A lot of times, when you discover something great, you overestimate its greatness just a bit. Well, okay, sometimes more than a bit.
Sometimes you get way too excited.
Every once in a while, though, your excitement proves justified. And when that happens, you cross the line. Before you were a fan, a follower, an advocate.
Now, you’re a believer.
Granted, when I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my hopes were high for good reason. According to articles by the National Institute for Mental Health, the National Center for Biotechnology Information and, of course, Wikipedia, CBT is the most-practiced evidence-based therapy for tons of emotional and personality disorders.
More important, when I tried it, it worked.
Unfortunately, I was late to the party; I’ve had depression my whole life, but didn’t learn about CBT till age thirty-eight. Yikes, right? I often wonder what I was thinking, not looking up popular depression therapies sooner. Then I remember exactly what I was thinking.
I was thinking spirituality was the answer.
I mean, spirituality is great. Spirituality works. But sometimes, other stuff works better. And every once in a while, you hit the proverbial jackpot, and you find a regular therapy that’s spiritual, too.
Which is where Byron Katie comes in.
Soon after discovering CBT, I found this teacher, and when I did, the above process repeated itself. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Fandom. Advocacy.
Then, full-on belief.
Here’s how that happened.
It was one of Those Moments. You know the kind. They feel normal at first, then later earn an unexpected spot on your greatest-hits playlist. It was evening, and I was depressed—much more so than usual. Worse, earlier that day I’d taken a three-mile walk and even that, my go-to strategy, hadn’t helped. I didn’t get an endorphin high. I didn’t clear my mind.
I felt just as bad after as before.
If you struggle with a mood disorder I don’t have to tell you what a frightening realization this was. Will I have to starting walk more than three miles now? I wondered. Has my body acclimated to this level of exercise? Heavily pregnant, with two other children in tow, I couldn’t imagine putting more time and effort into walking than I already did. And so, after dinner, after my husband had taken our two boys to the mall, I decided to try something different. Desperate, I went to my office to scan the titles on my bookshelf, looking for anything that might help.
I didn’t actually believe I’d find something.
But I did. I found The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns.
One year prior, I’d bought the Handbook on the advice of my doctor and then, after a brief review, dismissed it. Platitudes, I thought. Nothing new here. Nothing I haven’t heard a million times before. I had no idea it was a psychotherapy classic. (Why hadn’t the doctor told me that? Sheesh.)
That day, though—that greatest-hits day—I sat on the couch and for the first time, gave the method a chance. After reading a few chapters, I took its suggestion and started writing down every negative thought in my head. When I couldn’t think of any more, I stopped writing and counted the pages.
I’d filled seven pieces of paper on both sides.
Okay, I thought. Maybe the book is right. Maybe my depression really is caused by my thoughts.
Prior to that time, I knew negativity played a role in depression. But I had no idea how big that role was. I’m a positive person, I thought. I’m hopeful about the future. It’s a chemical imbalance that’s to blame.
And I still believe that. I’ve been moody my whole life—never lighthearted, even as a kid. But maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the story. Maybe part of the problem is solvable.
Because, it turned out, I wasn’t the optimist I thought I was. I was actually sort of the opposite, but in a different way. The kind of thoughts I wrote down that day had nothing to do with my faith in God or my many dreams of success. They weren’t about my overall health, or my financial or familial satisfaction.
They were about the little annoyances of life.
They were about the way my clothes fit, the kids’ morning moods, the tyranny of my family’s need to eat. Only a few of my troubles even mattered long-term. And yet, when I emptied the contents of my head, these silly little details were what I found. Obviously, my pessimism wasn’t as much about the significance of my negative thoughts as it was about the sheer number of them.
I had accumulated a bunch of mental crap.
And so, that night I began the process of excavation. And I haven’t stopped since.
Even after that first writing session, I noticed a change—a lifting, even a slight high. I felt the way I feel after a thirty-minute jog, or a long talk with a friend, or an especially enjoyable night out.
Holy crap, I realized. It worked.
And it did so when I was at my very worst.
And so, like I said before, after discovering CBT, my hopes were ridiculously high. Somehow, I knew that this was my game-changer, my next major level up.
Somehow, I knew it would be epic.
The cool thing is that I was right. During the month that followed the discovery, I was the most hopeful I’d been in my life regarding my ability to deal effectively with—maybe even overcome—my depression. Then, a shocking twist: I found another strategy, a variation of CBT. And for me, it was even more powerful. You probably already know what that method was. It was Byron Katie’s process of self-inquiry called The Work.
Byron Katie is a spiritual teacher, someone you may have heard of before. I had, too; the previous fall I’d even read her free ebook, The Work of Byron Katie: An Introduction. At that time, though, her ideas didn’t particularly appeal to me.
Truth be told, I wasn’t desperate enough to try it.
But after practicing CBT for a while, her name came up again, and I thought back on what I’d read. Wait a sec, I realized, Now that I think about it, The Work is a lot like CBT.
I decided to look into it again.
More about Byron Katie’s method later, and how it compares with CBT. Suffice it to say here that it’s a way to look objectively at your favorite (or not-so-favorite) thoughts. It gives you four questions to ask yourself that help you realize, deep down, what is true and what is, well, a bit crazy.
And as with CBT, my first experience with The Work didn’t disappoint.