A few years ago as part of my post-breakdown recovery I deliberately tested my ability to build helpful new neural networks which improved my mood. The exercise I used was this: every time I stepped onto a Tube platform (usually several times a day), I looked at when the train was due and if it was approaching told myself I was grateful not to have to wait, and if there was a wait told myself I was grateful to have time to get the the right place on the platform. After about a month that thinking became automatic, and since then I have not got stressed while waiting on the Tube; the gratitude pops up automatically, regardless of the situation. I then extended it to other situations, and that was what made my life get better. But above all it was an exercise in changing automatic thoughts.
Since Matthew died I observe my brain going through an analogous process. I think automatically of him every few minutes, and for the first days that is all my brain did. But now each mini Matthew thought is followed by another automatic thought that says he’s dead. That’s not a deliberate practice, but it’s real. At some point the ‘must tell Matthew’ thoughts will arrive simultaneously with the knowledge he is dead, and later still they will be preceded by that awareness, will arrive already coloured by that irreversible fact. I’m dreading that day. Unfortunately this one’s not under my control. So I’m trying deliberately to add gratitude thoughts to the chain: Matthew would like to know that – and he’s dead – and I’m so grateful for all the time that I had with him.