The Depression Bubble

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The Depression Bubble – a metaphor for understanding a loved-one’s depression – and compassion

and suggestions for the healer…

Depression can be like a bubble blocking the person inside from receiving positive influence from the outside world.

Inside the depression bubble the person is left to deal with their hopelessness, apathy, sadness, meaninglessness, lethargy and despair all by themselves… we try to pull them out of the bubble or to push them into positive activities, but the bubble prevails.

Left to their own devices, the person in the bubble attempts to make their life more bearable by engaging in behaviors that lesson the burden… Substance use, TV watching, empty calorie eating, responsibility avoidance, video gaming, indifference, self-sabotage, lashing out, and sedative behaviors ensue in an attempt to bring a moment of relief.

We get frustrated with the bubble… and eventually, we get frustrated with the person in the bubble. Our thoughts attack us… telling us that the bubble is the person’s fault. “the Bubble will go away if you exercise, stop watching tv, stop smoking pot, start eating better, make plans with friends, go to therapy, get on meds, dedicate yourself to school/work, and find a hobby”

Our frustration leads to desperation and we forget the impossible truth… the bubble is stronger than our coaching… the bubble does not allow our positive influence to reach the encapsulated person.

humbled we find that no amount concrete action is having any impact. There is no force which is effective at budging the immovable object… strength is irrelevant… behavioral techniques consisting of consequences and rewards seem to only strengthen the bubble – thereby reducing our potential influence.

But it feels impossible to let go of control and we often resort to punishing the person for engaging in the behaviors which are a symptom of being trapped in a depression bubble. We punish them for not doing their school work, constantly critique their substance use, and take away their electronics while at the same time bribing them to exercise.

how do you move an immovable object… how to you impact something that is not receptive to behavioral conditioning?

This is where the healers’ job becomes impossibly hard… we must love unconditionally past the disruptive behaviors. We must not condone and yet accept fully at the same time. We must see the person despite the bubble.

We have only one tool – Love

and one mechanism of intervention – Connection

The strategy of connection takes patients and perseverance… but perhaps more challenging than those attributes is our own growth towards a more honest perception of reality. Past cognitive reprogramming, we have the opportunity to spiritually transcend into an acceptance of that which is beyond our control.

We want to believe that life is controllable and through our actions we can create predictability and permanence. We are so tied to this belief system that we, the potential healer, find ourselves in a bubble of rigid repetition – endlessly engaging in the same feudal behavioral interventions – endlessly upping the consequences set on the person trapped in the depression bubble. Without connection we have no positive influence (other than fear – which works very poorly on an apathetic person) … and as we move into the role of punisher we unintentionally remove our ability to help.

Connection

Through connection a person may gain the resilience necessary to allow their own self-determination to emancipate the self from the bubble.

Through connection we might keep hope just a little stronger than despair until time affords a quantum shift and the bubble pops in response to any one of an infinite number unpredictable catalysts. (ex. a developmental shift, a change in environment, hormonal/biological changes, entrance of a romantic partner, finding of purpose, a significant event etc.)

through connection a ‘we’ identity is formed and positive influence can permeate the bubble leading the trapped person to potentially make movement towards those behaviors which destroy depression bubbles (exercise, relationships, sleep, purposeful activities, art etc.)

Sometimes connection just slightly reduced the symptoms of being trapped in the depression bubble.

And finally, sometimes connection doesn’t seem to do anything and we are left with our acceptance and faith in the way things are. We gain in our own spirituality and in energy saved from engaging in the impossible. Because when we spend all our energy physically controlling the depression bubble we weaken our self and allow the potential for the depression bubble to encapsulate us.

We offer connection while offering compassion to the self for engaging in such a trying task. Love is intrinsically wonderful, and it is best for us to remember that not even love has the ability to control reality.

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

A metaphor for the relationship between control and suffering

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I often share a metaphor with my clients who find themselves in a time of suffering stemming from environmental conditions that are mostly or entirely uncontrollable.

This Metaphor is most applicable in the context of caring deeply for an individual who you cannot control… an individual who is suffering themselves or bringing you significant suffering.

Metaphor:

Our life is sail boat with no engine

 There are times when the sea feels predictable

The currents are known – they are usable or avoidable

The tide can be understood

The weather is gentle and the wind comes steadily from a single direction

The sun warms in the morning and the soft waves roll us to sleep

Everything needed is stored safe, warm, and dry

The rudder and sails can be controlled to match life with desire

Intention is very close to reality

We feel in control of our environment

Life brings storms

Unpredictable wind, rogue waves, partially submerged rocks and dangerous debris

Sails get ripped, control over movement is lost

Water pours in dampening assets and stealing heat

Wood bends and cracks

We see the rocks on the coast and understand mortality

We cannot control the outcome

We are left with only the ability to bail out the boat, to steer into the waves, and to repair what we can

Willpower is admirable – suffering is not anyone’s fault

Efforts to survive chaos display character

Acceptance gives quiet in the storm

Often when we have young children the sea of life feels more predictable – our own sails and rudder are decently effective in guiding their choices. We choose their food, we manage their relationships and activities, and we schedule their lives to increase the probability of safety and growth.

