Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg on The MasterMind Show



Irene celebrated her 91st birthday today. How do I know? She was at Jazzercise at 8:15 a.m., as she is every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Irene was wearing a t-shirt that said “Inside every old person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.”

She got on stage with the instructor and began to shimmy to a very modern “put your hands in the air” song. Making a ‘bad girl’ face, she burst out laughing and then made sure to hold the hand rail on her way off the stage. I don’t know anything about her life. We don’t chat at class. She may have lived a charmed life or had endless tragedy, but Irene is my hero. She demonstrates every aspect of how to live without depression.

In US culture are relentless in our deprecation of the signs of age. We mock wrinkles and flabby arms. We are impatient with slowness both mental and physical. We don’t seek wisdom and serenity, we seek wit and flash. And as I head straight into the first stage of old age, I am not happy about that. I can get discouraged about life having not brought all I want. I can feel discouraged about what I have lost. But that route is a dead end. It can only lead to spending my life depressed.

I want to be Irene.

I see her trying. She stands in the front row and she does the best she can. She moves in rhythm and lifts arms and feet as high as they will go without causing her to fall over. She lifts the little weights but she lifts them. She does not apologize for not being the best, the youngest, the most. She has not had a face lift. To me, the self-acceptance she demonstrates in her presence at class and willingness to joke, and her endurance are the visible signs of what I want to be as I age. I want to develop the attitude that trying is better than giving up. I want to be right in front doing my best. I want to keep moving to the best of my ability. And I want to feel good that I am here, not apologize for showing my age.

I don’t know how she feels on the inside, but I suspect her t-shirt says it all.

If at first you don’t succeed…

If at first you don’t succeed – use your depression to your advantage

I am certain that my biggest mistakes in life and the ones that cost me the most were the outcome of trying to make something work out despite the evidence that no amount of effort would make it work out. I would prefer not to point out all of my big life errors in a blog, but I bet if you take a short walk down your own personal memory lane, you will find that staying in a situation too long and trying too hard did not always win you the prize either. What constitutes trying too hard? Staying at a job trying for a promotion or a raise in an underpaid job while tolerating an angry and unfair boss who was likely never going to promote you, or staying in a dying relationship while trying with all your heart to make it work. These efforts have probably cost you years, money, stress or unhappiness. A lot of misery is born from trying and failing. And people are often told to keep on trying as if that will be the recipe for success.

But what about when trying does not succeed? What about the idea of cutting your losses?

I am not suggesting that people should give up easily when trying to attain a challenging goal. I am thinking, though, that there are many times when people pick an unrealistic goal and then try to make it work despite the bad odds. This can lead to feeling very bad about oneself. If you are depressed, you can be prey to these errors of decision-making. A depressed brain causes people to pessimistically see the worst possible outcome and causes them to believe all negative outcomes are their fault. They tend to devalue their talents and abilities.

But those traits might also lead to success if you use the brain of depression to your advantage.

The ability to identify what could go wrong and plan to meet the challenges along the way is not the typical pattern of the optimist. Pragmatic realism (seeing the possibility of failure) is more the bailiwick of the pessimist. Think about it: preparation leads to more success than merely hoping for a good outcome.

Believing you do not have what it takes to succeed might lead you to pick more realistic goals or seek advice more readily.

The challenge with depression is correctly targeting your anticipation of failure toward adequate realistic preparation. And realism must extend to realistic appraisal of your part in an outcome. You must see your successes as an outcome of planning, preparation and execution: things you actually did to achieve the positive outcome. Walk down that memory lane for a bit. When did you work on something and it turned out okay? When did put in one more bit of effort and got a good outcome? (If you need help with that one, ask a friend or family member to remind you. One problem of depression is forgetting the good stuff.)

