Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fake It Till You Feel It

Last week I could feel depression knocking at my door. I would not say that I was actually feeling depressed, but it was like it was lurking around me, hoping I would let it in.

This can be a really hard time of year. There still is not much daylight; the holidays are over; and around here, we are sick of winter but know that there is still so much of it left.

I find Groundhog day very depressing - it just rubs in the fact that in some regions, spring will be happening soon. Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, we know we will still have more than six more weeks of winter here.

Last week made me think about how insidious depression is. It makes you not want to do the very things that you need to do to feel better. Things like visiting with friends, exercising, and getting out in the sunshine. When it is serious and you need to see your doctor about it, you feel you cannot get out of bed or bother to make the appointment.

I have sometimes asked clients to "fake it till you feel it". You may not feel like you want to do these things, but you need to go through the motions of doing them in order to feel like doing them.

I have occasionally wondered about the client-centredness of asking a client to do something that he or she does not want to do. What I finally settled on is that it is still client-centred if it is directly related to client-identified goals.

We often will do things for others that we will not do for ourselves. All last week, I did not feel like getting out of bed. Yet I got up and made (and ate) breakfast and got dressed in order to get the kids ready for school. Sleeping in was not an option because I had my kids counting on me.

This is where the importance of the therapeutic relationship comes in. I talked about it before in a previous post called The Healing Power of the Genuine Relationship, and I think it is so important. If you have a close enough connection with your clients, they will do things for you (and therefore for themselves) that they would not do otherwise.

So many recovery stories have one or two people who really cared and made a difference. Patricia Deegan describes how her grandmother came every day for a couple months and asked her if she wanted to go grocery shopping with her. The one day that she said yes was a turning point for Patricia.

I attended a talk by Bill McPhee, who founded Schizophrenia Digest. He described how a friend convinced him to attend a weekly group with her. He was quite humourous when he talked about how he dreaded the event because it meant he had to shower, put on clean clothes, etc. Yet he did those things and attended because of his connection with her and the group. Eventually, he became involved with other projects and his commitments to other people increased so he was having to look after himself more frequently.

I think this is also a big reason why work can be so helpful for mental health - when people are relying on you, you need to take care of yourself. Work motivates you to get enough sleep, get out of bed, take care of your hygiene, get outside, etc. It pulls you out of your own thoughts to think about other people or activities.

I once worked with a co-worker who had serious mental health issues. She was great with the clients because she also lived it, so she knew exactly where they were coming from. She was also an example that recovery is possible. Unfortunately, she struggled with vacations. She was often not doing well when she came back from vacation.

Laughter yoga is another "fake it till you feel it" activity. I attended a session once, and it was a lot more fun than I expected. Basically, the facilitator leads you in laughter exercises. You fake laughing until you actually find it all so funny that you start laughing for real. The more you fake laughing, the easier it is to laugh for real.

I was so impressed with how happy this woman appeared and how easily she laughed, that I continued practicing laughing on my own. The drivers in the other cars probably thought I was a little silly. It felt a little weird, but after practicing for awhile, I found I was able to laugh much more easily.

Last week, I forced myself to get out for walks in the sunshine. Even though I was not feeling sociable, we had friends over on the weekend and I really enjoyed it. This week, I started an exercise class with a friend. I no longer feel that depression is knocking at my door. I faked it and now I feel it.

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