The brain exercise that got me out of anxiety and depression

When I was at my lowest point with intense anxiety and depression, a Gestalt therapy brain exercise changed my life for the better.

Do I even have to go on living?

Source: Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD

Steve, my husband of 12 years, had died eight months earlier from very aggressive brain cancer and life had lost its meaning.

Who was I without him? Why should I continue to work in my private practice? For who? We did not have children (I was explaining that we did not have children because, after 12 years of marriage, we were still on our honeymoon). Do I even have to go on living? The chances that I would find a man who I could be in love with as much as I was in love with Steve were minimal. My future looked bleak. Grim was not the right term. It was black.

Being a doctor and prescriber of drugs, I knew I probably needed to take antidepressant medication. Yet I resisted. “Let me try one more thing, let me try Gestalt therapy.” “

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy (developed by Fritz Perls) that brings awareness to the present moment. Gestalt therapy allows you to focus on what you are feeling in your body at the moment and on the random thoughts that are attached to those feelings.

I was familiar with Gestalt therapy because I had done several sessions myself in the past and had successfully treated several of my anxiety patients.

I decided to visit my Gestalt therapist.

Bringing my awareness to my body after making me breathe deeply and relax, my Gestalt therapist asked me how I was feeling. I said my stomach, chest, and throat were tight.

Was there a random picture associated with this feeling?

I could only see pitch black all around with no light in my life, and I felt chained to a huge, heavy black ball. I tried to look away from the darkness but couldn’t. The huge black ball became the only thing I could see.

At this point, my therapist urged me to do a Gestalt exercise that changed my life. For this exercise, my therapist said, I had to start from the point of view of curiosity, of total acceptance and embrace whatever I discovered, and trust that it would lead me to a better place.

My therapist told me, “since you can’t get away from the dark, let’s go. in darkness and describe what you see.

It was a very scary exercise. I wouldn’t recommend doing this exercise on your own, but you can do it with a therapist leading you through.

And in the dark, my therapist by my side, I dived.

For a long time I only saw black, but my therapist told me to keep looking into the black ball, imagine going deeper into the ball and seeing it in more detail. What was the ball made of? Was it homogeneous or not? Were there different stones in there?

As I continued to stare in the dark with my eyes closed, I began to see different shades of black. The ball was not homogeneous. I found it fascinating.

As I continued to dig deeper, as if looking through an imaginary microscope, a few glittering dots appeared. I focused on the points. They were like golden stars in a black sky.

As I kept my eyes closed, the few glittering dots turned to gold. After a few minutes the gold was so shiny it was the only thing I could see. I was amazed at how ugly the ball was on the outside but how beautiful it was on the inside.

I was also amazed that the tightness in my stomach, chest, and throat had lifted. I actually felt pretty good.

The black ball was a metaphor for my life: it could be ugly on the outside but beautiful on the inside.

The goal of the Gestalt exercise was then to find out what might be golden in my dark life.

Looking at my life with an open heart, I realized that what was gold was just enjoying being alive and the simple pleasures of life.

Back home, I began to appreciate what was golden in my life: the smell of roses on my daily walks, the taste of toast and fresh fruit, the view of the sea. ocean, the breeze on my skin as I walk.

A few months later, I made new friends and enjoyed the deep friendships.

Finally, four years later, I met Eric, the man who would become my new husband, and I found love and passion again. I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to find the love of my life twice, but I did.

And this journey of coming from a place that was all black to a place of light and gold made my happiness even more intense.

My background has given me a perspective on life. I now know that tomorrow is no promise to anyone, and I am keenly aware that I must seize every happy moment today with intense joy without being afraid of tomorrow.

    Photo by SIMON LEE on Unsplash

The Japanese art of Kintsugi

Source: Photo by SIMON LEE on Unsplash

I now realize that my life is like the Japanese art of Kintsugi with broken pieces put together with gold stitching creating something uniquely imperfect, uniquely precious and unique to me.

And it all started when I had the courage to step into the dark with an open mind.

No matter how dark life is, there is always gold to be found. Finding this can be done with the help of Gestalt therapy.

Studies on Gestalt therapy showed that a group of older people who received 90 minutes of Gestalt therapy per week for eight consecutive weeks experienced a significant increase in happiness compared to the group without Gestalt therapy.

Studies of divorced women showed a significant increase in their ability to face challenges competently after 12 sessions of Gestalt therapy.

And Gestalt therapy for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients reinforced the positive emotions of these caregivers, decreased their loneliness and increased their ability to provide care.

So, if you or your loved one is suffering from anxiety or depression, contact a therapist immediately. Even if you take anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants, a few sessions of Gestalt in addition to the pills can work wonders.

To find a therapist near you, consult the Psychology today Directory of therapies and find someone who knows Gestalt therapy.

Copyright 2021 @ Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD

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