Upgrade your thinking to colour

Black and white tellies were all very well in the days before you could buy a reasonably priced colour set. But let’s face it – the world looks better in colour, and few would go back to those days of monochrome.

I’m slowly realising that the same is true of the way I think. I am often guilty of what a therapist might call ‘black and white thinking’. For instance, if I were responsible for proofreading something, then spotted a missing comma or full stop in the final, printed publication, I would want nothing to do with it, no matter how much work I’d done on it or how good it was. My thinking can be that absolute.

Black and white thinking is the domain of the perfectionist. Yep, guilty again. If something I’ve done isn’t perfect, it’s no good at all. I could, for instance, draw a picture of a tranquil beach for my parents – a place we’d been to on holiday, and which held happy memories for us all – and feel annoyed every time I looked at it because I hadn’t drawn the rocks as well as I’d have liked. Do mum and dad like the picture? Yes. Is it framed and on their kitchen wall? Yes. Am I happy with it. Er, well no. You see, the shading just isn’t right on those rocks. The way I’ve drawn them makes them look closer than they should, and… Ah, there I go again.

The two examples above are not imagined. They are real. This is how critical I have been of myself. Would I be this harsh to anyone else? Would I judge them with such eagle-eyed scrutiny? Of course not.

Here are some other examples of black and white thinking, or perfectionism, and the conclusions it can lead you to:

  • You take your children out for the day and everyone is having a great time, when suddenly the kids do something really silly. You lose your temper and shout at them. That’s it – day ruined. You’ve shouted at your children. That makes you a bad parent and an angry person. Self-loathing 1, self-esteem 0.
  • You once upset someone by choosing to do one thing instead of another. The fact they were upset with you (could be recently, could be years ago) means that you are a bad person who can’t be trusted to make good decisions. Oh, and that person hates you and holds a grudge against you and that makes you feel annoyed with them. How dare they judge you? Time for an imaginary argument.

In my case, this kind of thinking is part and parcel of depression. I don’t know which came first: the negative thinking or the depression. They feed each other.

I am trying to trade in this negative, black and white thinking for something more rainbow-hued. I’m trying to put into practice the things I’ve learned from counselling and from wise friends. Take, for example, 2011. It would be easy for me to look back at this past year and label it a bad year. I started the year on a pretty good note. I finished my counselling and felt good about myself. But by the autumn, I was on a downward spiral and depression was back with a vengeance. Therefore, Black-and-white Me would conclude, I have failed to get better and this year might as well not have happened.

That, though, would not be an honest or fair review of this year. Lots of very good things have happened, as I can see when I look back through the notebook I’ve been writing positive things in every day since January 2011. Things like the pantomime I’ve just been in; a lovely weekend away with my wife at our friends’ wedding; some exciting new experiences; meeting some fantastic people; and starting this blog.

Writing about depression has been one of the most beneficial things I have ever done. I have been truly humbled by the way people have responded. I’ve had so many encouraging conversations, read so many supportive comments, and none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t had depression. My evil alter-ego, Paul Brookes, is not going to like reading this – but he has inadvertently inspired me. 

Thank you everyone for your help, guidance, empathy and support since I started this blog. Each positive comment is a poke in the eye or a kick up the backside for Brookes, and another step in the right direction for me.

I hope that if you’re experiencing depression or any other mental illness that you can turn it on its head in 2012 and find the inspiration that will propel you out of it. Maybe we can all start living our lives in colour.


29 Comments on “Upgrade your thinking to colour”

  1. Jen Jones says:

    Hurrah for multicolour!

  2. I know exactly what you mean, I am the same. Trouble is, I mostly do nothing at all rather than doing something imperfectly!

    • paulbrook76 says:

      That’s true of all of us, I think, Sue. So we may as well give up on chasing perfection and try being happy instead! Having said that, if I spot any typos in my reply I will disown it! : )

  3. Ali says:

    Truly inspiring, will try to ditch the black and white and go for multi coloured!

