Taming the Black Dog

Taming the Black Dog

MY hands give the signal that it’s on; the same hands that once pilfered rugby balls, proudly took on a wedding ring, held two newborn babies and still give a courtesy wave in traffic. Not that any of that is front of mind now.

Even as I write this, my hands are pathetic little clubs, fingers retreating into the palms, batting at the computer mouse and reluctantly striking the keyboard keys.

Everything seems the same today, the same issues and the same people (all so goddamn annoying). Yet I know from how I am feeling – and these weak, shaky hands, the ones I just want to wring out – that this is a problem of perspective.

I need to regain control of my mood, lest this drag on, the black dog of depression barking its negative thoughts louder and louder until my consciousness is backed up against some bare wall in my head. I don’t want to be lying under a desk again, desperately trying to interrupt my mind as it mulls over numerous failures, old regrets and pet peeves that seem so insurmountable. I don’t want to be still while the world keeps moving.

THAT passage was written a few weeks ago, in preparation for a future edition of the Black Dog Index where, instead of asking other people to tell their stories, I would reluctantly tell mine.

In hindsight, it seems so negative, so self-indulgent (I have edited out the profanities). Yet, given recent events, perhaps mine is just one of many personal stories that needs to be told.

I have the greatest life. After a blessed childhood in the country, I was able to choose my career and, over two decades in journalism, have travelled the world, meeting interesting people, winning a few awards and writing a book. Now 37, I have never felt closer to my gorgeous wife of 12 years, and adore our two cool kids. I hit the gym when I can, occasionally grow a beard and see the humour in situations (even if my jokes aren’t funny).

I also have “major depression” – for 2 1/2 years now – and am seeing a GP, psychologist and psychiatrist as we try to tighten the leash on this black dog. You may never see the symptoms; before now, barely anyone other than my ever-supportive wife knew. The reason I kept quiet is complicated. The reason I am now telling my story is simple, even blunt.

This is depression, so deal with it. It is what it is. It should no more be condemned than celebrated. If you have it, get treatment. If you don’t have it, appreciate the fact. There was no specific trigger for this “episode” of mine. I am not in mourning nor am I suffering from shock or ailing in any way.

As someone whose self-respect depends on a job well done, and being able to provide a stable home, I simply found myself struggling to keep up the pace, losing the drive and passion for life, as if my endurance, resilience and tolerance were all somehow impaired.

My depression isn’t about sadness, it is the other definition of the word: to push down, to lower. When it hits, it is as if the life that exists where my body and the world meet has been sapped, leaving only my negative internal thoughts. It is more silence than whingeing. More blank screen than drama. More numbness than feeling. But it is still unsettling.

Some days, I just get all “rattley” inside, as if something has come loose upstairs, grating on all the wheels and pulleys and making me desperate for something. If I had a crowbar to break open the front of my skull, I would fully expect nuts and bolts to fall out, allowing me to work out what has gone wrong. But of course I don’t. And every case is different.

In last-minute, DIY fashion, I thought maybe a pill could fix all this. In reality, it has been more trial and error, with precautionary blood tests and scans, various drugs, charts, sessions and mindfulness techniques.

Depression isn’t something a trip to Bunnings or Supercheap Auto can sort out. For most people, it takes time and perseverance, but the alternative is just too tragic to think about.

One of my biggest challenges was overcoming the belief that, as a reasonably smart person, I could pinpoint what was wrong, and simply put myself in the right headspace to carry on.

By the time I was grappling with that challenge, the opportunity to take better care of myself had passed, and I needed help to know my new self better. Even then, it wasn’t easy. You don’t need to tell someone with depression to “get over it” because they will be telling themselves that already, in much harsher terms.

Early on in my treatment, at the last federal budget lock-up (unfortunately timed on a drug-free day as I switched medications), I analysed the documents, interviewed ministers and turned out six good stories in a matter of hours. Inside, however, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to keep the black dog at bay, and then terrified that being terrified would act as a dog whistle for it.

On that occasion the mindfulness techniques somehow saw me through. I got the job done and even celebrated the release of these numbers and figures with a few beers, and was back at work the next day ready to go again.

Within a few months, however, I was begging for a redundancy, feeling workload pressures and deadlines more and more. But here I am now, less than a year later, feeling better, and writing a different kind of story.

While I now avoid certain triggers and manage risky situations, my profession means that being confronted with bad news is inevitable. Sometimes the negative influences overlap or play off each other, and perspective is especially hard to come by if I have a bad night. I can walk, talk, snore and even swing punches in my sleep, and wake with memories of dreams so vivid I sometimes struggle to separate fact from fiction.

When too much alcohol is involved, another – different – layer of fiction is applied, often sealed with pained regret and self-loathing (whether warranted or not). Alcohol is, after all, a depressant drug, and no doubt it adds to that “rattley” feeling.

Right now, though, I have the balance just about right. And, to be honest, I don’t want to write or speak of my black dog again. There are better stories for me to write, worse jokes for me to tell.

As one of many Australians dealing with their depression – responsibly and with help – I can assure you I am neither a threat nor a liability (at least no more than I was before) and am truly thankful for what I have in my life.

The engine is being rebuilt, the foundations are being reset, and I will emerge stronger than ever (with only tortured analogies to speak of my experience).

The tragedy is that some people with depression only get weaker, and drift away from what and whoever they need to help see them through.

As individuals, and as a society, we cannot allow that to happen. We must not allow the world to keep spinning without them.

If you need help, see your GP, call someone (Lifeline 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467) or visit blackdoginstitute.org.au

 

Source: The Australian

 

Comment: This is a brave and insightful piece of writing, and totally appropriate it its call for people to seek help.

In our experience the “black dog” for of depression is almost a class on its own, separate from the multitude of common mental distresses and often having profound physiological effects on the body.

Yet beyond the recommendations are many avenues to explore and yet to be explored… the role of nutritional factors; our understanding of the immune system (as stress is commonly a significant trigger), and a wider social, creative and spiritual perspective.