Then they grow up and when the storm comes we find that our sails have been ripped by time and we are left with only our acceptance, resilience, and willpower to persevere in chaos. And we learn to love ourselves again in loving the storm.

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Parenting and Rowboats

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There is more than one way to skin a cat they say…

and there is more than one way to row a boat, but if there are two people rowing that boat you better find a common way.

and so it is with parenting, guiding, directing, and mentoring our young ones.

family systems can and perhaps should parent their young ones with different methods than other family systems, but as with the boat, you are unlikely to guide a child in a meaningful way if the older generations is offering inconsistent or contradicting guidance to that kid.

So now we arrive at the rowboat metaphor – what will happen to the boat if two rowers are engaging in different strategies that essentially ignore the methods of the other person?

the answer is that the boat isn’t going to go in a meaningful direction despite the best interests and intentions of the rowers.

We mostly get the above metaphor, but there is another piece to this that entices us to use this dysfunctional method. We love love love love to be right! Which is so very ironic as in our efforts to be right we are often doing something indisputably wrong (that comment was also ironic).

Now what is the best rowing strategy? – to row from back to front … or from front to back? Is it best to have the advantage of greater core power by having your back face the direction you are moving … or is it better to have the advantage of better sight by facing the direction you are moving?

the obvious point here is that the answer is mostly subjective and the best choice would be to have both rowers using the same strategy…. the best strategy is the same strategy = the best strategy is not to debate on the boat about which of the two differing methods is best.

In the above metaphor the boat is the kid and the different guidance from the two rowers (parents) has a very concrete impact on the direction of the boat (kid)… now lets complicate this metaphor a bit more by giving our boat the consciousness of a kid as well… what are the more abstract impacts of not using a common rowing (parenting) strategy?

Judging is a natural and normal activity for us social humans… we use judgements as a way of isolating and sharing our own belief systems so as to find commonality with people that we are in relationships with.

When we judge someone else’s parenting with our partner (or other family members) we are kinda saying, “Hey I don’t (or do) want to do that with our kids… do you agree?”

These conversations must happen in some form in order to collaborate around a set game plan for intervening with the children.

But what is the impact of having these conversations in front of the kids? or worse yet, what is the impact of completely disregarding the parenting directions of your partner in front of the children?

If we are going to use the rowboat again we will end up with two consequence.

the concrete consequence is that the boat will not travel in a useful direction.

the abstract consequences are that the boat: will not know which rower to trust, will not have hope or security that the rowers can successfully offer guidance, and the boat may be encouraged to believe that it doesn’t have to listen to or take influence from one (or both) of the rowers.

When the rowers can’t collaborate in using a consistent methodology the boat is lost in a unpredictable anxiety provoking ocean of chaos… in such instances the child is very likely to become emotionally overwhelmed and will probably engage in ‘difficult’ behaviors”

So what is the solution?

Unite around a common rowing strategy… and if you think that you and your partner can advance towards a better rowing strategy, then have an open-minded conversation without the kids present.

just remember – With two kind and well intentioned adults it is better to row the boat with the same (though less effective) rowing style than to row the boat with two different rowing styles.

Doing so models to your children the importance of kindness, open-mindedness, collaboration, the ability to take positive influence, respect and love… and these things can be more beneficial than rowing strategies.

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Breathe before you help others to breathe

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You settle into your seat on the airplane and right before takeoff you hear the familiar mantra:

“In the event of pressure loss in the cabin, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling above you… please safely secure your own mask before attempting to assist others…”

 

We all hear this and end up remaining mostly fixated on why the bag won’t inflate and what harm would come about if we prematurely turned on our electronic devises.

We often miss the symbolism of this rather wise communication = you can’t be expected to effectively help others if you don’t help yourself first… you can’t help others to breath if you are not breathing.

 

So then we are asked to slow down and contemplate this message for a minute and find our selves saying, “well of course – isn’t that painfully obvious?”

 

here though is the follow up question.. “why are none of us (or very few of us) following this wisdom if it is so undeniable?”

 

to clarify the question – “why are we not taking care of ourselves before engaging in activities aimed at fixing the problems of others?”

 

I would propose two possible answers: shame and our over-reliance on cognitive pragmatics

the hypothesis for this contemplative exercise would be that if we gain insight concerning our automaticity we may be able to use our consciousness to do something different in the future.

 

lets start with cognitive pragmatics as it sounds sophisticated though in truth the phrase was mostly just a product of my never ending desire to add poetics to prose.

 

what I am calling ‘cognitive pragmatics’ is a process in which we engage in problem solving strategies within our thought processes. This activity is really quite an addictive game and you don’t actually need to behaviorally do anything nor do you need to alter your being in order to win – to be successfully in the activity.

So then you get to feel the emotional benefits of winning without doing much of anything to change the reality outside of your own thought process.

