Tag Archives: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #23

by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2018


Today’s fortune says:

A single conversation with a wise man is worth ten years of study.


Here are the Top Five Pieces of Advice I’ve received thus far:

“Keep the pen moving.” Andy Couturier, top notch writing teacher.

“Remember, it’s not about you.” My mental health pros explaining what motivates other people’s hurtful behaviors, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Oy!

“Why is this happening NOW?” Darrell Schweitzer on the problem that starts a story.

“To combat depression, count your blessings every night by keeping a daily list in a journal, notebook, etc.” I can’t remember which of my therapists first suggested this idea. It’s advice I pass along frequently when I meet someone else struggling with depression.

“If your pain is getting in the way of your writing, maybe you need to make room in your writing for your pain.” The LCSW who was my therapist for the longest stretch, which included the worst disasters of my benighted life.

Yes, I have Major Depressive Disorder. Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a crayon. And yes, I’ve spent most of my life in cognitive behavioral therapy, starting at age 11 when my parents divorced and starting again in a big way when I was 28. I’m now 52, and frankly, there’s no end in sight.

So I follow Stephen King’s advice. “Read, read, read. Write, write, write.” Because, really, stories are what make life worth living.




Filed under Blog challenges, creativity, Depression, Family, Fiction, historical fiction, Lillian Csernica, therapy, Writing

Clone Me, Please!

by Lillian Csernica on October 7, 2015

Stress.  It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Today Chris took Michael in to have blood drawn so the doctors can see if his kidneys are still improving and the new diet is providing correct nutrition.

Tomorrow I take Michael to the specialist who will check his muscle tone, adjust his Baclofen pump if necessary, and decide whether or not Michael can return to school on Monday.

Tomorrow is also the day I see my therapist.  Thank God she’s willing to do a phone session.

I just got email from John’s teacher/caseworker offering me four dates and times in the next two weeks for John’s annual IEP.  Today is Wednesday, right?  The first of the four choices is this coming Monday.  I need notice, dammit!  We run on some very tight schedules around here.

The second date doesn’t work because in order to attend the IEP Chris has to take a day off of work.  The second choice is a week from today, also a Wednesday.  Taking a day off in the middle of the week causes problems.

The third choice is the 19th, which doesn’t work because I’ll be packing for a week away from home.

The fourth choice doesn’t work because I will be on a plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

On the 16th I have a doctor appointment.

On the 26th Michael has a checkup with his gastroenterologist, whom we kept up to date on all of Michael’s travails during his two months in Oakland.  I should be at that appointment, since I’m the one who was at Ground Zero for all the hospital events, but I will still be away from home.

And the 31st is Halloween, of course, which is one of John’s favorite days of the year.  One of mine as well, because I really do enjoy seeing the costumes and giving out candy and/or little toys.  It will be nice to end this month on a festive note.

The 31st is also my deadline for two 2500 word short stories that must be set 30 days apart and relate to each other in some way.  I have a roughdraft on the first story.  I’m 1/3 into the second story.  There will be no doing five drafts per project on these.  I’m going to have to slam them out and hope for the best.

Think happy thoughts for me, my comrades-in-stress.  How do you folks handle this kind of high intensity scheduling?


Filed under Baclofen pump, Depression, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration

The Top Five Things I Hate About Keeping Up My Mental Health

by Lillian Csernica on June 16th, 2015

1) Putting up with other people’s unmet needs, perception gaps, etc.

I’ve had enough therapy and psychiatric help with my depression to have some understanding of psychodynamics.  This means that now and then I can make a somewhat educated guess about why certain people are doing certain things.  This does not mean I have any right to grab such people by the collar and give them a lecture on how they could stop being so aggravating.  Such understanding of their suffering compels me to show compassion.  Yes, that’s the high road, and it’s the best road.  I will admit that there are days when I’m stuck in emotional traffic and the Low Road is the only one I can travel.  There are other days when I am sick and tired of putting up with some people and whatever it is they do that makes my life that much harder.  When I’m having a bad day, I do try to warn the people who have to live with me.  I’ve been told more than once that Person X is sick of living with my problems.  Guess what?  SO AM I!  I don’t want to be the way I get on my bad days.  Which brings me back to putting up with other people.  I think a few of them really do enjoy the emotional drama.  There are others who are trapped inside their problems just like I am.  For their sake, I have to take a deep breath and show them the understanding I hope for when that’s happening to me.