  4. Jayne McDaid says:

    Paul. You have just inspired me to finally do something about my anxiety/OCD/general bonkersness!!!
    The black and white thing really struck a cord and it’s defiantly the right time to kick it into touch – We are planning some home renovations in the new year and instead of being anxious about the mess and no doubt drive my lovely husband and son crazy, I want to be full of positivity and look forward to our fantastic new kitchen (with an island if the budget will stretch!?!) There are some deeper issues I know i will have to get to grips with, but anything is better than being ruled by this stupid fascination of having everything looking perfect all of the time!
    Thank you so much for your post on your blog, I stumbled upon it completely by accident, but it really seems to have motivated me (I’ve booked some hypnotherapy sessions) Good luck in your quest for happiness and peace of mind 🙂

  5. rob enticknap says:

    Hi Paul,
    Came across your blog for the first time via a Twitter from Jeremy Vine, so glad I did. I have struggled with life this year having tried to kill myself using helium gas on 19th December 2010. So with this “anniversary” this week I’ve had a bad week just trying to justify having this extra year just gone.
    Have I done anything to justify my existence, have I done anything for anybody else that proves a good reason for this year. It’s a hard question for me and not really answered, yet your blog does give me a lot to think about. Perfection, rejection and attention needing and more have all been talked about in counseling. And will continue into 2012 and I hope I “can turn it on its head in 2012 and find the inspiration that will propel you out of it” and live my life in a better colour.

    Thanks for your words, they touched me deep inside.


    • paulbrook76 says:

      My pleasure, Rob. Very happy to help. And I don’t think you should feel you have to justify your existence. Just ‘be’ and take each moment and each day one at a time. I’m trying to learn not to expect too much of myself.

      Good luck with the recovery.


    • Hey Rob

      Please, please do not go down the path of ‘justifyiing your existence!’ That’s a cancer which will eat you up. You’re here. You’ve survived. You’re talking about it and you’re seeking help. That’s all you need to do. You don’t need to earn the right to be here. You are here and by being here, you will touch people and be touched. Recovery takes a long time. Congratulations on reaching your first anniversary and I’m praying there will be many, more more which will get easier to face every year.

      Take care,


      • rob enticknap says:

        Hi Chrissie, Firstly thank you for taking the time to send me your kind words. Depression and Anxiety are both extremely difficult for non sufferers to understand and even harder for them to actually talk about to someone going through such a private dark place. It would be so much easier to talk to people if I’d “just” broken my leg. I wandered in the world of Paul via Twitter and see it as a blessing to have been given this opportunity to read his words and meet good people like yourself.
        It has been a difficult week for various reasons but with the professional help I am now getting – and just taking it hour by hour, every day keeping going – I do want to feel a brighter button in 2012. In a way I had to get this first anniversary out of the way, it was the “elephant in the room” scenario. One of the pointers my therapist has brought out of our meetings has been the inclusion in a lot of my conversation of the word “should” – and I’m realizing it’s used even more times when “talking to myself”. As in “how should I be”, or “what should I say” or “what should I do”. Now if that one word can be changed to “want” it takes on a whole different mind set. It’s just little things like that which can encourage change.
        Anyway, enough rambling I guess, thanks again and I wish you a peaceful Christmas – doing what you “want” to do.

      • paulbrook76 says:

        Ah yes, ‘should’. That’s an old enemy of mine too. At least we’re aware of it. Next step – let’s kick it into touch!

      • Hi Rob, thought I’d share a little victory in our war on depression for you following your comment about the word ‘should’. That comment really reverberated (sorry if I’ve spelt that wrong, but I DON’T CARE AN MORE!! ha ha!) with me. I took that comment away, changing some of my ‘shoulds’ – which are legion – to wants…. and made a few decisions which have meant for the first time in over 20 years I’ve had a peaceful, restful Christmas. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that my ‘shoulds’ (which I usually manage to train), seem to have developed a way to slip the leash during the Festive period. There are sadly so many triggers for me as a Vicar’s wife and at a time when I ‘want’ to be celebrating the birth of Jesus, my ‘shoulds’ go crazy and It usually takes me months to recover from the slough of despond.

        What beggars belief is that I am an old hand at listening out for the ‘shoulds’. I’m a counsellor with some 10 years experience working with troubled teens and if I had a pound for every ‘should’ they say, I would retire a very rich woman. But, somehow during Christmas, I forget to take my own medicine.

        So a big thank you, Rob, to you for reminding me of a very important fact. It was a very timely reminder. Such a simple little language twist, but the change in mind set is so powerful and it gives us courage sometimes to make decisions which can only affect us (and those we love and who love us) for the best.

        And thank you to Paul, because without your blog we all wouldn’t be able to give and get the support we need to continue kicking our evil alter egos up the jacksie.

        Wishing you and everyone who contributes to this blog a peaceful, restful New Year, doing (as you so wisely say Rob) what we ‘want’, not what we ‘should’ do.

        Take care everyone.

      • paulbrook76 says:

        Thanks Chrissie – and a properly happy new year to you and everyone who’s so kindly supported me in my first few months as a blogger. Thanks everyone!