Please don’t think I am telling you to make half-hearted effort or to just quit when you stumble. There is great value in persistence (a blog for another day). But trying when there is little or no chance of success is not a good plan. It will lead you to feeling worse about yourself. (I know someone will object here, asking about why I don’t value trying ‘against all odds’ or the force of determination. But bear in mind I am not discussing the ‘only-one-last-chance’ desperate circumstances. I am discussing regular life goals: relationships, finances, jobs, education…) One way I learned about ‘tactical retreat” (quitting before you ruin yourself) was taking a look at the difference between successful entrepreneurs and wannabes. Most successful ‘self-made’ people make LOTS of mistakes. They just notice them faster and quit going down the dead end path so that they can try something different. They don’t keep trying to hammer that square peg into the round hole. You only beat yourself down when you stay with the person who is abusive to you. You hurt your prospects for development when you stay in the job that does not use your talents. You do not define yourself by waiting for someone else to recognize your talents while you slog away at something that does not use your gifts.

So make just one small effort to reverse this trend of sticking it out to your detriment.

  • Every day, write down something that went well and why it went well. Note what you contributed to make it work out.
    • Some days it might be as small as catching the morning train because you got out of the door on time.
    • Some days it might mean your team won the championship and you were out there playing your part on the field to help that happen.
    • Some days it might mean getting the new job because you applied for it and did a good job on the interview.
  • Noticing your contribution to your successes will help you believe more in yourself and develop the ability to select realistic goals that match up to your talents and abilities.

If you see that you chose an unrealistic goal or if events interfere with the success of your plan, then exercising flexibility in choosing to continue or move on will be one more success.


Margaret’s exciting new option for managing the symptoms of anxiety and depression is now available. Working together with Candeo Behavior Change as the Director of Curriculum Development, she has created  a site where you can be guided through the steps to feel relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression. Check out this extremely affordable, step by step approach. Track your progress with their online journal, make use of a forum for conversation, listen to extra podcasts, and get assistance from a live program coach.

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Depression Dis-Courages: The Inner Voice of Self-Criticism Keeps You Locked in Negativity

“Oh, you are so stupid!”

“Can’t you ever just keep your mouth shut?”

“Well, sure, your drawing is okay, but you are no Picasso!”

“You will never be good enough to play your (flute, guitar, piano, violin….) in public.”

“Don’t brag. No one wants to hear you talk about yourself.”

Are these phrases like the sound track in your mind?

When we hear criticism from our parents or teachers the message sticks and you have to deliberately shrug it off. If you are depressed, it seems as if they play over and over forever. By the time you are an adult, you no longer need to hear it from someone else – you carry that negative voice in your own mind. You criticize yourself without any help from others, and that discourages you when it comes to trying something new or stretching toward a challenge. Low on energy with depression, your self-criticism robs you of whatever motivation you may possess.

Consider the impact of this. Everyone needs to have a bit of courage to take their talents into a new arena. Stating your ideas in a meeting or showing your creative side (whether drawing or writing or playing) or trying out for a team/a promotion/a new job: these things take confidence and courage if you are going to take the gamble of showing what you can do and seeing how it turns out. If you lived with parental criticism or, worse, apathy toward your efforts to do something new and different, your willingness to try is eroded. Later, when you hear the criticism in your mind, you Dis-Courage yourself. Eventually you undermine your own performance and may even quit in frustration as you hear the dis-couraging remarks from your childhood, “Don’t make such a spectacle of yourself!” “Don’t be such a show-off!” “Who told you that you are good enough to try for that?” When you are depressed, your thoughts tend to be imbalanced toward the negative anyway, so when this is the voice you hear when you have the chance to try something new, it can be very hard to shake off.

The voice need not have been spoken. You may carry the silent voice of being ignored when you ask for attention or show a parent your art or schoolwork or your perfect cartwheel. Mary knew she would have trouble qualifying for a promotion because she stops herself from telling her colleagues or boss about a success. In exploring her reluctance to tell others of her good work, she remembered how, at age 10, she proudly showed her mother a writing assignment with a big, red “A+, Well Done!!!” at the top. Her mother, without a word, tossed the paper into the trash and told her to go set the table for dinner. Mary carried that non-response with her as evidence that any of her efforts are un-remarkable and no cause for pride or sense of accomplishment.