2) Knowing you really can build a ladder out of the Pit, even on the days when you don’t want to try.

Accountability is a pain in the ass.  One of the annoying but necessary functions of a therapist is the way he or she keeps me honest.  I used to say things like, “I hate life.”  The therapist I had then would say, “Really?  All of life?  Everywhere in the cosmos?”  Of course not.  There are kittens and ice cream and sexy movie stars and good books.  So we’d narrow it down to what I was actually hating on that particular day.  Get the sense of being overwhelmed under control.  Check.  Discuss why I’m hating that particular person or thing on that particular day.  Check.  Hate?  Really?  What are the feelings underneath?  Check.  Achieving a more balanced perspective on the situation.   Check.  Yes, all that is helpful.  Yes, all that is what I’m paying the therapist for.  Still, there are days when what I really need is a damn good hissy fit.

3) Enduring the armchair psychoanalysis of idiots without smacking them upside the head.

God save me from the fans of Oprah and Dr. Phil.  Thanks to the boys and to working at home, I don’t go out and mingle with the public as much as I used to do.  When Michael was little, if we took him out in his wheelchair people were constantly bugging Chris and me with all kinds of nosy questions and “helpful” suggestions.  Michael’s problems are largely physical, so they’re more obvious.  I don’t wear any kind of lapel pin or Medic-Alert bracelet that says “Major Depressive Disorder,” so people can’t see what’s “wrong” with me.  There are those people who have whatever empathetic abilities who seem to pick up on my gloomy vibes.  This is why I stay home if at all possible on bad days.  If there’s one thing I do not need when I’m in the Pit, it’s attracting the psychic vampires like a bug zapper at a Kentucky truck stop.  This is  just Stage One.  We move on to Stage Two when people start making all kinds of helpful suggestions.  Uh huh.  If I could just thank them for their concern and then run for it, I wouldn’t mind so much.  What really gets me are the stories.  This person’s sister.  This person’s aunt.  This person’s cousin.  After about ten minutes of listening to these people tell me all about what they know is really the problem, I am bitterly tempted to point out the probable cause and effect behind the behavior patterns I’ve witnessed just in the time they’ve been talking.  That never ends well, but now and then I feel justified in claiming self-defense.

4) When you do have a bad day, the people you live with think that just because you have a lot of good days, you should be able to snap out of it.  It does not work like that, but there’s no getting some people to grasp that fact.

What more can I say?  I’ve been married for twenty-seven years come next month.  I’ve been under treatment for my depression for a bit more than half that time.  (The depression had existed long before I got married, so please don’t assume it’s all my husband’s fault.)  There have been days when my mother, my sister, and/or my husband has asked me why I’m not better now.  There is no “better” in the sense of being cured.  Clinical depression cannot be cured, it can only be treated.  This lack of understanding makes good days difficult and bad days even worse.  Please see #1 and #3 for further details.

5)  Hating myself for being so needy on my bad days. 

It’s really grim knowing that I’m behaving like the very people I’m complaining about right here.  My own personal hell is lined with photographs of what I look like in the mirror when I see my face all blotchy and tear-streaked again.  A long time ago I learned when to tell my husband, “Stop trying to reason with me!  I am not rational right now!”  You know how men are wired.  Problem?  Solution!  Another problem?  More solutions!  I don’t want solutions.  I just want to scream and cry and do whatever it takes to lance the emotional boil inside me and drain that poison.  I realize this is not pleasant for the people who live with me.  This is why I lock myself in my room and I lock my pain up inside my head and I don’t let anybody know how much I need help.  This is not healthy, but it’s what makes sense at the time.  It’s what keeps me from being the kind of person I can’t stand, the kind of person I never want to be, the kind of person that I fight to understand and support on the days when I have enough strength to do so.

