Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Saved My Life

August 21, 2009

How did I beat severe anxiety and depression? How did I lose seventy pounds? How did I take my destiny into my own hands and save my life? Of course the answer is complicated but the first step is not. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a fairly simple process that transformed the way that I think. Over the course of six months, I learned how to eliminate poisonous, debilitating thoughts from my mind. I ended a lifetime of crushing fear and began a new life of freedom, peace, and joy. Now I am going to teach you how you can do the same.

(Scroll down to the bottom if you are interested in some back story.) After several years out of therapy (reliant on medication) I decided to return. My therapist was an angel. She told me that I was suffering from anxiety and depression and that it was very treatable. I thought that she was insane. It just could not be that simple or logical. I had been depressed and suicidal forever. Things had gotten so bad that sometimes I lost touch with reality. When she told me that I could get better and that it was only a matter of changing my thought processes, I nearly walked out of her office. I knew that I was screwed up, perhaps schizophrenic, definitely a lost cause.

Today, I know that I was very wrong and she was very right. My depression was severe but it was a direct result of negative, irrational thoughts. My anxiety was also severe (so severe that it caused me to disassociate at times) but it too was a direct result of negative, irrational thoughts. Though I had tried CBT years earlier, this time it would be different. This time it would save me.

Every single person experiences negative, irrational thoughts to some degree. But what varies from person to person is the frequency and the intensity of these thoughts. If you are reading this post because you want help, there is a good chance that negative, irrational thoughts are destroying your life. You will change that. If you are reading this post because you want to fill your life with joy and eliminate pain, you will achieve that. Taking control of your thoughts will enable you to obtain emotional freedom and to live a life of peace and joy.

“The present moment is the still point around which the universe arises and subsides, only to be reborn again, fresh as a new born child.” —Deepak Chopra

CBT means something different to every therapist, to every person that practices it, and to every person that studies it. If you do a quick search you will find countless articles on CBT. It can really get quite overwhelming. I am going to ask that you don’t go there. For me, CBT is extremely simple and extremely powerful. Simply put, CBT is changing your negative, irrational thoughts into positive, rational thoughts. Here’s how you do it.

Recognize and Admit
First, you have to recognize two types of thoughts: negative-irrational and positive-rational. Here are some examples.

a. It is raining out this morning. I am definitely going to have a bad day.
b. My parents are on the verge of losing their house. This is all my fault. I should have never been born.
c. That guy just hit my bumper. Just my luck. I can’t afford this. I’m going to be late for work. I’m going to get fired. Bad things always happen to me. I am doomed.

a. It is raining out this morning. Good thing, the flowers really need the water.
b. I am sad about my parents financial situation. I am grateful that I have been such a good daughter. I will give them love and support but I will also recognize that their problems are not my own.
c. That guy just hit my bumper. Thank God I am not hurt and we were both doing the speed limit. This could have been a lot worse.

Negative thoughts like the ones above might not be debilitating but when a person becomes consumed by such thoughts, mental illness thrives. When I was suffering from depression and anxiety, I had no idea that 99% of the thoughts passing through my mind were negative and irrational. I had been living unconsciously for so long and because it was all I ever knew, I didn’t know that there was something wrong with it. I thought that it was normal. Meanwhile, my mind and my thoughts were killing me slowly.

Once you have recognized these two thought types you have to admit that you experience them both. You have to admit to what degree you practice negative, irrational (NI) thinking. To what degree are your thoughts NI? Do you have a NI thought once or twice a day or are the majority of thoughts that pass through your mind NI? Admit the truth to yourself, next you will deal with it.

Change by Practice
I was not going to be so easily convinced. Yes I was anxious and depressed but I was not sure that changing my thoughts was going to fix anything and even if it would I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do it. My therapist gave me homework and I am about to give you some. Pay attention here, this is the single most important step to initiate CBT. These are the actions that will change your life:

*Every time you start to feel anxious or depressed, write down the thoughts that pass through your mind.

*Later, analyze these thoughts. How many of them are NI? Change the NI thoughts into positive, rational ones. Write down the positive rational ones.

*If you want to eliminate poisonous, debilitating thoughts from your life, you must do this every single day until it becomes automatic.

Automatic Positive, Rational Thoughts

I remember the first time that I automatically converted a NI thought to a positive, rational one. After months of writing my thoughts down on paper and changing them later, one day it happened automatically. I was on a walk through a forest and suddenly overcome by a sense of doom, panic set in. Something terrible is going to happen, I started but then I stopped myself, No. I am on a walk. It is a beautiful day. I am safe, happy, healthy. And that was how it started, that was when my life began to change.

With time, patience, and practice it gets easier and easier. One day you will wake up and find yourself automatically changing your NI thoughts into positive, rational ones. You will have taken back control of your mind. It really is that simple. My story can be your story. Most people have no idea what an impact the human mind has. We can not conceive that negative thought processes are capable of ruining our lives, our spirits, and our bodies — but they are! With CBT you will stop the cycle.

“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.” —Marianne Williamson

Your life of freedom, peace, and joy is waiting for you. Get on the path. Begin your journey now.

Back story: Until CBT, I suffered from mental illness my entire life. From the time I was a girl, I endured anxiety and crippling panic attacks. One example is the year that I developed a terrible preoccupation with my younger sister. I had to know where she was at all times. If I could not get to her I would become hysterical, convinced that something tragic had happened. Later in life I became depressed. Through my adolescence suicidal thoughts were a con
stant. I wrote pages and pages of poetry on the subjects of blood and tears. In elementary school I became significantly overweight. These problems worsened as I got older. During my junior year as an undergraduate, I decided that something needed to change.