What does this have to do with helping others with airplane masks? I am proposing that it may be that it takes significantly less effort to disassociate into your own head and engage in a deductive processes aimed at fixing the problems of others than it is to engage in efforts to change your being or your behavior = it is easier to strategize the process of assisting another with getting their mask on than to put your own mask on.

and now we arrive at a point of irony in that this use of cognitive pragmatics seems to be extremely illogical … but wow doesn’t it feel important?

let me give a quick parenting example: You and your partner are finding yourselves working later and later into the evening… you arrive home stressed and without any time for regulating connection before immersing yourselves into the nighttime routine of dinner making – teeth brushing – book reading – bed-timing. Your 5 year old starts becoming regularly disruptive at the dinner table – he starts getting up without permission and eating with his hands.

option 1.) cognitive pragmatics = on the way to work the next day you spend an hour contemplating a consequence and reward system to get your kid to stay seated at dinner time.

option 2.) Changing your own behaviors and being = you take steps to get home earlier, you make an effort to connect and regulate with your partner when your arrive home, you reorganize your priorities to increase fulfillment and reduce stress in your life, you make efforts to be present and emotionally balanced knowing that your kid is a sponge to your energy.

Which one sounds easier?

 

lets move onto the bigger one – shame

“breathing air is selfish when there are so many in the airplane without any air” = this seems wrong, but there is a part of us that ‘feels’ like we are in emotional agreement.

“meeting all of your own needs when there are so many others out there that are not having their most basic needs met is selfish” = OK now we are getting closer… for some reason this statement feels particularly true. And if it is true to us, then we would feel shame in meeting our own needs.

“It is wrong for you to have abundance when there are so many people without enough” = “It is an act of justice for you to impoverish yourself so that all abundance is is equally distributed.” = now we have arrived at a very common and frequently verbalized belief system… despite the fact that most of us carry this belief to some extent, is there actually any logic in this idea?

What if it was true that their is actually plenty of air for everyone and the best way to distribute this air is to breath abundantly yourself so that you have the health and clarity to help others to breath with abundance?

what is your emotional reaction to that suggestion – what do you feel? Perhaps we are thinking about religious suggestions – perhaps we are angry because fairness isn’t being talked about – perhaps we do not believe that this philosophical examination is integrating other ideas such as power and privileged – perhaps we have begun a rant about how all those with abundance are exploiting other people…

and perhaps we are ashamed that part of us knows that we need to breath in order to help others to breath.

 

the longer I am a therapist the more I find an old wisdom to be most true = it is my being which is my most important and effective tool in the therapy room. My knowledge and skill with techniques and theory is useful, but in truth quite small in comparison to my ability to maintain a presence which is open, balanced, regulated, authentic, accepting, and in the moment.

I do not always make life choices which are congruent with this observation = I sacrifice my state of being in an effort to fix problems = and in sacrificing my state of being I find myself less effective at solving problems. 😉

Breathing then becomes the most selfless thing you can do for other people.

 

this morning writing this blog was what I needed… I just put on my own mask.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Hope in a space of Hopelessness

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Quick summary: In this post I will offer a metaphor that sheds light on a common misperception of hope – being that hope is SONY DSCconnected only to concrete outcomes… that hope is a belief that things will one day be what they are not ever to be. Instead perhaps there can be hope for a positive abstraction… hope that what is is how it should be
Let me start with a story…
In the open wilderness of Utah there was black bear happy awake and eager. The lush riparian habitat of the lower mountain valley was rich with spring time vegetation smells. Splashing carelessly in a creek the bear bowed down to fill its belly with rich fresh and cold mountain water. From the bank a fern seed gently dropped into the creek flow and drifted casually until it found itself resting attached to the moist beard of our young bear. Quenched the bear slowly trotted off hypnotized by an intriguing scent flowing to his nostrils from a great distance. With excitement the bear accelerated with instinctual certainty to the mating smell and as he ran the moisture evaporated from his coat leaving the seed cradled is a matt of drying hair.
The land changed from huckleberry bushes to junipers and then again to sage plants. Through dust and tumbling dry bushes the bear continued forward. That night brought an atypical rain that gave life to a sandstone creek bed. The bear joyously bent down to rehydrate and the delicate fern seed found itself cradled in the soft slow movement of the water… flowing forwards with openness the seed came to rest on the bank under the shade of now dead juniper tree.
The following day a mild sun cast its indirect light on the earth warming the seed to open in birth…
What is the hope for this fern?
The point is that having hope doesn’t always involve a belief that everything will be as we want it to be… hope often ends up being a faith in what will be.
This seed will not live in the lush riparian habitat to which it was meant for… in such a foreign and unforgiving environment the fern will grow in ways different than it could have expected.
Having hope that the fern will live as it would by the wet banks of forest creek when it in fact the seed is nestled in the sandy soil of a seasonal creek bank is to hope for the most unlikely… such can diminish our hope in hope and ultimately lead to a sense of despair.
Instead then, when the environment in chaotically unfitting, we hope that what comes to be is exactly as it should be.

To have faith that there is meaning in meaninglessness

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.