Imagine for a moment the perfect day, whatever that may be to you.
Perhaps it’s taking a long nap in the thick, green grass of Cheesman Park on a lazy, sunny afternoon. Maybe it’s skiing or snowboarding down a steep slope in six inches of powder with the sun warming your back.
Or perhaps it’s a rowdy, lascivious threesome in the kitchen with your partner, a hot redhead, and several ball gags before the three of you sit naked around the kitchen table eating a nutritious breakfast of fresh fruit and toast topped with butter and elderberry jam.
Then there’s a minor incident. Someone who isn’t paying attention trips over you in the park. Someone cuts you off on a run, almost forcing you into the trees. Or the hot redhead won’t pass you the elderberry jam.
A small group of depressive or anxious thoughts begin to crawl out of the darkness. They begin attributing negative intent to the actions of others while personalizing and catastrophizing the incident, formulating erroneous conclusions.
Why won’t the hot redhead pass the elderberry jam? He passed it to my partner. Ah ha! They’re both screwing behind my back! My partner is going to leave me. Love is bullshit. I’m leaving first and moving to Antarctica!
These fallacious thoughts grow in strength and begin to bully good experiences, abusing happy thoughts that were just minding their own business. The warm sun feels great on the slopes! The warm toast tastes great with elderberry jam! These notions are suddenly shoved down a flight of stairs.
Bleeding and helpless at the bottom of a stairwell with two broken legs, good thoughts are strangled out of existence by the grimy hands of erroneous thinking — something I like to call cognitive f*ckery, or CF for short.
CF spreads like an aggressive virus, infecting the entire thought process while vomiting caustic rhetoric into my mind and interfering with any chance to just enjoy life.
“What were the three things I needed from the store? Bread. Lube. What was the third? YOU’RE AN IDIOT! CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER THREE GROCERY ITEMS! Was it chocolate gelato? That would be a nice … YOU’RE FAT AND UNWORTHY OF LOVE!”
Bad thoughts cultivate bad feelings, which in turn cultivate bad thoughts, which in turn foster additional bad feelings — a recurring cycle that flings open the door for anxiety and depression to come crashing through.
The key in the process of recovery for me was identifying CF as categories of bad thinking, such as personalizing incidents and catastrophizing future outcomes.
There are other categories, such as mind-reading people’s intent, filtering out good experiences while focusing on bad experiences, and the ever popular should of, could of, would of. You could probably come up with ten more categories from your own experiences.
But once these categories of CF are identified, you can use reason to argue against them.
“If love is bullshit, why are there happy couples? THOSE HAPPY COUPLES ARE ALL LYING ABOUT BEING HAPPY! But how do you know all those happy couples are lying about being happy? No one can read minds, after all.”
This method of critical thinking is like a cognitive inoculation for the brain, using logical arguments to vaccinate my mind so I can truly enjoy those precious perfect days.
“Can you pass the elderberry jam?”