Depression After a Double Mastectomy

A few months before our first session, Ebby had undergone a double mastectomy operation due to breast cancer. She felt depressed and had recurrent nightmares accompanied with prolonged bouts of crying. She was taking hormone injections which made her drowsy at night and acted like sleeping pills.

She was a member of the local mastectomy support group and had a therapy session twice a week with a psychologist who listened to her and had suggested her to read two self-help books. She also avoided going out with her friends. She would pour her heart out to her loving husband every night. He was very empathetic and would attentively listened to her. She also talked about her feelings to her friends, sisters and a close aunt. At times she tried to distract herself from sad thoughts by listening to music.

As most depressed people, she had built a relationship with others based on dependence. When she talked to close friends and family on a daily basis about her depression, she felt better for a while but soon she felt sad and frustrated once again. I pointed out to her that talking on a daily basis to others about her depression wouldn’t help her in the long run. She agreed, because she too realized this was true. I said that since she was seeing a psychologist twice a week, it would be interesting to avoid talking to anyone except her therapist about her problems for the next two weeks. I suggested this to her to try as an experiment. I also gave her the task of writing down her feelings and her thoughts on paper, every day for few minutes.

Two weeks later, Ebby said that she felt slightly better. She had realized that she was acting like a victim. She had noticed that some of the people who listened to her actually pitied her. I reminded her that all those people had good intentions but were not aware of some of the negative effects of their support. The daily writing exercise had allowed her to ‘vomit’ lots of nasty feelings and sad thoughts to the point that she had entertained a few positive thoughts.

She said that some images were stuck inside her head and tormented her, causing her sadness. I had her practice a technique to dim the lights on those images and turn them into black and white.

I explained, “Those images are a part of your past. You cannot change your past but you can keep them in your internal galley of life photos as small and black and white images.”

I then had her enlarge happy images from her life memories and turn them into color photos. She could look at these color images and even if she wanted she could turned them into a movie. We practiced this technique in the session and gave her the assignment of practicing it for a couple of weeks.

Next session Debby walked in with a happy expression. She said that she had left the previous session feeling good. The technique had helped her to look at those small images in black and white and not feel sad.

“I believe in magic!”, Ebby said with a smile. “I have some bright colored photos of me, my husband and my child that I carry with me in my mind. They make me happy.”

I next saw Ebby two months later. I was happy to hear that she was happy and free from depression.