Friday, August 09, 2013

My Black Dog

I have a Black Dog. He doesn’t live with me all the time and he doesn’t have a name, but he visits, not as much as he used to, thankfully, but regularly and, usually, unexpectedly. He just kind of creeps up on me, silently, stealthily, without me noticing, until one day I just wake up and think, ‘aah, there he is, sitting on my shoulder like a malevolent creature of the night’.
Sometimes I can feel his presence, just hanging around my shoulders but not weighing me down, not yet. It is as if this Black Dog is waiting for an opportune moment to surround me with his dark, numbing, enveloping misery.  Maybe if I gave him a name it would make him easier to deal with, to get rid of even.
Most people think it was the great Winston Churchill who coined the term ‘Black Dog’ for his depression, but the phrase has been associated with the condition for many years.

I don’t know how long I have had it - I belong to a nation of copers, am possessed of the notorious Stiff Upper Lip peculiar to my tribe. 

The first time I remember addressing it was in my doctor’s office. I was weeping and trying to tell him what I was feeling, he leaned over to me and gently said ‘Julie, do you think you are suffering with depression?’ at which point I cried even more.
Since that fateful day I have had many visits from my Black Dog, I have been on and off meds, have tried to ‘get better’, tried to live a ‘normal’ life (which, by the by, I don’t believe in! None of us are normal, some of us are just better at covering up the crazy than others). 

I have listened to many well meaning souls saying things like ‘get out more’; ‘keep yourself busy’; ‘go for a nice long walk’; ‘I’ll pray for you’; ‘have you prayed about it?’; ‘trust God with it’; ‘Did you know that Moses/Elijah/Paul/all three suffered with depression?’ ‘Are you taking something for it?’; ‘don’t take the meds, it will make it worse’; ‘take the meds, there’s no shame in it’ etc etc - you get the drift. Maybe you have said one or more of these things to someone - I know I have.  Maybe, like me, you have thought ‘for goodness sake, pull yourself together, what have you got to be depressed about?’
The answer to that last question is nothing. I have nothing to be depressed about. So why does it happen? Why are there days in my life when I feel so overwhelmingly sad it is almost difficult to breathe? Why are there times when I sit gazing into space thinking about nothing and anything? Why do I lack the energy and motivation to engage with anyone or anything? In fact, why do I feel such overwhelming, debilitating hopelessness and sadness that I feel worthless and useless? Why do I feel nothing, just that numbing deadness eating away at who I am?

The answer is, I don’t know, and, I suspect, neither does anyone else. I don’t even know how to explain it to someone. How does one verbalise something that is seemingly so random, that sounds so trite - how many times do we hear someone say ‘oh, I feel so depressed’ ‘I suffer with long term depression’. Maybe you have even thought ‘well, you don’t look depressed to me, just get a life’. The truth is depression is a dreadful thing to live with it saps my energy, my self esteem, my motivation, as a Christian who does trust God with everything it also makes me feel guilty, disconnected from Him and a failure.

My Black Dog takes ‘me’ away - and sometimes it’s hard to get me back. I don’t know where I go, but I do know that during those visits I have to work hard at being Julie, at holding a conversation, at normal, everyday interaction. When, in fact, all I want to do is sit and stare into space.

Depression has a physical effect on me as well as a mental and spiritual effect. I find it difficult to concentrate, difficult to do the things I enjoy like reading. I read somewhere that it is associated with stress and anxiety - I believe that. I have always been a worrier, for many years I have lived with a huge ball of string in my chest; during periods of high anxiety and/or stress, I can feel it unravelling and pinging against my ribcage. For most of my adult life I have tried to please all of the people, all of the time, have done my best never to say ‘no’ to a cry for help - which is how I ended up as Secretary at my son’s swimming club, helping out at nursery, rainbows, beavers, school etc. etc.. Nowadays although I still don’t always say no, I find that too hard, I ignore stuff. Not necessarily the best approach, but it works for me. And that is the key - we have to find our own way of dealing with depressive episodes. Taking the meds helps to keep me on an even keel for much of the time, I have learned to avoid stressful situations and live a quiet, some might say boring, life - that’s what I need to do in order to avoid losing what remains of my marbles. Sometimes I feel lonely. Another symptom of my Black Dog is that I have little or no desire to socialise or communicate; this means that I have lost touch with most of my friends, however good people are at being a friend they become fed up of being ignored eventually.  And who can blame them?

So, that’s the story of my Black Dog, he is here this week, and will probably be here for a while longer, I have the huge, empty void inside me indicative of those episodes, I am experiencing almost overwhelming apathy and disinterest in everything and everyone (no offence intended Dear Reader) - fighting it takes all my effort and energy. So what to do? Ignore it until it goes away? Fight it until I can fight no more, even though I know that, in reality that makes little or no difference. In my experience, it is better, at this stage in my life, to let it run its course and wait for my dark, malevolent friend to disappear over the horizon again. In the meantime I will try my best to break free and get over it. Just don't count on it happening quickly.