You may have been taught and now may believe that self-confidence or accepting praise from others means that you are conceited. Quite the opposite, legitimate praise empowers you when you receive it and those to whom you give it. Praise for a genuine accomplishment provides courage to try. When you give praise or accept praise, you En-Courage yourself or others to stretch the limits, accept a challenge, or try harder. When children believe that their efforts make their parents feel proud, they do not stop trying. They do more of what earns the praise. All of your life, if you can hear the voice of praise for genuine accomplishments, you want to put in more effort.

Finding the energy to recognize praise and take it in when you hear it or even offer it to yourself is much harder to do when depressed. When you are depressed it is harder than you may imagine to identify and eliminate the Dis-Couraging impact of the inner criticism and make the switch to hearing praise. It is necessary to first identify the negative voice in order to erase it and replace it with the positive voice. You will have to use your thinking brain to make that happen. Your brain gets stuck on negativity and has limited energy to fight back so deciding how to do that uses your resources to best advantage. You can begin the process of En-Couragement by using your rational brain to evaluate that negativity and get willingness to erase it and replace it with positives.

  1. Make a rational decision that self-criticism is a waste of time and worse, it dis-courages you from efforts to succeed.
  2. Make this reasonable choice: believe that you will be more motivated from praise that en-courages you than from criticism.
  3. Decide to believe this truth: making progress demonstrates effort and you deserve to feel pride in accomplishment.
  4. Then make an agreement with yourself to notice what happens when you have worked hard, practiced hard, or show some progress at work or at a creative endeavor. (There is usually a positive outcome to a project, a relationship, a talent improving, etc.)
  5. Next, notice what you feel like when you see progress after effort. (What you will notice is that you feel good.)
  6. Then, if that inner voice pipes up with a criticism that what you did is not good enough, replace this with the deliberate voice that says, “I am making progress, and that is good. I can try more whenever I am ready.”

When you connect accomplishment with feeling good and recognize how en-couraged you feel to do or try more, you are on the path to eliminating the impact of self-criticism on your depression. You will feel more motivation and energy.

No matter whose voice provided the sound track, you can replace it with a new track of en-couraging, legitimate praise. If you must hear a voice in your mind, it may as well be one that gives you courage!

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The One-Two Punch of Negativity and Fear: Why What You Believe Determines What You Feel and How to Change It

Leigh was a wreck. She had googled her symptoms and came up with a diagnosis over the internet. Her memory problems had to be early onset Alzheimer’s. And she immediately became frantic with fear. The diagnosis meant a future in which she was increasingly crazy, losing the love of family and friends, and ending up homeless or institutionalized.

Her fear and negativity reminded me of how often people with depression do not recognize a simple principle: things that seem true are not always true.

When I was a young therapist I learned – surprise! – that you can believe things that are not true. (The corollary: believing something does not make it true.) In depression, false beliefs, such as you are worthless or nothing will work out or you are doomed to fail, direct your thoughts, your emotions, and even your physical feelings. It is even worse when the depressing beliefs also spark fear. Fear will trigger symptoms like anxiety, nausea or diarrhea, or increased heart-rate. (People experience both anxiety and depression about 50% of the time.)

Leigh’s situation, feeling fear and unable to shake it, was a frightening lesson in the importance of what you tell yourself. It doesn’t matter that what you believe is false: it matters that you believe it. Then you react as if the belief is true.

When you have a depressed/anxious brain, the chances are good that you are low on several brain neurotransmitters, causing negativity that is hard to slow down. Negativity plus fear is a powerful combination that will reinforce itself rapidly. Your brain will form a neurobiological rut that is hard to get out of.

But you are not unconscious! You can consciously climb out of that mental rut. The problem is that this is HARD to do. It requires both the conviction that your thoughts are unnecessary and the motivation to do what is difficult. You may need an outside boost to see how to get out of the rut, such as:

  • a person who will remind you of your goals
  • written reminders of your desired thoughts (to replace the undesired thoughts)
  • a ding from your handheld device to prompt you to think the positive thought.