There’s that saying, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”  It’s not true.  For people who suffer from serious depression, life’s a bitch and then you wake up in the morning knowing you have to live through another day.

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Filed under charity, Depression, Family, therapy

Never A Dull Moment

by Lillian Csernica on October 26, 2014


 Monday — Did one last copy edit on Sword Master, Flower Maiden before I emailed the manuscript to my agent.  Does the story work?  Will she like it?  The waiting begins.



Tuesday —  Chris and I took John to see his neurologist for a checkup.  We discussed John’s medications and the difficulties he’s having with his schoolwork.  The doctor was not happy to hear about the communication trouble we’ve been having with the various people who help John at school.  The doctor’s orders: “Less homework, more social interaction.”


Wednesday — John’s triennial IEP.  He’ll be sixteen at the end of next month, so that means this was the last triennial he would have before he graduates.  That being the case, the school officials did all the appropriate assessments to compare those results with the assessments done when John was thirteen.  This meeting took three and a half hours.  Chris and I brought a letter from the neurologist giving his orders.  I had copies of emails I’d exchanged with John’s caseworker/teacher.  I asked for John’s one to one aide to be present.  I went in there with a list of questions and concerns and I walked out with every single one of them answered and addressed.  That was essential.  We’re facing John’s “transition,” which means we have to start looking at how he will function in the community once he graduates from high school.  This is stirring up all kinds of conflicting emotions inside me.  It’s not easy to focus and make long term decisions.

Thursday — I had an appointment with my new therapist.  Good timing on that one, right?



Friday — Another appointment, this one with my psychiatrist.  He thinks I’m doing pretty well handling the daily ups and downs around here, to say nothing of the big stuff like the IEP.

Saturday — My mother and I took John down to the community center where he was part of a “Zombie Flash Mob.”  He’d been attending the dance classes for three weekends, so he was looking forward to it.  We got him dressed up in some old clothes that we slashed up and stained red here and there.  The Mob organizers had makeup artists on hand, so John got quite the makeover.  When he looked in the mirror, he must have jumped a foot!  While we waited for Zero Hour, John and I joined the folks who were making masks.  John made one that looked like “Raven” from the Teen Titans.  I used green paint, green glitter, and pipe cleaners in red, brown, green and yellow to create Medusa!

Sunday — Here I am, folding clean laundry, putting up the last-minute Halloween decorations, and trying to catch up on everything else I had to push back this week.  My mother is downstairs with John working on her Halloween costume.  She’s going as a tree.  That’s right, a tree.  Complete with bark, leaves, a bird’s nest, and a squirrel.  Mom will be entering a costume contest.  Both Mom and my father contributed to my competitive streak.  In my family we’re quite fond of trophies.  😀  Another thing we’re quite fond of is naps.

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Filed under autism, Awards, chocolate, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, romance, Special needs, Writing

How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

by Lillian Csernica on September 23, 2014

People of Planet Earth, let’s work together to help each other get out of his or her own way.  How do we do that?  We stop the thought patterns inside our own heads that are self-defeating.  Worse, those patterns spread out and stain the lives of other people with our anger, depression, grief and pain.  If you think it’s a great virtue to clean up litter from the streets, parks, beaches, etc., then you will be delighted to identify and remove all the rubbish inside your own mind.

It’s appalling, how easily we hamstring ourselves.  It’s tragic, the way the trauma of one generation sinks in all the way to the genetic level and predisposes the next generation to susceptibility.  You want to learn resilience?  You want to protect yourself, your children, your grandchildren against the genetic fallout of all the stress and pain going on right here right now?  Read this list.  Read it again.  Take an honest look inside your own mind and identify which of these Styles has taken over your thoughts.

We can change.  We possess brains far superior to the greatest computers.  We have hearts, minds, and souls.  We can overcome these bad mental habits and stop spreading emotional pollution just as corporations who obey the clean air laws can install equipment that will help filter their pollutants and protect our atmosphere.  It’s a relief.  It really is.  Clear and direct communication means the message gets through without all the static generated by wrong assumptions and personal baggage.

