Walking The Black Dog
The wall was red. I remember that vividly. What I could not tell you was how long I’d been staring at it. I knew I hadn’t slept, my legs were hurting and there was a tightness in my chest. I remember asking myself, “Self, why are you staring at a wall?” It took a physical effort to pull myself away. That was the only success of that night. I started pacing about, wired yet exhausted, my brain going ten to the dozen, thinking about everything and nothing at all. I found myself in the kitchen, face to face with my mother, who stalks these halls at that hour, who looked both worried and unimpressed. “What are you doing up?” She asked, it must have been around three or four in the morning. I started gabbling, streams of nonsense, dancing around what the issue was but my brain wouldn’t let my mouth say. Two things I remember her saying where “you’re having a panic attack” and “you don’t have a monopoly on loneliness.” The later of those two sounds harsh, I’m sure it wasn’t the last thing she said, but I was definitely having a panic attack and as much as I still hate the loneliness line, the old dear was bang on, as she usually is. She made me a hot drink and calmed me down and put me to bed. I slept. I got up, told the Olds the whole story and said I needed to get help. They agreed. It started with a girl.
Most tales usually do start that way. In my case, I’d divorced and walked into an ill advised relationship with someone at work. When that eventually ran its natural course (being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses we are not supposed to date someone outside of the religion, so I had kept the relationship to myself) and the realisation that I had never really come to terms with my divorce, I unravelled in a big way. Despite my failing state, I managed to keep it together to sign up for a new job that gave me an expense account and an opportunity to literally run away to the far side of the world. But, before I started that job, I unwound and ended up at the doctors who took one look at me and signed me off with stress. I ran to home Canada.
In Calgary, I hung out with my family, went to hockey games and clearly did not do a good enough job of not letting on what I had been up too. My now dear departed Aunt saw right through me. Once home and to her credit, my Mum didn’t hit me with it right away, but she raised the fact that I may not have told them everything. As I had left the girl at work out of the story, covering up a eight month hole in the narrative with nothing, was, in hindsight, a rather glaring mistake. Then, a few increasingly sleepless nights later, I started staring at walls. So we are back where we began. I told my parents everything and booked into the doctors again and went to see the guys from my Kingdom Hall to start putting things right in my life, mentally and, literally, spiritually. I did better on the first point. Walking into the doctor’s office that morning was the strangest of experiences. The usual “What seems to be the problem Mr Bone?” answered with “I’m staring at walls” is not a normal start to any conversation with a medical professional. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but the laugh was on me. I explained things to my doctor more honestly than I had initially my parents. The doctor said I was suffering acute depression and he thought I had not dealt with the grief of my divorce. He then asked me a question I have thought about a lot since, he asked what I wanted to do. I responded that I wanted to be better. He asked what I meant by “be”? I said that getting better is just the start, there was a whole more difficult part after that. He smiled and asked if I was happy to be prescribed medication, to which I agreed too. He then suggested a dosage that seem rather impressive, even in my delicate state. I asked what that amount would do? I was told it would make me feel better. I said I didn’t want to feel better, I wanted help to get out of bed but to still know I wasn’t “better”. I’d seen with my ex-wife what can happen when you jump on and off of medication designed to taken over a course. I didn’t want to experience that or put those I cared about on the roller coaster, I’d already done enough. I said to the Doc that I wanted to know when I was up and when I was down, but when I was down, I wanted to grit my teeth and force myself to face the day. I think it is the only time in my life I've been truly determined.
Over the weeks and months that followed, I threw myself into the new job, but I also tried to figure out how the hell I worked. It is something I'm still trying to figure out. But what I did figure out was when to notice when I was at the top top of an up and when the down was kicking my ass. The ups, even now, are as bad as the downs. The ups are when you feel invincible and you can do anything you that crosses your mind. It the ups when I have been the stupidest I’ve been and ended up hurting people I’ve greatly cared about. The ups can even out and you can carry on for ages feeling as normal as you ever feel. A lot of the time the up slowly tapers off, then you crash and you find yourself in the smallest room you will ever know or alone in a crowd of friends. The downs are bleak. For me, this is when I would retreat into a bottle of something or just lock myself away and read. Sometimes both. Many is the book that has great plot holes in my memory due to the the bourbon. Still, it makes returning to these tales an interesting adventure. But, “luckily”, I had a job travelling all over the world, delivering computer systems, designing changes and training users. In this, you get to hide behind the personae you've created of being “The Guy” that has been engaged to teach people whatever you have cobbled together. During the downs, you stay in character, you wine and dine the customer and generally be the visiting showman. For years, all I needed was a carpet bag and I could have been a snake oil salesman. Until I was in India and I ran out of pills. It was also my thirtieth birthday. I think India saved me from losing it. It helps that that amazing country is utterly insane, so when you’re struggling, just looking out the window around you, you cannot but help but to feel better, to know your not alone and glad you have a flight booked home.
India didn’t stop me from being a Twat for the next few years, but in those months after I got home, I put off going back to the doctors for more pills. I had figured out when a swing was coming and tried to mitigate my behaviour based on when the swing was coming or going. Easier said than done of course. Over the years that followed, I ended up hurting more people I cared about, lost something I thought at the time was the greatest thing in my life after my daughter and was given a reality check from my faith. During the six months I was away from the congregation, I took the opportunity to put as much of my stupidity to rights as I could. I wrote down a lot of what I felt and promptly binned it as tosh. But I started thinking about India and figuring out how to not hide behind the “The Guy” I had created and just be me, ups and downs and all. Talking about how you feel I’ve found is amazing help. Saying you're struggling and trying not to wallow I’ve found helps the swing to change direction and things will always her better. Believing that tomorrow will be a little better is a great consultation. Let's face it , tomorrow may be the greatest day ever or it will kick your ass as soon as the sun rises. But, knowing that tomorrow will be different, bringing whatever it shall, helps to get you out of bed in the morning. Today will do what it will, tomorrow will be better or, at the very least, different.
The Black Dog is the pet that no one in their right mind wants. But then, those of us who live with depression are not really in our right mind a lot of the time. So what to do with The Dog? Walk the damn thing. I have no idea if any of this will work for you, but it has for me. I talk about it when I can and I try to make sure I stay as much of myself as I can be, don’t hide behind any persona you’ve created, how ever cool that chap or chapess is. I use work as a distraction, throw myself into it and it helps to pass the time. I focus and do the best I can at a time when focus is a tricky thing to grab. Find what you know is regular and safe, then use it to get through the dark times. The Dog will try to pin you down and keep you there until it gets bored and wanders off. But keep The Dog occupied and those pinning moments get easier to live with, they don’t go away, but they can be managed. Turn to whoever you can, friends or even organisations that offer help or just an ear to listen. When those lonely moments hit, when the dog pounces, never be afraid to voice your fears, even if it is shouting it into the wind. I’ve been fortunate enough to have people to turn too and family that will listen and/or give me the kick in the ass I need. If you don’t feel you have that, turn to the internet. The thing that prompted me to write this is Den of Geek’s Geeks vs Loneliness series. It is a wonderful serious and very supportive environment and community that shows that there is always someone there, even in our darkest moments. We have to remember The Dog can be tamed if only we remember to take the bloody thing for a walk, to open up about our pet and not keep it locked up in our basements. Our doctors can help, our friends will help, random strangers online can reach out and help. You can reciprocate too on those days when the dog is taking a nap. We just need to reach out, admit we are not always at our best and know, tomorrow, or maybe the day after that, will be just a little bit better than today.