In Leigh’s case, she also needed a reliable person to tell her the fears she had were unfounded. (Hint: the internet is not a good place to look for relief of fear.)

To handle the one-two punch of negativity and fear, seek right reassurance. Right reassurance involves getting correct information to get rid of fear. But beware of TMI – too much information – that usually makes it worse. You need another person to be a helper who knows something about what you fear, and who is able to offer you the following:

  1. Careful listening for what caused the fear and then specifically telling you why your fear is unfounded. (For example, “No, that kind of rash is NOT a sign of flesh-eating bacteria.”)
  2. Self-control to not tell you extra information. You only need their certainty that you don’t need to fear, but very little more than that. (You do not want to hear what kind of rash would be a sign of flesh-eating bacteria.)
  3. Ability to help you find the positive thought to replace your fearful one. Pick a positive statement that is both true and believable. For example, “I will do my best and that is good enough,” is a better choice than “I cannot fail,” which might not be believable to you.

In the example of Leigh’s fear of early onset Alzheimer’s, she would not benefit from hearing she is too young for that. Fear and negativity would drive her to wonder if she is going to be the rare exception. Rather, in Step 1 her helper would listen to why she fears she is developing Alzheimer’s. In Step 2 her helper would tell her firmly that her symptoms are not signs of that disorder but would NOT discuss what signs do indicate early onset. In Step 3 Leigh’s positive thought replacement for the fearful thought might be, “My worry is unnecessary. I am fine as I am.”

Getting out of your rut of fear is not easy. Don’t expect of yourself to do it alone. And do not hesitate to seek help. The faster you act to reduce your fear, the easier it will be to bounce back from the one-two punch of negativity and fear.

Nobody Wants to be Depressed

“What you did is not okay! And I am going to be depressed to prove it!”

Nobody wants to be depressed! Or do they? If you have suffered depression, you might be aware of the irrational part of you that objects to letting go of depressed feelings.

In depression people are more inclined to feel the unfairness of life. You want to rail against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, knowing all the while that you cannot change them by your complaints, cries or tears. Feeling cheated by life, let down by a relationship gone sour, angry or hurt that your parents gave you such a rough childhood, you resist letting go, cheering up, or otherwise feeling okay again. You may be aware of an inner voice shrieking out, “No! I deserve this depression!” Dwelling on being unfairly treated does nothing to cheer you up or help you move forward, but rather makes you more miserable. Why would you want to hang onto it?

Why? I have consistently found that when people want to hold onto their depression, they have a faulty underlying belief: that depression proves what happened to them was wrong, unfair, or hurtful. Is this you? Listen closely to that part of you saying, “If I let go of this depression, it will be like I am saying it is okay that the bad thing happened. And it was most definitely NOT OKAY!!!” That part of you believes if you stop feeling hurt, then anyone who caused your pain gets off free – off the hook for their behavior. You believe your depressed state is a demonstration of how badly you were treated. But to whom are you making the demonstration? A parent who was cruel, a lover who disappointed you, a boss who fired you: none of them are noticing or being hurt by your depressed mood. This is the time to remember that the person who is hurt the most by your depression is you.

But how do you become willing to let go of the depression?

Honestly appraising why you want to keep your depression and not judging yourself or hiding your feelings, can lay the groundwork for letting it go.

