Negative thinking

Since the age of about 13 I have had on and off bouts of depression. It is easy to chalk a lot of this up to heredity as my mother, father and two siblings have had depression, two grandparents and even a great-uncle of mine committed suicide here in Albany in the 1930’s.

Depression is of course a physical illness, but it is also an illness of the spirit and one that if it is not caused by negativity is certainly strengthened by it.

Along with the miles I run and walk, I mark my overall mood each day on a calendar. A smiling face means a good day. A sad day is frowning and a day that fits somewhere in between is marked by a pursed look.

For a stretch of about five days, the looks were all smiles. Even though I was under stress at work and still somewhat lonesome for social connections that could use some rejuvenation, each day I found myself feeling quite good as I got into my pajamas and marked the Edward Hopper calendar.

Saturday broke the streak and I marked it a frowning day. I was feeling quite decent that day until a walk back home  set me in a different frame of mind. It wasn’t the walk through the economically roughshod area of Albany that made me sad, so much as my reaction to the sensory images I took in. Looking at the blight, desperation and poverty of our strip, I was overcome by an obligation to think about other things, such as our contracting economy, the price of energy and the future of this world, which due to overcrowding and climate change, seems to be in for some serious stress over the next century, when I will be but a distant memory as well as you reading this.

Those thoughts picked up velocity as if they were a boulder spining down the slope of a hill and into a valley. With every thought and every scenario, more thoughts were given birth which multiplied into other thoughts. By the time I reached my doorstep I was sad and frightened. It seemed as if we were all damned, especially me.

Yesterday I struggled to get out of bed (a neutral day) and today I feel depressed. My body is sluggish and I can feel a chemical sludge coarsing through my body and overtaking my limbs. For each thought comes another thought and with it a need to justify each moment.

Whereas in the past I may feel totally overburdened by the state I am in, I understand something crucial to feeling better. How I feel is is less the result of the thoughts I have had and more to do with my reaction to them. Certainly, by myself, I am unable to reverse the price of oil that is crippling our economy or the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or the fact that our world is growing too fast. These are things that on a global level are outside of my control. There is quite simply nothing I can do to reverse them on my own.

What I can do however is to understand that thoughts affect emotion, particularly if they are not dealt with in a productive manner. How we deal with negative thoughts is important. We feel emotions, not thoughts. But emotions don’t pop up on their own. They are created by a reaction to thoughts. It’s how we are made to be.

I’m reminded of Epictetus’ saying, “I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?”

I feel better to have insight into how my negative thinking has caused me to feel these last two days and I am hopeful to restore myself by diligence.

I always like the beginning of spring, and up here in Albany it is anything but nice out. Still, Spring begins for me not when the calendar says so but when the first pitch is tossed by or against my New York Mets. So, that is something I can be hopeful for today. I must live in a world with negative thoughts, but must I react so poorly.


3 Responses

  1. Reading The Essential Jung I came across the idea that the chain of thoughts is like a coil. From the top it looks like a circle, and from that position it doesn’t seem as though your actually going anywhere. But from the side you see you are actually progressing somewhere. At the end of the day its a question of if the coil influences your direction or if you direct the coil.

  2. Depression is worse than any physical pain. People that have never experianced true depression and anxiety can never relate to the horrors within the pit. In my new book, Wingtips with Spurs: Lessons from the Ranch, I discuss depression, anxiety and stress at work and offer advice that I hope will work for most. I know it does for me, vis. the chapter in the new book.

  3. I think its hard to really assume that. Perhaps negative thinking is as subjective an experience as pain itself. Certainly the pain is real to the person but how much worse are they making it for themselves?

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