This project has been sitting in my blog drafts for over a year and a half at this point, and I figured with my holiday time off I’d finally complete the posts. The next several posts outline a project I completed where I train a neural network based on my depression journals to prove Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works. Please be aware this project discusses content on anxiety, depression, suicide, miscarriage, divorce, death
In this project, I blend together my projects on Neural Networking and Automating Making Memes & Instagram Posts to help me understand my own mental health. At a high level, this project explores using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on a neural network trained from my depression journals. The results are then shared on Instagram in meme form so they are easy and enjoyable to review.
While it seems like this was just another fun side project for educational purposes, it was actually my desperate attempt to find a way out of a horrific round of depression. So what do neural networks have to do with depression? To answer that, I’ll have to give a little background on my mental health journey.
I’ve been battling anxiety and depression for over a decade, and kept it more or less under control with diet and exercise. But three and a half years ago I had a miscarriage, and not long after began seeing a therapist and taking medication.
When I first went to get therapy, I had so many misconceptions. I did not realize that a therapist doesn’t tell you what to do, but instead helps you figure out what to do. I also did not realize that they teach you coping skills, and educate you on how your brain works.
By far, the most life changing part of therapy has been from implementing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to “rewire” my brain. Essentially, CBT is just intercepting negative or erroneous thoughts and then replacing them with positive ones.
Eventually, your brain will default to the positive thoughts instead because of a concept called neuroplasticity. Basically, your brain uses neural pathways when generating your thoughts and feelings, and each time you use that pathway, you make it stronger. So CBT’s goal is to starve away those negative pathways, and feed new positive ones instead.
I still remember my first therapy appointment when I was told about CBT. While it sounded magical and my therapist was obviously intelligent, I thought there was no way it would work on me. But I had nothing to lose by trying, so I agreed to try this out.
I am pleased to say CBT did wonders for me and my mental health drastically improved. It increased my self esteem and helped me regain the confidence depression had stolen. Since my miscarriage, I had several more bouts with depression from surgeries and divorce, but CBT always helped me get through. I even felt proud of my own resilience, and believed I could get through anything.
But nothing prepared me for the utter hell I would go through following the loss of a friend to suicide. I was used to my brain telling me that I was a burden, or that I was not loved, or useless. I knew those were lies, because my therapist has helped me identify them as cognitive errors. But this time, my depressed brain fixated on all the ways I contributed to my friend’s death. How I should have done more, and how I let him down.
The CBT work I had done started to unravel, and my self esteem and confidence went with it. My depressive episodes were frequent, and I was extremely unstable. Even though I saw my therapist regularly, I had trouble remembering what my thoughts were when I was depressed. Eventually I started writing myself when I was depressed, thinking it could be used in therapy.
After writing a few notes, I realized they were practically impossible to summarize and far too long for my therapist to read. And even if I did want to analyze this information, it would require focusing on my most mentally damaging thoughts. The last thing I wanted to do was perform negative-CBT on myself.
Even though the original purpose of the notes was no longer relevant, I still kept writing them. I felt there was still use for the words, I just didn’t know what is was yet. 9 months of depression notes later, I was knee deep in the neural networks and Instagram bot projects when an idea struck me: What if I use my letters to train a neural network?
At first, I was curious if it would help me identify what thoughts were most prevalent when I was depressed. And if it worked, I could finally have something to share with my therapist. By this time, my depressed personality used neuroplasticity against me, and I was convinced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy could not work on me anymore.
I decided that the best way to overcome my skepticism was to train a neural network and PROVE that it would work on that. My theory was that if it worked on a neural network, then it would work on me.
So my experiment was to do the following:
- Train a neural network based on my depression journals
- Take key statements and turn them into easy to read memes and post to an Instagram account called “My Inner Demon”
- Create a meme site called “My Outer Angel” where I post positive affirmations
- Feed these positive statements into the “Inner Demon” neural network and retrain it once a week and post it to an Instagram account called “My Inner Angel”
- Perform weekly analysis on the outputs to see how long it takes for positive affirmations to become the more prevalent output of the neural network
I’m wondering if this would ever be useful to those who have trouble explaining to others later what it is like to be depressed. It won’t be as personal as my own writing, so in a way I don’t feel as embarrassed or ashamed in sharing the output of the neural network. After all, I can claim statements it says are not my actual beliefs.
I am not a professionally trained expert on the technology utilized in this project (or honestly any project on this blog). As such, my implementation of it may have flaws or generous room for improvement. I am not a healthcare professional, nor do I claim to be. Anything I do and describe in my blog is for my personal interest and learning purposes and is not recommended to be used for another’s healthcare. If you find concepts used in this blog that you want to explore for yourself, please seek out and review with your own qualified healthcare professionals.
I believe in complete transparency and honestly about my mental health because it is my way to regain control, help break the stigma, and encourage others to seek out professional help.
In the next few posts I will go into more detail about my personal struggles with anxiety and depression.
This project is not a replacement for any of the medical professionals I see. If you are struggling with mental illness I highly recommend finding your own healthcare professionals. TREATMENT HELPS!!!
I know all of this is likely overkill for a blog nobody reads, but mental health is not something to be played with and I do not want to unintentionally cause harm to anyone on the internet that may stumble across these posts.