Diffuse & Distract

Gabrielle laughing out loud

Throughout the last two years, I have learnt (if I didn't already know it) that to try and distract yourself from deep depression doesn't work. 'Oh look at the lovely sky or think of something nice' doesn't help when you are held in the claws of deep clinical depression. That would be like putting disinfectant onto a leper's skin to make him or her feel better. Waste of time... AND somewhat insulting too.

The 'talking cure' school of thought recognises that talking about what you are thinking/feeling plays a very important part in dealing with clinical depression. There are different 'levels' of talking and I won't go into each one in detail - for now, I'll just list those levels as I have experienced them:

  • Talking to oneself, internally, externally and/or in writing (brain function permitting). Hearing one's own voice or reading one's own words is powerful.
  • Talking to another person who is a 'professional listener': psychotherapist, doctor, coach. I realise that to mention coaching in this context is controversial because coaching is supposedly only for people who are well. We, coaches, are told repeatedly to leave sick people to 'medical' professionals. My own experience has taught me differently.  Coaching should indeed NEVER be a replacement for proper medical treatment BUT it can play a significant and highly helpful role as a complimentary intervention. (I promise I'll be brave and I will write more about this 'spiky' subject later on). The professional filter (medical, psychological, etc) through which another person listens to you has a powerful impact on you, the one being listened to. "Am I really being heard or am I just being diagnosed?". "Am I really being listened to or am I being fitted into a theoretical box?"
  • Talking to another person who is emotionally connected: a loved one, friend or family.  This has a different impact altogether since how the other person thinks of you, or feels about you, is very important. A great deal of damage can be done by a well-meaning person who has no listening skills and whose greatest concern is ultimately how he/she feels, not what is going on with you. I am most fortunate in this regard but I am aware that few people are. It is a great shame because that level of 'talking' is by far the most healing in a non-medical sense. I wish 'Listening 101' was a compulsory part of ALL educational curriculums.

All the above 3 'levels' of talking fulfil one essential function: they Diffuse depression. They allow for deep depressive thoughts and feelings to be released. However, there is a danger when diffusing deep depression: you can easily drown in it. This is where another person 'swimming' with you AND making sure you return to the shore is very important indeed.

This 'returning to the shore' is what I call Distracting depression - this is where a coaching approach plays dividend because it's all about talking differently: no longer about depression itself but about something else going on alongside it. Surprisingly, and although without the Diffusing stage first this tends to be inaccessible, there is always something else going on alongside the dreaded depression, if a good listener is there to pick up on it. The key is that this 'something else' must be provided in the conversation by the depressed person, not by the person listening, or else it will not have the same impact or could even backfire. This 'something else' could be anything: a TV programme, an article in a magazine, a conversation with a neighbour, some tasty food, anything at all. These provide an other subject of conversation that take you elsewhere, that give you a little 'holiday' from the depression, that give you other pictures/sounds/sensations to play with, often with an opportunity for humour.

One word of caution here: humour is a great Diffuser Distractor if it is grabbed as it occurs naturally, genuinely.  Forced laughter, mockery or sarcasm aren't.

Once another subject has surfaced in the conversation (after a good Diffusing:0), it is helpful to arrive at some gentle agreement to action. I say 'gentle agreement' because there isn't much energy to play with in deep clinical depression and it is therefore essential not to scare or worry the depressed person. The agreement can be anything from noticing what the TV presenter is wearing during the next show to finding an old biscuit recipe. It doesn't matter what it is  - it just matters that it is: a little something to focus on, to hang on to, to report about, to laugh about, to be pleased with, whatever.

I have noticed that Diffuse and Distract don't always appear in the same rhythm: sometimes during a conversation, there is a long Diffuse followed by a long Distract; sometimes, Diffuse and Distract happen in short repeated succession, one after the other. It doesn't seem to matter how it happens, just that it does.

I have also observed that Diffuse and Distract have a positive impact on my energy levels - they help minimise the Knackering aspect of clinical depression. That's why I particularly like them :0)


Distraction can help hot tempered guys. - Dennis Wong YOR Health

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