  1. No matter how depressed you still feel on the inside, you must make a rational decision to change your false belief that letting go means the hurt was okay. Replace it with a new belief: “The situation that hurt me was not okay regardless of how I feel.” Your feelings about it do not make it wrong or right. This belief shift that can help you get unstuck from the morass of depression.
  2. Next, work to develop tolerance for other negative feelings and decide what to do about them. Pay attention to what has happened to identify your emotion. Then ask yourself and consult someone else to answer: “What will I do with anger at a person who doesn’t care, won’t listen, won’t change or is no longer around?” “How will I manage disappointment of unfulfilled expectations?” Sometimes being depressed and feeling worthless is easier than feeling grief and loss that go with disappointment. You can gradually develop a new repertoire of reaction. Try assessing:
  • What feeling do you really have under the depressed mood? Hurt, sad, lost, alone…
  • What practice have you had in expressing this emotion? You may ask someone else what they do, but then pick a method to express yourself: write your feelings down, draw them, play music, talk.
  • Do something deliberate to counter the feeling? Get together with someone you enjoy, talk with someone who might cheer you up, distract yourself, go for a run, play a game with a child. Usually doing an activity that will make you feel connected to others helps the most.
  • If there is still a problem that exists, such as living with someone who verbally abuses you, you will want to do some problem solving about how to get out of that ongoing troublesome situation. For that, consulting with a trusted advisor or therapist might help.
  1. Finally, ask yourself what you would do if you felt good? Then go do it. This is not a win-win situation. Say to yourself that anyone who wanted to hurt you does not win if you feel good despite them. The best revenge, as they say, is living well. Practice that!


Last Exit

I drove past a highway sign the other day that caught my eye. It read “Your road to success was one exit back!” It took me a moment to realize that it was a sign for a local college, and the challenge it put out was to turn around – fast – to get on the road to success! But in that moment of thinking about what the sign meant, it also occurred to me that the sign is a perfect example of a depressed-brain dilemma.

If you are depressed, and you believe you have passed up the (one and only) road to success, you do not see choices, like turning around. You are more likely to think, “There. I have done it again: I missed the last exit to my one and only chance to succeed. I am doomed to have no success.” And that thought process results in making fewer efforts to get what you want and deepening your depression.

A depressed mind is not only negative but rigid, which makes it a poor problem solver. Instead of grasping that you could turn around, you are more likely to keep doing what you have been doing, all the while bemoaning that you did not choose the right course of action. E.g., you picked the wrong company to work at, are involved with the wrong person, driving the wrong car, saving your money in the wrong investment, etc.

Why are you unlikely to correct your situation? Being stuck in your “if only I had…” direction of thinking, you have low expectations of making a better choice or having a better outcome. It is hard for you to broaden your perspective, seeing that even if you have passed up a chance for success, there are at least two available choices than continuing to do what you have been doing, traveling down one road without deviation.

Start by believing this: No matter what direction you are going, you can turn around! You do not have to pursue a failing enterprise, whether it is a job, a course at school or a relationship. I learned long ago that successful entrepreneurs are not people who made one lucky choice and succeeded on it. In general, entrepreneurs make MORE mistakes than most of us. What they tend to do better than most others is to CORRECT their mistakes. If they see something is not working as it should or they have chosen wrongly, they stop moving in the wrong direction, turn around, and try something else.

Thomas Edison – inventor of the light bulb and hundreds of other amazing inventions (like the film projector) – tried 1,200 different filaments for the bulb before he found the one that was right. Put up a picture of Thomas Edison to remind yourself to change directions and keep trying.

Next, believe this too, because it is true: There is NOT only one road to success, not only one choice you can make. You can look for opportunity as you continue to travel down the road of life. Start looking for new options to present themselves. Today’s college grad can expect to work in seven careers during the course of a work life. That is a clear message that you should NOT expect to stay on the same path but rather expect to travel down new roads

I have heard it said that luck is what happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. With that in mind, tell your depressed brain that you are opening up your narrow focus and looking around. Try these questions:

  • What are you hoping for? Have you got a goal or some goals for your life? If not, start here by talking with others about your interests, ideas, wishes and dreams. Then pick something small (don’t start with your biggest dream – yet!) to work toward.
  • What are you preparing for? – Are you putting in effort to develop skills in work and relationships, rather than just hoping you will get something good to come your way?
  • Are you ready to achieve your goal? Sometimes depression is complicated by your fears of succeeding.
  • Who can help you keep an eye out for opportunity? When traveling we can benefit from having a navigator. Who can help you find the opportunity to turn off on one of the many roads of life that you cross?