Speaking as someone in recovery from Major Depressive Disorder, inasmuch as the condition can be “cured,” I assure you that learning to eliminate these patterns of Distorted Thinking will make your life so much simpler and easier.  You want to lose weight?  Start with the Distorted Thinking.  Eliminate that and you will shed a lot of what’s dragging you down.

Surrenderworks.com / Library / Imports ~

15 styles of Distorted Thinking


  • Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.
  • Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground.
  • Overgeneralization: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once you expect it to happen over and over again.
  • Mind Reading:  Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you.
  • Castastrophizing: You expect disaster. you notice or hear about a problem and start “what if’s”. What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you?”
  • Personalization: Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, etc.
  • Control Fallacies: If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.
  • Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won’t agree with you.
  • Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal.
  • Should: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.
  • Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be true-automatically. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring.
  • Fallacy of Change: You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hope for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
  • Global Labeling: You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment.
  • Being Right: You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
  • Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You feel better when the reward doesn’t come


Checklist for Hidden Anger
  • Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks.
  • Perpetual or habitual lateness.
  • A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.
  • Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation.
  • Frequent sighing.
  • over politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it”.
  • Smiling while hurting.
  • Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.
  • Over-controlled monotone speaking voice
  • Difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
  • Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about.
  • Slowing down of movements.
  • Getting tired more easily than usual.
  • Excessive irritability over trifles.
  • Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.
  • Sleeping more than usual / maybe 12 to 14 hours a day.
  • Waking up tired rather than rested or refreshed.
  • Clenched jaws or grinding of the teeth / especially while sleeping.
  • Facial tics, spasmodic foot movements, habitual fist clenching and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally or unaware.
  • Chronically stiff or sore neck or shoulder muscles.
  • Chronic depression… extended periods of feeling down for no reason.
  • Stomach ulcers.




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Filed under Depression, Family, Goals, love, marriage, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

World Autism Day

by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2014



Hello.  My name is Lillian, and I am the mother of an autistic child.

Went to see my therapist this morning.  Told her how tired I was of living this life.  This week is Spring Break, and so far every single day has been totally FUBAR.  (For those of you who don’t know what the acronym means, please take a moment to Google it.  Thank you.  I’ll wait.)

Monday — No aide for John.  Car trouble.

Tuesday — No aide for John.  Different aide.  Health issues.

Wednesday (today) — No nurse for Michael!  That was a nasty surprise that took four phone calls to sort out.  My husband had to watch Michael (Chris normally sleeps late due to his work shift) while I kept my therapy appointment.  My mother was driving, so I took John with me.  No aide for John today.  When I got home, I had three hours of Just Me & The Boys.  I’m not used to that.  Then the afternoon nurse showed up.

Thursday — The nurses are all sorted out.  Will John have an aide?  That remains to be seen.  Same for Friday.

Is it any wonder I can’t stand living in a constant state of crisis, of my support staff flaking out on me, of John being disappointed and his routine disrupted, of Michael not getting his medication on time and having a seizure?  I haven’t been sleeping more than about four hours a night lately because I ran out of one of my insomnia meds and getting the refill was the usual complicated mess.  There’s nothing like sleep deprivation to make even the smaller glitches seem like a few more anti-personnel mines thrown into my path as I struggle through the day.

Autism.  It’s taught me a whole new vocabulary, words like “neurotypical,” “noncompliant,” and “perseveration.”  I’ve learned about the Praise-Prompt-Withdraw method, the Prop-Rule-Role method, and the importance of preventing the anxiety spiral from gaining momentum.  You have to catch that when it starts or you’re in for what a boss I once worked for called, “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Yes, it’s a Biblical reference, and well it might be.  The Seven Plagues of Egypt have nothing on John when he’s well and truly in the grip of a full bore meltdown.

Autism has also taught me tolerance.  The ability to see people as individuals, each possessed of their own unique strengths and weaknesses.  The importance of not making assumptions, of not being judgmental, and of lending a helping hand at any and every opportunity.  I am no saint.  I have a bad temper made worse by depression and lack of sleep.  I get very frustrated when all the staffing crises and school problems and medical issues drag me away from my writing.  I can’t wait to run away to the next convention where I can leave this life for a few days and wallow in the companionship of my fellow writers, readers, and dreamers.