  • Anonymous

    I have been reading your blog and I have to say that you are a special person with a lot to offer. Thanks so much for sharing your story; it has helped me so much!

    I am a recovering alcoholic (I came to this site from Jared's). I was in serious emotional pain and I was empty inside. I knew that something had to change BUT I didn't know how or what to do. For me, I first had to removed the alcohol and give my mind, heart and soul time to heal. It was almost 10 months ago since my last drink. I also joined a website/forum that helped me sober up by reading about how others beat alcoholism and I shared my story as well. That place saved my life. Those two actions – stopping drinking and taking time to heal – gave me the opportunity to see everything in a different light. The door was now opened and I knew now that I needed to explore. So I went out on the web looking for other resources and hence here I am.

    I don't know if I was depressed and drank to relieve that OR if my drinking made me that way (chicken / egg). This question used to scare me because I didn't want to be "depressed." But now it doesn't matter so much because I am no longer consumed with how bad I feel and why. I took action (quit drinking and looked for helped) and it is all starting to pay-off. I am becoming calm and serene and I know now that alcohol is not good for me; it guts my core. I now also know that I don't have to feel bad (think negatively). I am in control of my thoughts / moods / emotions / feels AND perceptions if I allow myself to be. This is so freeing and I am becoming happier than I thought I could ever be.

    You helped me in my transformation and I just wanted to say thanks!


  • Dena

    @mk – I can not tell you how much it means to me to know that my words and thoughts meant something to you. I am so proud of you for coming this far in your journey. Keep up the amazing work. I will keep you in my thoughts and send you love and positivity from afar.

  • Greg

    I know its been a while since you posted this, but thanks for doing so.

    Only just recently have I realised that the treatment I had been receiving was CBT ( we just never discussed the name in our sessions )

    I think you have explained it really well, so well in fact that I have bookmarked this post so that I can keep refering back to it.


  • Dena

    @Greg – I am so happy that my explanation of CBT has helped you in some way. CBT is ruly a revolutionary method for treating all sorts of problems. It is a light in the dark so to speak.

    I hope that the treatment continues to help you on your path. I am wishing you light, love, & happiness.

    Thank you for visiting Evolution!

  • Grant R. Nieddu

    Dena, you rock. You are beautiful!

    I have a similar story (depression, identity issues), and the path to health that you discuss was absolutely instrumental for me.

    I did not have all of this great language to help me at the time. It must have been a sub-conscious pulling toward being the ultimate Me.

    Thanks for standing on this message. It is VERY powerful and will spark and light many people's lives!

  • Dena

    @Grant – Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your own inspirational story. I am headed over to your site now.

    Thanks again!

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    Anxiety is just repeatedly experiencing failure in advance. —Seth Godin

  • The Dame

    Ive been on medication without therapy for the past two years due to a reoccurance of depression and anxiety.  The medication has helped me realise that Ive suffered anxiety my entire life and never knew it wasnt normal.  Ive started seeing a CBT and trying to keep a mood diary but Im not really sure what my mood is, apart from probably unattached.  Im looking forward to getting off the meds and handling life normally.  I dont have irrational thinking, but I do worry a lot. Thank you for your article.

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  • Daisy

    Hi Dena, Your personal account in overcoming severe anxiety is inspirational. If you remember, how long did it take to begin to notice a difference in your symptoms?

  • Al

    I have a question – did you find you had to keep writing the same fears down until they disappeared? I’m doing something similar, and finding I’m having to write down and rationalize some of the same old stuff. Just wondering when it will start to sink in.

  • aw

    OMG it sounds like me. I’m 43 and been having trouble since I was 14yr. I’m all but exhausted with trying to get myself out of this emotional rollercoaster. I have an 8yr son, and 6yr daughter. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll be around another year living like that. Will get your ebook! Thanks for sharing!

  • Ryan

    Hi Dena ive been battling anxiety and depression for a few years now but always thinking it was normal and was to scared to do anything about it, had a bad turn a few days ago told a friend about it and she told me to check your page out. Had a read and feeling soooo much relive that you were going through the same things and that you can actually change it makes me so happy. I see my first psychologist next week :-) cant wait to change my life

    • denabotbyl

      Hi Ryan! Thanks for stopping by. I am thrilled for you. You are about to experience some extraordinary, positive change. Best of luck on your journey!!

  • Tom

    I just found your article today. I have been lost in anxiety and depression for over 10 years now. I appreciate your post and your explaination of CBT. I am working with a counselor now but what you described has enlightened me. It is hard to believe that 10 years have been impacted by negative thinking. I am going to change that. I think my biggest obstacle is realizing it takes time. Thank you!

  • A-M

    Dear Dena,

    I was indeed scrolling through the disorder and CBT pages and feeling overwhelmed before coming across this post of yours! Thank you so much for writing this, being so honest in sharing your experiences and giving advice and guidance! I feel much better already after merely reading this short post, even without doing anything:) Am much more clear about what I need to do now to live a fuller life :>

  • Jordan

    Hi Dena,

    Just want to say a massive thank you for sharing this article. I’ve been in and out of CBT therapy for about 3 years now, and apart from a few rare glimpses of normality I’ve never really felt any benefits as Ive always ended up confused and overwhelmed followed by giving up. You have helped to make me see it so simple and from this moment I will start practicing the basics again. I never thought a stranger would have such an impact on my life! Thanks again.

  • Devina Andrea

    Hi.. I’m so thankfull today because I found your article, read it step by step… and it is like wake me up from some situation I use to do. Thank you so much! I’ll learn to think positive from now on.. God bless! 😉

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