Ah, the weekend. When the world is everyone’s lobster. In the UK a bank holiday weekend to boot. Sometimes, anticipating the next day or two ahead, life can feel so very good.
As you know though, it certainly doesn’t feel that way every week, and for me I have seldom hit those heights of contentment. Often the weekend is when I’m at my most vulnerable.
With family hundreds of miles apart, and in different countries in some cases, a pop round the corner to see any of them is out of the question. It’s also a time when friends are out doing their own thing, enjoying their free time as they wish. Invites to go out with them in a low mood are, paradoxically, refused when I’m on a downer in any case.
That leaves me at home with my own mind, and all its attendant demons, for company. It’s something I knew I had to address after that breakdown in my fluffy bathrobe.
It wasn’t friend or family that came to the rescue though. It was instead a patronising, and probably text-to-speech, automated voice on a computer program. The results are as paradoxical as turning down those friend invites too.
“Beating The Blues” was recommended by the group therapists as an online accompaniment. It’s an eight work course, all done from the comfort of your own home via the informationet superweb, so it’s handy for people like me whose comfort zone during depression are restricted to the bed, bathroom and living room.
It all starts off with simple graphics and soothing music. Then it hits you. The voice. It simultaneously annoys, irritates, condescends and exasperates you. I want to get better, I want my mind to stop tormenting me, so why in the name of all that’s holy and unholy does it have a voice guaranteed to grate as soon as you hear it?
I persevered though. I had weekend afternoons to fill. It was either that voice or the demons in my mind. Having said that. some weeks it was a close run thing between the two.
The first week is really a getting to know you vibe. You’re asked three of the biggest problems you’re experiencing in everyday life at the time. It then asks the standardised questions about how depressed and distressed you are, and puts the results on a graph each week.
One real annoyance was the question “Have you had any suicidal thoughts in the last week?” When you click on yes, the pre-programmed, grossly insincere response of “I’m sorry to hear that, things must be really bad for you”, only serves to add more thoughts of either ending it all or throwing the computer out of the window!
It isn’t only the voice that’s an annoyance but also the ‘case studies’. Every week, five people are featured, suffering various mental illnesses – Andrew, Elaine, Jean, Bob and Heather. It’s a smart piece of online therapy, having these people around with you as you progress.
Sadly, it’s only in theory where that holds water. Within a few minutes it’s clear that all the fellow sufferers are actors and actresses, and not very convincing ones at that. Eventually, I only followed how “Elaine” was getting on, being the only character I could abide. A great idea ruined by a lack of realism.
In spite of all that, though, there’s an awful lot of helpful tips, reminders, encouragement and reinforcement of positive qualities. There’s plenty of sound advice on recognising and dealing with thought errors, simple exercises designed to make you feel good about yourself, and some very handy print-outs.
Something I found particularly helpful is what they described as pig thinking or set thinking. Pig was positive thoughts, being Permanent, Internal and General in nature, giving credit for yourself in whatever you do well.
Set thinking, on the other hand, was Specific, External and Temporary and connected with negative thought patterns. It took an example of a tennis match you had won. Pig thought was “I am the better player.” Set thought was “I only won because the other player was off form.” Simple but perfect.
Just like the group therapy (where I seemed outwardly to be cynical and unresponsive), after a few weeks, it seemed to have an effect, despite my misgivings about the voice and its insincerity. Recording my successes, a plan of going out and doing pleasurable things, keeping a note of it all, was working.
By week 8, the course’s end, my depression and distress graphs were looking like a trajectory of Lib Dem support. The downward arrows, from 7 and 8’s at the start, reduced to 2’sand 1’s at the end, was a happy conclusion to a couple of months of sticking at it on a Saturday afternoon. I was frankly amazed at how well Beating The Blues worked with me.
Would I recommend this course to anyone? No. There’s too much that’s an irritation to make it suitable for a lot of people. I only persevered because it was either that or my demons for company.
Would I recommend this course to some? Yes. People who can block out irritations for an hour and be able to concentrate on content will find this a real help in getting themselves better.
Am I grateful to have done Beating The Blues? You bet. Tomorrow afternoon I’m off out for a walk. Something I’d never have done if it wasn’t for that awful, awful voice. The blues may not be beaten yet.
Like Saturday afternoons coming round, though, it’s only a matter of time before they are. Just you see.