Ten years ago, a poignant film titled The Wackness was released. It chronicled the summer of a lonesome teenage boy named Luke Shapiro, who spent most of his time selling marijuana and attempting to court a popular teenage girl from his school. In the story, Luke spent a lot of his time with his psychiatrist, who had the maturity level of an adolescent. And, although there were some great takeaways from their interactions together, the movie’s profundity lied not in its coming of age story, as expressed in the spirit of Luke’s dialogues with Dr. Squires, but in a comment made by Luke’s love interest; on a hot summer night, while both were skinny-dipping in the ocean, she said to him, “Know what your problem is, Shapiro? It’s that you just have this really shitty way of looking at things, ya know? I don’t have that problem. I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, ya know?” It was in that moment that I knew that something of profound significance had been said, that the universe had given me one of its great secrets.
Throughout the film, it was evident that Luke was struggling with depression, thus making his predominant thinking pattern understandable. Individuals who struggle with clinical depression tend to engage in a dysfunctional thinking style called Mental Filtering, as well as in its cousin, a thinking style called Disqualifying The Positive. Mental Filtering encompasses the mind’s inability to perceive the good in oneself, in others, and in the world; it’s the brain’s way of acknowledging only certain types of evidence, while causing any form of positive information to bounce off (aka filtering it out), as though it never existed. Individuals struggling with clinical depression tend to subsequently believe that it is they who see the world as it truly is, unaware of the dark-colored shades which obscure their perception, while warping their clarity.
Throughout my life, particularly in depressive episodes, I’ve found myself using Mental Filtering fairly often, over-focusing my mind on life’s wackness. I discovered myself doing it just recently, after another failed romantic endeavor, as I was beating myself up and telling myself that love just wasn’t for me. In those moments, I was sure of my clarity; I believed, with all of my being, that I was seeing life, my life, as it were: one big indicator of my unlovability. I was unable to express gratitude for any of its good, because I deeply believed that its good didn’t exist.
Although those dark moments feel like they last lifetimes, they do eventually pass; and I do eventually remember the dopeness of it all: I remember my friends; I remember my family; I remember my work and how much I’ve helped people; and I remember all of the little success that I’ve had along my journey, the ones which I never thought were possible. But, during my falls, those moments of my deepest despair, all of it falls away; and, that’s what it’s like to experience clinically significant depression: it’s the inability to acknowledge the good.
What I use, and recommend for my clients to use, is a journal; I’ve created a journal that’s full of all of the aspects of my life for which I’m grateful. I started writing them down when I felt positively about myself, and continued to do so on my good days. Whenever I’m feeling down, I try to remind myself to look at it; and when I do, it almost always helps; I say almost because when I’m feeling really down, I also use the other terrible thinking style, Disqualifying The Positive, where I convince myself that the good parts don’t count for whichever various reasons. I’ve since created rational defenses against those type of thoughts, which I remind myself of when I’m absolutely certain that nothing good has ever happened to me.
So, here I am, once again having to remind myself, and others, of the beauty and dopeness of life, telling myself that romantic relationships can’t, and don’t, define me, that I’ve had successes and failures, like everyone else, and that I’m worthy of being loved. Today, at this point and in this moment, the wackness is almost completely out of sight.