The last couple of weeks have felt very heavy for me. A lot of memories and moments have been coming back and I’ve been feeling mentally and emotionally overwhelmed. I do not sleep well and have very vivid and strong nightmares almost every night – tiring, horrible, grotesque nightmares that are just a complete mess and wake me up feeling like a mess.
The Black Dog is visiting again and seems to have just decided to stay for a few weeks this time. My energy has completely dissolved into thin air and I wake up every single morning feeling drained and exhausted (and when this drags on for over two weeks despite having tried all of your Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn recordings, all you want is for your mind to just stop and rest and let you sleep, for just one night, please?) – not just mentally but even physically.
Mornings like this I simply lie in bed very very still, listening to voices outside on the street and the sound of the traffic (I do find traffic very soothing to listen to actually). Maybe if I’m very still and quiet then all this is not real and just a bad dream? But then I drag myself out of bed and I do my very best to be loudly energetic, happy, smiling and cheerful from 09:30am until 06:30pm at work (luckily the pharmaceutical industry supports me in this and provides a much needed crutch on the dark days). I don’t want anyone to know this side of me. I don’t even like this side of me myself so why would I possibly want to share it with anyone else?
A few days ago I woke up with a splitting headache and a seriously sore jaw. I must have been doing an awful (extra) lot of teeth grinding that night because I could hardly open my mouth to eat the very yummy Bircher Muesli I’d bought myself for breakfast let alone chew it properly (in hindsight I am pretty impressed with myself that I was actively making myself eat breakfast actually, as small steps = the tiniest of baby steps on Black Dog Days).
That same day I must have looked absolutely God awful at work because my boss mentioned to me (in a very nice way) that I looked terribly down when she had walked in and then went on to send me uplifting quotes from Winston Churchill and Walt Disney. It is moments like these that remind me that I am not alone even if it may absolutely feel like it in the moment and that support and understanding can often come from the people and places you are least expecting it from.
This helped me decide to write about it right here this evening and to maybe try and stop trying so desperately hard to hide it when I have a Black Dog Day (bit of a long sentence there with a lot of trying in it – please do bear with me as I continue to try!). I’m already so exhausted on a Black Dog Day and then I go about spending all my energy on convincing anyone and everyone that I come across that I’m full of energy. I’m going to try, I can’t guarantee I’ll succeed, I will probably fail a few times, but if I never try I’ll never know how it could ever possibly be any different (now that is some seriously well thought out logic right there!).
The Black Dog has been visiting me for the past 15 years if not longer, it is only in the past 3-4 years that I’ve been making any progress taming the beast despite having been trying for about 9 years. Inside, I do know that I have a great job, I have a beautiful home, I have absolutely wonderful friends and an amazing family and despite the Black Dog I am aware of all this and am ever so grateful (on the days when the fog clears and I see with clarity). Please be patient with me as I continue to work on clearing this fog…maybe it’s just that Saharan Sandstorm Dust situation that is in town right now?
One of the best explanations available, is from writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone who tells the story of overcoming the “black dog of depression” with the clarity and simplicity that I have never been able to find:
I had a black dog. His name was depression.
Whenever the black dog made an appearance, I felt empty and life seemed to slow down.
He could surprise me with a visit for no reason or occasion.
The black dog made me look and feel older than my years.
When the rest of the world seemed to be enjoying life, I could only see it through the black dog.
He liked to ruin my appetite.
He chewed up my memory and ability to concentrate.
Doing anything or going anywhere with the back dog required super human strength.
My biggest fear was being found out. I worried that people would judge me.
Because of the shame and stigma of the black dog I was constantly worried that I would be found out. So I invested vast amounts of energy into covering him up. Keeping up an emotional lie is exhausting.
Black dog could make me think and say negative things.
He could make me irritable and difficult to be around.
Having a black dog in your life isn’t so much about feeling a bit down, sad or blue… at it’s worst it’s about being devoid of feeling altogether.
I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, the black dog affects millions and millions of people. It is an equal opportunity mongrel.
Most importantly, I learn not to be afraid of the black dog and I taught him a few tricks of my own.
The most important thing to remember is that no matter how bad it gets… if you take the right steps, talk to the right people, black dog days can and will pass.
I wouldn’t say that I’m grateful for the black dog but he has been an incredible teacher. He forced me to re-evaluate and simplify my life. I learned that rather than running away from my problems it’s better to embrace them.
The black dog may always be part of my life but he will never be the beast that he was. We have an understanding. I learned that through knowledge, patience, discipline and humour the worst black dog can be made to heal.