Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
That’s a line from comedienne Gracie Allen. Beliefnet’s faith editor, Ansley Roan, reminded me of that saying after reading my post last week about my bad book sales numbers and why I was tempted to never ever write another book proposal again, and why I might write the blog as a hobby and pursue some other occupation that doesn’t require putting yourself out there, at the mercy of popularity and numbers.
I’m at a better place this week, in large part due to your heartfelt comments on that post.
They reminded me of my own advice…that I have to trust God, even as that is so very difficult to do at times. And you also refreshed me on my very important mission–to be a companion and a support to those suffering alone–and that if that mission is God’s will, which I think it is, He will make it possible for me to do that. Regardless of bad book sales. Or blogging trends. Or a cut-throat, competitive publishing business. Or a housing industry that has little work for my architect husband.
You also reminded me that it’s difficult–nearly impossible, really–to assess any situation when you are in the midst of a depressive cycle. Any kind of bad news that you get when you are already fighting like hell to stay positive feels like an atomic bomb exploding in your hard drive…one that holds about a half a year’s worth of work with no backup. I don’t know about you, but I am simply incapable of a fair analysis when I’m depressed. And, as I’ve been feeding, walking, and cussing out the “black dog” (a term Winston Churchill used to describe his depression) for a few good months now, I didn’t have the stamina to take on the last fight about numbers.
So I simply shrugged and said, “I suck.”
That’s why you need friends and people in your life who will call you on the distortions in your thinking, like you did for me.
In his book, “The Feeling Good Handbook,” Dr. David Burns identifies 10 distorted thinking patterns:
• All-Or-Nothing Thinking – You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
• Overgeneralization – You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
• Mental Filter – You pick out a single negative defeat and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that colors the entire beaker of water.
• Disqualifying the positive – You dismiss positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
• Jumping to conclusions – You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. ?A. Mind reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. ?B. The fortune teller error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
• Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization– You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
• Emotional Reasoning – You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.
• Should Statements – You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
• Labeling and Mislabeling – This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddam louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
• Personalization – You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.
Many of you were able to point out to me the black and white thinking, catastrophizing, jumping to conclusions, disqualifying the positive, mental filter, and overgeneralization in my own thinking.
Why are good friends essential to your recovery?
Because they notice patterns that you can’t pick up on.
For example, my friend Michelle said to me, after she read the “Don’t Mistake the Middle for the End” post, “You always go back to teaching high school religion when you’re depressed. The next time I start to get worried about you, I’m going to follow up the question ‘When is your next visit with Dr. Smith?’ with ‘Have you been thinking about teaching high school religion?'”
Maybe your symptoms aren’t as noticeable as my saying “To hell with the writing. I think I’m going to go teach high school religion.” But I’m sure you have idiosyncrasies and patterns of thought that your friends recognize. Moreover, everyone needs a person or ten in their life to remind them that God is in charge, that He really will give us what we need, that He is directing our paths, even as we think he could use a GPS system, and that he uses lots of commas, but rarely ever a period.
Thank you, again, for your support, for your affirmations, for your faith, and for your rational thinking, at a time when I needed all of them.