Part of me feels really guilty over not feeling guilty about that.

Autism is a spectrum disorder.  You know what?  BEING HUMAN IS A SPECTRUM DISORDER!

I don’t have any profound wisdom about this.  I have no eloquent, compassionate statement to make.  My one son is crippled for life physically, and my other son may well be suffering learning disabilities more serious than I had previously realized.  Life is tough for us.  The bottom line remains the same.  I love my sons with all my heart.  I will live this life seeing to it they both enjoy the greatest quality of life they can possibly achieve.


Filed under autism, Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, marriage, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

How Do You Spell H-A-P-P-Y?

by Lillian Csernica on May 14, 2013


Day 14: Ten things that make you really happy

I considered organizing this list in order of importance, but that feels a little too left-brained.  The very impulse to prioritize what makes me happy suggests a certain rigidity of thinking.  Different things make me happy in different ways and at different times.  One of the many benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is learning how to reframe situations, to develop flexibility in one’s thinking and perceptions.  So!  Here’s my Happy List, in no particular order:

 Ice cream.  At the moment my favorite flavor is Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra, but I’ll take any good chocolate, Neapolitan, spumoni, or seasonal flavors such as eggnog.

 Kittens.  Love those little tiny paws, the itty bitty fangs, and the way they can doze off in a sitting position and just topple over.

 Writing success.  Selling a short story, pushing through a rewrite, looking over an old piece of writing and now having the knowledge to make it what it could be….  And then there’s that feeling summed up by Dorothy Parker‘s comment, “I hate to write but I love having written.”  The actual labor can be a real pain, but oh the pleasure of knowing I’ve churned out another two thousand words!

 Finding just the right gift for someone and seeing that person surprised and happy.

 Getting mail.  I’m talking about greeting cards and handwritten notes and Christmas newsletters and graduation invitations and birth announcements.  I love the physical act of writing.  Choosing a favorite pen and going through my stationery wardrobe for just the right notecard or paper so I can write to someone is an old-fashioned pleasure that I hope never goes out of style.

 Peace and quiet.  I tend to stay up late.  I’m a night owl by nature.  Given that I grew up as a de facto only child, I’m used to being alone and there are times when I really prefer it.

Sleeping late.  Need I say more?

 Really bad sword & sorcery movies.  Remember Miles O’Keefe, star of the “Tarzan” movie with Bo Derek as Jane?  Miles went on to star in a few of the worst sword & sorcery movies ever made, featuring the main character known as Ator.  Then there’s “Hawk the Slayer,” with its really terrible leading man and some of the most pathetic attempts at special effects I’ve ever witnessed.  Green Silly String as magic?  Last but not least, any time I need some serious belly laughs, I watch any of the “Deathstalker” movies.

 Knowing my mother is proud of me.  When I sold SHIP OF DREAMS, Mom gave me a fully constructed model of an actual brigantine, which is the pirate ship and key setting of my novel.  I promptly got some plastic pirate figures from the party store and put them all over the deck and in the rigging!  That’s a big example.  All through my life my mother has given me cards and gifts both large and small as tokens of her pride.  She’s the one who got me addicted to collecting unusual bookmarks.  When I was eight years old and decided I wanted to be a writer, I told my mother I would dedicate my first novel to her.  The day I gave her a fresh new copy of my novel and watched her face as she read the dedication page will remain one of the happiest days of my life.

 My sons.  I love my boys.  Every accomplishment, every victory, even the tiniest sign of progress, is a source of joy to me.  The other day we were talking about how Michael needed a hair cut.  He said, “Barber.”  You have no idea how huge a moment that was!  For Michael to enunciate a new word clearly enough for us to understand him is a real triumph.  And then there’s John, who argues about his homework and struggles with some Social Studies projects and still made the Honor Roll again.  My boys are fighters.  My boys are winners.

Please, tell me what makes you happy.  I take great pleasure in other people’s joy.


Filed under Blog challenges, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Special needs, Writing