Looking back on my outpatient therapy materials, one symptom of depression that appears a lot is rumination. When I looked up the word “rumination” on Dictionary.com, the definition didn’t sound so bad – “to meditate or muse; ponder.” This is a far cry from what we depressives do. Interestingly, the farm definition fit better “to chew again or over and over.” Yep, that’s my curse. I run the same damn thoughts over and over in my mind, looking for a resolution that never comes. They drive me CRAZY.
In addition to ruminating, I have intrusive thoughts. They’re a new wrinkle, having started almost two years ago. At first random thoughts would pop into my mind to hurt my cats. I’d be petting a cat and picture myself wrapping my hand around its neck. In the kitchen cutting up vegetables, I would see an image of me stabbing one of our cats. I was repulsed. My cats are treasured pets in our house.
My reaction was to freak the hell out. I didn’t handle it well at all. I fed these thoughts with lots of panic. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that my thoughts turned quickly turned away from hurting animals to people and then myself. By freaking out, I was only making them worse. Fortunately, a psychiatrist suggested I work with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) specialist Cindy Richetti, LMHC. In a very short time with Cindy, I learned how distance myself from these thoughts using the technique of defusion.
Äccording to author Steven Hayes, the purpose of cognitive defusion is to ”see thoughts as what they are, not as what they say they are.” There are many cognitive defusion techniques, but Cindy’s was unique, comical, and fun. I still use it today. So let me introduce you to Zinger.
Cindy had me draw a character that represented my intrusive thoughts and give it a name. My character is pretty hideous, skinny, male, and malicious. I named him Zinger because he zings these thoughts at me out of nowhere.
Around the drawing, she had me write the most stressing of the intrusive thoughts, as you can see in the picture here. The final step was to write ludicrous stories about each of the intrusive thoughts, speaking directly to Zinger. When I would get stuck, she would write the story for me. Then I would read aloud the crazy story when the thoughts popped into my head. It let me see the thoughts as ridiculous. It also gave me something outside myself to de-identify with the thoughts. I just had to conjure up Zinger’s image and tell him to hit the road. I started to have more compassion for my thoughts, seeing Zinger as a wounded soul just trying to get attention.
Below are some of the stories Cindy and I wrote during my therapy. If you’d like to try using Zinger for yourself, download the blank image of Zinger and add your own intrusive thoughts.
Hey Zinger! Thank you SO much for your great ideas about killing animals and humans! My life would be so DULL and BORING without them! Like…the idea to wish for a speeding car to take out that pit bull on Hogan Road! YES SIR! Everyone knows… “the only good pit bull is a dead pit bull.” And, Zinger, thank you for not limiting your lovely KILL thoughts to lowly animals….but providing me with fabulous ways to off some HUMANS!!! Like….the suggestion to jump up and strangle or stab my fellow group members. Of course, the Deserve to Die. It’s such a lovely idea. SO FITTING….who do think they ARE anyway?! Sitting in the same room with me…THAT justifies it! The group room will be littered with broken bodies and blood everywhere! Hey….I just got a great idea, Zinger! I will take a snapshot of the carnage, and Troy can use it for inspirations for next year’s Halloween theme! Thanks again, Zinger! Love, Tracey.
(The handwritten story is way more fun with pictures and colors. Click here to download the PDF.)
Zinger: You will go insane!
Me: Yeah, that’s right Zinger. I will go insane and they’ll lock me up in a padded cell where I’ll sit and sit and sit until mold grows in my ears and little trees sprout from my scalp. At some point the hospital will figured out they can sell tickets to view me. Then they open a wing in my honor.
Zinger: Slice your throat!
Me: Great idea Zinger! Why don’t I go ahead and slice off my head while I’m at it? That way I could kick my head around like a soccer ball! That would be great fun! Thanks Zinger!
Zinger: Don’t think you deserve to be happy because you’re feeling good right now – it won’t last.
Me: Yeah Zinger. Who do I think I am?! As if I could possibly survive without you and your oh so valuable wisdom. You know if I allow myself to be happy I’ll go cuckoo for coconuts. Skip, jump, act kindly to others, make love with passion, play silly games, make people laugh – completely bonkers! Oh Zinger, wise prophet and guide. You know it would be awful to be happy.
Zinger: Don’t other doing that, you won’t live long anyway.
Me: zinger, you are indeed the great seer of the future. Of course, you would know when I will expire, you know everything that will happen! You are better than any psychic, you’re our new Nostradamus! How clever you are with your predictions. I shall buy you a cape and a cap with tassels to make you look like the great seer you are! You can strut around town in your cool duds.
Zinger: You will have a nervous breakdown!
Me: Yes Zinger, I will. I will break down over and over and over! Because you know I’m weak – a fragile little glass jar ready to break. I will shrivel up and get smaller and smaller until I’m so small I’ll live in an ant colony. Life will be easy there, taking orders from the queen. Just a little ant scurrying around.
Zinger: Don’t trust the doctor – the pills will kill you!
Me: Once again Zinger, you are the great and powerful seer of all! Of course the doctors are out to get me! They love killing their patients! It’s great for business! They want to kill me so they can cook my body parts in pies just like Sweeney Todd! They’ll make way more money selling pies than serving patients. That must be it!
Zinger: Strangle the cats!
Me: What a great idea Zinger! I’ll put my hands around their little necks and squeeze until their eyes pop out. Then I’ll pop the eyes into my mouth! I’ll develop a taste for eyeballs so I’ll start strangling all the cats in the neighborhood. I’ll open up The Cat’s Eye Café and serve eyeball delicacies. That’s for the help Zinger!
Zinger: You have shingles!
Me: Oooh, eye pain! Itchy skin, tingling. Yep. It must be shingles. Again. Shingles here, shingles there, shingles everywhere! Shingles to the left, shingles to the right, shingles up, shingles down. Shingles with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Love those shingles! Who doesn’t?!