I will write more about these questions, because I know that trying something new can be scary. But I really believe this: If something new does not work out, you can always turn around.

Until Now

“Until now…”  Two powerful words you can use to turn self-defeating thoughts around.

Repetitive, doom-laden thoughts are common to depressed minds. SUCH THOUGHTS are both a feature of depressed, out-of-balance neurochemistry and of the way that memory is networked. Because depressed neurochemistry focuses on negativity, your thoughts dwell on SAD THINGS, SUCH AS times of loss, failure, disappointments, and ill-treatment. When you remember one time something went wrong, memory networks light up for all the times something similar went wrong, forming a category of things going wrong. And, because depressed minds ruminate, repetitively revisiting that network, that category then solidifies into an “It has always (never) been this way,” way of thinking. Your neurochemistry causes you to create a past in which you always fail, are always disappointed or in which you never get what you want.

This kind of categorical description of past events becomes a prediction of things to come. The idea that you are destined to fail will prevent you from trying new things.  Few thoughts are more likely to prevent change than those that predict defeat. Self-defeating thoughts are central in maintaining depression and blocking change. The most common in the self-defeating category of thoughts stems from the belief we are doomed to letting our past determine our future. In fact, this misery-inducing mantra, “I have always been this way,” is responsible for stopping people cold, before they even attempt to change a behavior or emotion. Such thoughts are depression-reinforcing. The more often your neurochemistry causes you to think a helpless thought, the worse your depression gets.

The good news is you do not need to stay stuck in this negative memory network. There are two words that can change that downward spiral: “Until now…” In those two words lie the hope every person needs. Things can – AND DO – change. Something that has always been, need not always be. This is not pie-in-the-sky, sun-will-come-out, irrepressibly bubbly optimism, but rather a simple truth.  And, for a depressed mind, it is a revolutionary idea. I have watched clients’ eyes light up when they consider the power of that phrase. “Until now…” means things could change. It means they do not have to deny their past or pretend it was good or even think they have a bright (impossible!) future. It just means things do not need to be the way they have been. Small hope is often safer than big hope and thus more powerful for the person who cannot believe in a big change but could believe in some change.

“UNTIL NOW” helps reverse the downward spiral of depressed thinking is the goal. Consider common ‘downers’ that can be reversed with “UNTIL NOW”:

  • I have always been unlucky…until now.”
  • I have never been able to pick a good man to date…until now.”
  • I have never been the one who gets the promotion…until now.”
  • No one in my family has ever succeeded at this…until now.”
  • I have always been depressed…until now.”

Even issues about self-image or self-esteem or habitual behavior could get a jump start with “UNTIL NOW”:

  • I have not been able to stay on a diet for more than a day…until now.”
  • I have never been able to complete a math course…until now.”
  • I have never exercised regularly…until now.”

These statements do not change a couch potato into an Olympian athlete, nor do they guarantee that pounds will melt away or that love will show up in your life. What they do mean is that the possibility exists that you can have something better or workable, and you can start trying new ways to achieve what you want.

Until now…” These words subtly suggest you will think or do something different than you have done before. They can lead you to identify what you have been doing and thinking and, even better, lead you to recognize that if you keep on doing what you have been doing you will get what you have always gotten. But if you alter your old belief, if you start saying, “Well that was true… until now,” then what was true before might no longer be your destiny. If new actions or thoughts could produce change, you will be more willing to try doing something differently than what you have done before. While they do not guarantee success (and what depressed person will believe in guarantees?) these two words help you believe that your future can be different than your past.

