CATASTROPHIZING

When you’re in the depth of the dark hole of depression it is easy for your thinking to become distorted. There are several types of cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions, magnification (catastrophizing)and so on. It’s easy for your thoughts to take on a life of their own, sending you deeper into your illness. You become stuck in a defeating pattern of anguish.

It’s easy to take a small incident and in your mind turn it into a catastrophe. David D. Burns, M.D.’s book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy lists this type of thinking as magnification (catastrophizing). It describes it as exaggerating the importance of things. It’s taking a simple mistake and turning it into a disaster or worse. Just recently I found myself caught in this type of thinking and I wanted to share it with you.

Just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving I got sick. I had to take two weeks off work. I had my doctor send an excuse for my absences. When I was feeling better, I had my doctor send a return to work note. When I came back, they were surprised to see me. They thought I would be out longer. I worked three days the week of Thanksgiving. We get our schedules online or on an app on our phones. The day after Thanksgiving I checked my app and there was no schedule for the following week. I called the store where I work and was told I wasn’t on the schedule. The coordinator (takes care of the front end and gives breaks) said he would message the front-end manager to find out why.

Early that day I received a paper about applying for disability through work. Before Thanksgiving the store’s personnel manager asked me why I had a doctor’s note to be on express checkout. I explained to her it was because I have osteoporosis and it is worse in my back. She told me they would try to accommodate me but at times I may have to go on full size register.

After hearing the coordinator saying I didn’t have a schedule my mind went crazy. I became determined that personnel was forcing me to take a leave of absence. Osteoporosis doesn’t just go away. It can improve with treatment, but it doesn’t suddenly get better. I have had one infusion so far to stop it’s progression. It would take time to improve. If I had to take a leave, I would never be able to return. It could take years for my bones to become strong enough for me to lift heavy items and to work regular register.

A simple problem suddenly grew into a catastrophe. If I am forced to take a leave, I will lose my job. I can’t sit around home all day and do nothing. I need my job. It’s how I manage my depression. Without my job I would slip deep into my illness. I wouldn’t see my customers anymore and I’d lose my insurance which pays for my medication, part of my infusion, my psychiatrist, and many health problems. I could apply for Social Security disability but that could take a long time and we would go broke and lose our home.

I ran upstairs and woke my husband. I told him what happened and began crying.

He wrapped his arms around me. “It’s probably a mistake. Don’t worry about it.”

I cried harder. “I’m not stupid. I know what they are doing. They are making me take a leave because I have osteoporosis. That’s why they sent me the disability papers.”

Lou wiped my tears away. “Come to bed. You need to be up here with me.”

I went back downstairs and shut the lights off and went to bed. I lay in Lou’s arms and cried uncontrollably. Lou held me, telling me everything was going to be okay.

I sniffled. “I can’t lose my job. I can’t be stuck at home all the time. I can’t go back into depression. They can’t do this to me.”

“Now, now, you’re not going to lose your job. Tomorrow you’ll talk to your manager. It’s probably a mistake. They wouldn’t make you take a leave without talking to you,” Lou whispered.

I buried my face in his chest. “I know what they are doing. They don’t want me working there because I have osteoporosis. I’ll lose my job. I wish I would have killed myself years ago.”

Lou continued to comfort me until eventually I cried myself to sleep. The next morning my manager contacted me. She said because I was off work the company took me out of the computer and she was unable to put me on the schedule. She apologized and assured she would get me a schedule for the following week when she got to work, and she did. The union representative said I probably received the disability papers because they thought I was going to be on sick leave longer than I was.

I took a simple situation and turned it into a catastrophe. I let my mind magnify me not being on to the schedule into something horrible when it was a simple flaw that could easily be fixed. Even in recovery I can have times where distorted thinking takes control of my mind. Who knows what I would have done if my husband wasn’t there to comfort me? I might have hurt myself over a simple mistake.

If you find yourself magnifying a simple incident into a catastrophe, turn to someone who can help you talk it out and see your thinking is distorted. Get David D. Burns, M.D.’s book Feeling Good and read through the types of cognitive distortions and identify which ones you struggle with. Talk to a therapist about them and learn how to change your pattern of thinking into something more positive and how to cope when the distortions become overbearing. Educate your support system about the types of cognitive distortions you struggle with so they can help you.

Through this blog I have educated my husband and friends about the cognitive distortions I struggle with. My husband and friends are good at using what they learned to help me. Without my husband that night I might have harmed myself. I’m happy to have a husband who talked to me and held me until I was calm enough to sleep. With his help I stand in the light of recovery.

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