|The Staunton River, running along the edge of Altavista, Virginia.|
How sly they can be. How quietly they slip amongst the other thoughts, seeming to fit in at first. It’s only after they’ve taken a foothold that you realize what they are: the negative thoughts. The old, familiar negative thoughts.
I’m stupid. I’m useless. I’m a waste of time. I can’t do anything right.
They are the kind of thoughts that used to run through my mind with abandon. I thought they were normal. I thought they were true.
Everybody hates me. God hates me. I hate myself.
Even after therapy, medication for the OCD and depression, self-help books, getting older, meditation, prayer, faith—all the things that have helped me through the years—it’s still possible for me to get caught up in negative thinking. The kind of thinking that makes me feel hopeless and helpless and depressed.
I’m a failure. Things will never get better.
What all the treatment has done for me, though, is to help me recognize what I’m doing and stop it.
What I’ve learned helps me to talk back to the thoughts, to engage new, more positive thoughts. It helps me to realize that a thought is just a thought.
Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean that I wanted to think it. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s any more important than any other thought floating down that river.
I learned that water imagery from my therapist.
He showed me a photograph of a river with a bridge arching over it. He told me to imagine that the river was the flow of my thoughts. I was to imagine that I was on the bridge, looking down on the river, on the thoughts.
In the same way, I could distance myself from my thoughts and observe them: the words, the feelings, the images.
I didn’t have to engage with them.
I didn’t have to believe them.
I could just observe them, from afar, from high up on the bridge.
Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true.
What do you do when negative thoughts creep in?