Respecting The Black Dog

My friend Karen sent me a link to this video by the World Health Organization on depression. I’d had a really intense bout with depression this weekend, and she was one of the lifeboats that kept me afloat. If you suffer from depression, I think you’ll appreciate this. I say this because several people I know that suffer with this condition texted me today to tell me how freaking awesome it was! I felt the same way when I saw it. I really related to the scene where the dog is dragging him down and just to move around is like pulling a monster black dog with me. I can’t write a description of my journey any better than this:

I always took my depression seriously. It was painful, but I didn’t know what to do about it, and back then the resources we have now were not available. Mine started when I was about 16 years old, and I know I was self-medicating with alcohol when I started drinking. I was incredibly anxious in social situations, and I could barely function with the negative messages that my black dog fed me about being unlovable … fat … frizzy-haired … and bad … just plain bad. I drank to make it go away, and it worked for a bit. But, alcohol is a depressant, and if you drink too much, it turns on you, too. It wasn’t the answer.

Over the years I’ve picked up tools to deal with my depression, and, like the man in the movie, it now just comes for a short while and then goes away. It’s no longer a long-term visitor. I credit most of my recovery to the things he mentions in the video – exercise, self-care, and the ultimate game changer – being open and honest with others. I have a friend right now who is helping me monitor my depression as I make a rather big change in my care of it. Daily I check in with my mood numbers – 1 being horribly depressed and 10 being joyful. We have a private FB page where I share exactly what’s going on with me – uncensored.

Okay … I’m getting a little tired of this black dog analogy… just sayin’

I had a rude awakening last December when a good friend of mine committed suicide because of her black dog. We had talked about our mutual experiences with the black dog for years, supporting each other. We knew, as people who suffer know, it can get very, very dark. Only a few people will ask – and we asked each other when necessary – “are you having suicidal thoughts.” Sometimes it was no. Other times it was “thinking about it, but I would never do it.” I was always confident that both of us smart, witty, open women would never get to that place where it would be a real option. Her suicide was a wake up call to me that it can happen. You don’t play around with this stuff. And, I know as I watch my black dog come and go that one day hers could have subsided. But, there’s no opportunity for that now. She showed me that it could happen to me … it could happen to anyone who suffers with depression.

But, most people who suffer from depression don’t commit suicide. We live our lives either in a low-grade or chronic depression, never really enjoying the life we have OR we get help and get better. For me, I don’t think it will ever go away, but, thankfully I don’t have many black dog days anymore. When they hit, I put on all guns self-care. I exercise which is really difficult with a low energy level, but I do it. I try not to eat too much sugar or self-medicate. I let myself sleep if I need to, and I get on the phone or face to face with people who understand and will listen. I am blessed to have numerous friends who understand either because of their own suffering or because they just are good listeners. It helps immensely. It’s a game-changer, like the man said.

I saw a picture of me at the football game Saturday night. With a smile plastered all over my face, I looked really happy. I’m such a chameleon. I learned to hide like a pro. Inside I felt like a two year old, inadequate, scared to death and in a lot of emotional pain. But, in that picture you’d never know. I was worn out after the game, and I went home without hanging out with friends. I was just tired. Like the movie said, it takes a lot of emotional energy to pretend. I slept all day Sunday, and I woke up today feeling much better. Right now, I’m about at an 8 after doing yoga and writing about my feelings. I have a feeling tomorrow will be even better. I have a run scheduled, and I hope to leave my black dog behind. But, I know that he is always there, sleeping, waiting for the right moment to visit with me again. I don’t hate him anymore, but I do respect him.

2 Comments on “Respecting The Black Dog

  1. Sharon,

    Thank you for this; it’s very timely for me. I have battled the black dog most of my adult life. The past few years it has, for the most part, been in remission. But lately, this week especially, it has made a resurgence. I thought about making an appointment with our EAP, but as I thought about it, I knew that I KNOW what to do–those things you mention in the self-care realm. So I’m working on those. I just hate this feeling of “everything is too much effort.” I’m 5 years sober as of last week, and I find myself wanting to drink to find some temporary ease and comfort. So far I haven’t given in to my illness.

    Keep the good stuff coming. Your sharing is helping me and many others, I’m sure.

    I’m still keeping my “2013 Jar of Good Things,” but you won’t be here to read it with! 🙂

    May we both survive the black dog.

    Much love, Lisa

    • Lisa, thank so much for your honesty. Please know that I’m always open to talk if you need it, and I won’t tell you to get it together. I know how it feels when somebody tells you to do something that you can’t possibly do emotionally. I have to say this weekend drinking crossed my mind, too. It’s such a slippery slope.

      And I really appreciate the affirmation to keep writing. I still wonder if I’m doing the right thing putting this all out there. I feel so naked sometimes!

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