John was certainly a man who believed that past was prologue. He said he had always been a man who struggled to be engaged with others and whom others perceived as distant and unemotional. “Nothing is less true!” he exclaimed, “I am very emotional. But showing my emotions has always caused me trouble, so I just cannot do that.” In his life experience when he was emotional as a child he had been ridiculed and when he had his first serious love affair, his heart had been broken. He decided “Whenever I show how I feel, bad things happen,” and became determined never to betray how he feels. Believing that displays of emotion would result in trouble he had become isolated and depressed. What a bind he was in! He would rather be depressed and alone than risk ridicule or heartache. However, when he realized that his aloofness was hurting him also, the words “until now” helped him find his way out. He could say, “Displays of emotion have always got me into trouble…until now.” Then he chose which people were probably safe to show some emotion to, and he could test, a little at a time, how much emotional expressiveness was received well by his colleagues and acquaintances. Over a period of time, he became increasingly comfortable, his friendships deepened, and he eventually said “I love you” to a woman who was happy to hear it.

“UNTIL NOW”!  With these two words you might get a new idea, see a new possibility, or feel a small hope and start the shift to an upward spiral of changed behavior and emotion, because it may have been true that you had trouble changing your thoughts…until now.

Depression Dis-Ables

Many of the smartest, most talented people I have treated in my career were not feeling smart or talented when we met. Gifted, successful people do not see their abilities when they are depressed. Just this week I sat with a successful salesman who described with sadness and frustration his inability to do the things that would make him feel more energetic and proud of himself. He knows he would feel better if he even called current customers, but he does not feel able to muster the energy to do it. He knows he would feel better if he went out with his wife this weekend but he does not feel able to be in a good mood. He knows he would feel better if he went to his fantasy football kickoff party but does not feel able to converse with so many people.

Like many with depression, he does not want to be so isolated and lethargic, yet he cannot seem to make himself move. And, like many, he blames himself for this. He sees the mess he is in and believes he should be able to see a way out of the mess, yet he cannot think of what to do first. But he blamed himself less when he learned how depression dis-ables his problem-solving skills.

The tragic irony of depression is that the disorder itself prevents you from seeing how to get out of it. This inability to see solutions does not reflect your will power or smarts or being a good person. This is a brain-based issue. The theory is that low serotonin levels in the brain create depression symptoms and make it hard to find a way to resolve them. Low serotonin, in its effects in different parts of the brain, makes you less able:

1 – to see the good things in your world. You will see unfairness much more.

2 – to be optimistic about outcomes. Pessimism rules.

3 – to see options for solving your problems. You will feel more helpless.

In other words, no matter how able you are, depression dis-ables you. You not only see life as more unfair and your problems as insurmountable, you also feel less able to cope with whatever you are facing.

But knowing this sense of dis-ability is a symptom, not a reflection of reality, you may still be stuck. If you cannot see options, you cannot see options. Much in the same way as if you have a cataract on your eye; the world looks dim and dull, and you logically know that your cataract may be changing your vision, but you see what you see through the dulling lens. You cannot see it differently until the cataract is removed. Then you may say “OH! Now I know what I was missing,” but you cannot know that until light comes through a clear lens.

This is why you need outside help when you feel depressed. You need the input of someone who understands that your view of life is colored by your depression. The positive news is that while depression dis-ables your view of the world and your belief in yourself, making small steps will raise energy, motivation and optimism the will enable you to do more. Another person can help you figure out steps to follow: Steps that are not too big to manage with your lowered energy and pessimism but are effective to raise your energy enough to make more steps possible.

So, talk to your “visionary” – a therapist or good friend – about what you might do today to feel a little better. See yourself through their eyes – and take in their encouragement and belief in your ability to do a small thing. And I specifically mean small, because for this to work, the steps you take can’t require too much energy at first: walk that dog an extra five minutes, call one friend to ask how she is, stop comparing yourself to others. These and many other small steps can make big changes happen.

How can small steps change anything? Again, this is brain-based. When you accomplish something, no matter how small, your brain recognizes the positive movement and generates good feelings, raising your energy and motivation. So, every time you make a small step successfully, your ability to do more grows. The biggest obstacle to feeling able again is believing small steps matter. Your helper can point out that depression dis-ables and remind you that starting small is enough. Small successes create the brain activity that prompts you to more. A step at a time, you become able once again.