that I would get to enjoy my coffee. Seems like a pretty small example, right? Well, add up all those ANTs that march through your brain in a day and that can be a lot of negativity.

I have also learnt that if people can misread me then I am surely misreading others, too. In an earlier blog I spoke about silver linings. Experiencing depression has taught me many lessons and has built strength in some areas - one of those areas is empathy. Now, if someone is in a bad mood or doesn't smile at me, instead of thinking, "wow, what a jerk", I'll allow for the possibility that maybe something else is going on in his or her life. Depending on the situation, I will usually ask that person how they are, but I will mean it. Sometimes that simple question means more than you can ever imagine. Oh, and here's an important note: if the person opens up to you just know that you aren't expected to have any answers - that person likely just appreciates that you took the moment to ask.

And remember, you can't always judge a book by it's cover. Sometimes you need to crack it open.

KB xo

P.S. You'll notice that I will refer to CBT more in coming blogs. That's because it's an important element in treatment of depression & anxiety.

Interested in learning more about ANTs? From Daniel G. Amen's book referenced above, here are "nine different ways that your thoughts can lie to you to make situations seem worse than they really are."

1. Always/never thinking: thinking in words like always, never, no one, every time, everything
2. Focusing on the negative: seeing only the bad in a situation
3. Fortune-telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation
4. Mind reading: believing that you know what others are thinking, even though they haven't told you
5. Thinking with your feelings: believing negative feelings without ever questioning them
6. Guilt beating: thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to
7. Labelling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else
8. Personalizing: investing innocuous events with personal meaning
9. Blaming: blaming someone else for your own problems


  1. You can't always judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you can judge a lot by its shape: Body language is often a give-away that someone isn't doing so well mentally, even if they have a smile on their face. The shoulders may not be quite so straight, and the head a little bowed. That's what would often give your bad days away to me, as your mom. And, if it was just by phone that we were having contact, it would be certain tone in your voice - maybe it's just a mother's intuitive forces, but you didn't often fool me. However, you were a great actor to everyone else! Love you!

  2. Give the girl a forum and she's off and running. :-). Awesome.

    I love the coffee analogy KB. It's so true. Great resource.

  3. Excellent blog !!! I will stay tuned for sure , keep it up!


"Eating Disorders: What Are We Truly Hungry For?"

    For two years in my 30's I had an eating disorder: bulimia. It took me ten years to admit that to anyone, even my doctor. I f...