Not just a black dog.

People call it The Black Dog, but I don’t see it that way. Well, not anymore. I see it more as a day that didn’t go so well. A groundhog day I relive now and then.

I was diagnosed with severe depression in 2007, and ended up incapable of working, breathing even, at one point.

If you (were ever allowed to – you’re not, sorry) look at my files, three terms will stick out for you: 1) Post-natal depression; 2) Aggressive episodes and 3) Repressed grief.

Now, 8 years later on, I can look at those terms and not feel guilt over them. They were hallmarks of the things I was going through, and still deal with every day. But being able to name and treat them was the start of being able to deal with them.

For an inordinately long time, I actually believed I was crazy. Like, full on mental. That I had an actual disorder and that I would be institutionalised if I ever actually told someone the things that went on within me. Instead, I would deal with it by getting furiously angry, to the point where I would alienate everyone, throw away people (yes, really) and blame anything or everyone else for what was actually a chemical imbalance.

When my (beloved and adored) GP suggested to me that, perhaps, my feelings of not being able to cope were, in fact, depression, I shouted at her. I told her I was perfectly capable of dealing with my life and that I didn’t need her medication, therapy or anything. I was totally okay. How I ended up in her consulting rooms is another story altogether, that perhaps I’ll share one day.

Which is when (heaven and stars, I love this woman), she opened up her file and showed me my medical history, which highlighted how, in 2002, I had actually had a breakdown, but had dealt with it under the care of my parents’ GP. I had forgotten that I had told her that. Then she gave me a choice: Try my recommendation of therapy and anti-depressants for three months. If you hate it and think I’m silly, we’ll taper you off and stop it. But, if after three months, you feel differently, we’ll keep going.

So I did. I started seeing a therapist weekly (at first, I saw her every day for a few weeks), and started taking medication for depression. I felt dirty, ashamed and like a drama queen. I was booked off work for the first three weeks, and felt like a failure all round.

Except then, a funny thing happened. In the midsts of therapy, I began to unravel my life story – something I had never really done before, or encapsulated with intent. And it was there that I began to notice two things: (1) I had, for a lot of my life, even as a child, felt like a visitor and saddened by it and (2) I had internally accepted a feeling of incapability as my own trademark move. I actively used number (2) as an excuse, for anything and everything. In some respects of my life, I still do, but I’m working on those – I am aware of them. I also confronted a lot of guilt that I felt over things I should never have felt that about. Ever. Not even for a second. I learnt to process guilt (which is an instant response mechanism for me) and move on from it.

Fast forward eight years, where I am now. I remained in therapy for two years, and on anti-depressants for about five years. They were good for me in a way I did not expect. When I reached a point in my life where I wanted to be free of medication, and felt more capable of being able to recognise the ‘signs’ of an episode, or able to communicate my needs when a fix of ‘the sads’ hit. I learnt to write the things I needed to, and to talk even when I did not want to. I had learnt how to name my feelings, even when I did not want to. I still sometimes fail at this, but I try my best to do it. I have also, always committed to being open to returning to medication and therapy whenever I feel I may require it, and I have the full support of my doctor in doing so.

The biggest thing I learnt? Was not that I was depressed or that there was ‘something wrong’ with me. I learnt that the way to live life is not to be unaffected (which was something I wanted to be, it seemed easier) but to live affected, and to choose when to be affected by it. This is a tough one, because I don’t think you can choose circumstances, but you can learn to master your reactions. For me, the most powerful thing I learnt, for myself, was that my anger and aggression were actually just extensions of sadness. And that’s why, when I get angry, I automatically try to figure out what I feel hurt by. In 2007, I felt alone, abandoned, useless and absolutely incapable, but was far too afraid to admit it. In 2015, I feel very differently about myself, and know that if I had not been able to face up and deal with all of that stuff back then, I’d probably still be stuck feeling like I want to set the world on fire, every day.

I will always – ALWAYS – be grateful for that journey and I have zero shame attached to it. Why? Because I have survived, and I continue to survive. Nope, I thrive. And I thrive on my own terms.

7 thoughts on “Not just a black dog.”

  1. Well done to you for thriving and having the courage to speak up. Being raised by a depressed mom was awful for us as kids at times. We didn’t understand it then and sometimes we refused to accept it at times. My mom has never been vocal about it so it’s really good getting insights from others.

    1. It’s so interesting that you mentioned your mom. My mom battled depression too, but remained untreated (by choice, I believe) for her entire life. It played itself out in other ways though, so I feel you. Completely. X

  2. You are such a brilliant writer Cath! As someone who also needed some chemical help at times and do find that dog biting at my heels at times – I love how you wrote this. Onwards!

    1. You are, by far, one of my most favourite people to discover in my comments section. And you’re always there. Thank you for that – I appreciate it, so very much.

      Know this – that talking about it removes the daggery shame of it, and remember, you are not alone in it X

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