  6. Steve Houlihan says:

    Thank you for this blog, brought to my attention by Jeremy Vine of Radio 2.
    Although I have not been diagnosed with depression, partly due to the fear of being diagnosed as being “ill” as I like to appear strong, and partly due to often feeling I should just kick myself up the backside and cheer up, I do think I suffer with depression and relate to much of what you write. So to read your comments helps me in dealing with my self in my own way. I feel I’m not bad enough to go and bother a doctor with my problems, but sometimes I almost crave someone to talk to and offer whatever help they can.
    Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments on depression.
    And I hope you continue to post next year and into the future and continue improving your outlook on life and yourself.

  7. Roy Wallace says:

    Hi Paul,
    I too came across your blog via Jeremy Vine on Twitter! Thank goodness I have had a real bad year with my depression, but am trying hard to move on and things are definetly on the up, dare I say it …but I am definitely recovering!! However I am a little nervous about going to stay with my Brother and his family over Christmas, but somehow your words have realy helped ..thank you, and have a very good 2012


  8. Lois says:

    Thank god! I thought I was the only one who had thought patterns like that. It definitely feels easier knowing I’m not the only one. Thanks for posting this.

  9. John Beesley says:

    Hi there,
    Sounds as though you’re writing about me! I’m still in therapy and had a few things take place that I really could have done without this year, but, I’ll try and take a leaf from your book.
    Have a great Christmas and a an even better new year. Don’t stop blogging!

  10. Jan says:

    Thank you Jeremy Vine for pointing me here! I don’t know you, or anything about you, but I know I am now following you! And that I can empathise with you – big style. Sharing your life as you do here is a wonderful gift for others afflicted by depression in its many forms – and let’s face it, we are all different and it “attacks” each of us in a slightly different way, and each of us finds our own way through it or out of it, sometimes in life, sometimes in death. Those who have never suffered have no comprehension of how your life is dictated by your black shadow that seems intent on keeping your true, shining, and joyful self from emerging and enjoying life. They say life is a journey, and some of us have a hillier route to follow than do others.

    Wishing you well, a Happy Christmas and a new year of positivity. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Keep well.

  11. Al i kan say is weldune for givin Paul Brookes a gigantic kic up the jacksie!! That’s the beste Christmas presente you could give him! Hurrah!

    Speaking as a ‘trying to reform perfectionist’, I can so relate to your post and the comments by everyone. Some of them are so moving.

    During one of my dark times, I heard a lovely chinese proverb about two water vases, used to collect water from a well and take it to a house. One is perfect, no cracks or flaws. It carries all the water back to the house. The other has chips, flaws and water pours out all the way back to the house. There’s hardly anything left by the time it reaches the cooking pot. One day the flawed pot (stay with me here!) complains to it’s master. Why do you keep using me when I’m so broken and flawed? Why not just get rid of me? I’m not fit for purpose!’ The ‘master’ replies, ‘Who tells you what your purpose is? Just look around you’. So the pot does and all the way to the house on it’s side of the road are beautiful flowers, all nourished by the water seeping out from it’s cracks. I reckon the trouble we perfectionists have is we think we know our purpose, but actually our purpose might be different, or at least more complicated than we think. Eg, I’ve felt terrible for snapping at the kids on a great family day, but maybe (seeing how they now cope so much better than me with truculent friends and grumpy relatives) it’s helped them learn to cope and not be devastated. I’ve looked around my house with more than it’s fair share of clutter and dirt and worried about not being the perfect housewife, but if a perfect house is so important, why is it my messy house is always the one everyone drops into?

    …..Anyway come on everyone, admit it don’t we find true perfectionists a wee bit boring? 🙂

    There’s a lotta love out there for you Paul (and Paul Brookes if he will deign to receive it), because you are daring to speaking truthfully and that’s touching people’s souls Keep writing and taking care of yourself. At Christmas, I try very hard to remember the babe who made the ultimate sacrifice, none of us is good enough, all of us have fallen short, but he loves us just the same. Now, remind Mr Paul Brookes of that one, I would like to hear him yelp!

  12. Hey there fantastic blog! Does running a blog like this
    take a great deal of work? I’ve no knowledge of computer programming however I had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyways, should you have any suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share. I understand this is off subject however I just wanted to ask. Appreciate it!

  13. […] Mr Perfectionist, and you can’t please everyone all the time. Most situations are not a case of all or nothing. Save your best for when you really need it. Imagine you’re a car – too many extra miles and […]

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