August 1st, 2007

flasks

about depression & anxiety, and why cognitive behavioural therapy rocks

There were two articles in yesterday's Evening Standard that I thought warranted a wider audience, and as is typical, whenever I find a newspaper article I really like, they're not visibly on the web site. Grrr.

One is by Liz Hoggard, and is an interview with Linda Kelsey, who used to be the "high-flying" editor of Cosmopolitan and She magaines, then suffered a bout of serious anxiety and depression that "destroyed" her career. Apparently she's written a novel called Fifty is Not a Four-Letter Word that is, at least, in parts, autobiographical - although her character in the book only has "a mini breakdown" not "a major, major depression". There are some very interesting quotes in the interview. I particularly liked the description of cognitive behaviour therapy, and her insistence on how exercise can fight depression.

Gradually, the "menacing fog" lifted. Her medication started working. But her real saviours were cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which taught her to challenge negative thoughts and stop turning crises into catastrophes, and exercise. Today, she walks an hour a day. She still takes a minute, placebo-sized portion of antidepressant -- but walking is her "chemical-free and cost-free wonder drug".

She talks about walking the way I talk about cycling. "For the duration of the walk my head would clear and my anxiety would recede. ... Getting out of doors stops you obsessing and silences that awful inner critic."

Of course, it's difficult to get out of doors and do the exercise when you're anxious. In the past few weeks I've had several days where it's taken me over 3 hours to get out of the house from the time I first wanted to until I actually managed it, and some more days when I haven't managed to leave the house at all. But every time I have dragged myself out, I've felt better for doing it. Walking doesn't work for me - I can brood and obsess, and even have panic attacks while walking, unless I listen to music loud enough to drown out the negative thought voices (which doesn't work when I'm truly anxious, as then I worry about not hearing important danger warning noises because my music is too loud). But cycling does clear my head in the way she describes - and I need to remember that, and force myself to do it more often.

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