It’s interesting how some illnesses can be worn almost like a badge of honour – flu, mumps, gastroenteritis, pneumonia and so on all have a certain credibility; yet mental illness still has a stigma to it. “I’m not coming out tonight as my depression makes me want to stay away from people, sit in a cosy armchair and just stare at the TV”. “No, I won’t do the shopping as I’ve burst into tears in the dairy aisle once too often, and I can never remember what I went for.”.
It doesn’t wash.
And yet these feelings are real. Unable to remember what you started talking about. Flat-lining emotionally. Waking up early in the morning (3 for me today), then sleeping late (10 yesterday). Crying. Randomly. Not really seeing what the point is anymore. Trying desperately to avoid talking about it because, well, it’s depressing. And you fear frightening your friends off.
My first encounter with my mate, the Black Dog (as Churchill called his depression), was shortly after finishing teacher training. At the time my relationship was falling apart and my parents were moving from the place I adored so I was unsurprised when the doctor suggested I “had depression”. I took the tablets, I turned up to work after 6 weeks, and realised how much I hated my job. REALLY hated it.
I got a new job, I left the boyfriend (another story that one!), and moved into my tiny flat. I spent a happy time decorating it and making it feel like home. I had to be pretty creative with the bits and bats I acquired – patching carpet together to make a whole piece (I’m remembering the smell of that carpet as I write!), lengthening velvet curtains, and draught-proofing the front door.
Life was good. I felt good.
Over the years, Black Dog has padded his way in and out of my life; worst in the winter (SAD), and now remedied with St. John’s Wort relatively easily.
Until this winter. I had been taking my remedies diligently and couldn’t work out why they were having no effect. Maybe it was because I was grieving for my dad. Or maybe it was because I hadn’t checked that the bottle of capsules I’d ordered were the right ones. Oops! After several months I will have the bestest liver ever as I’ve been taking Milk Thistle by mistake!
Lesson – read the bloody label.
I’ve been working with coach extraordinaire, Judith Morgan, for some months, and she has noted my cycles up and down. When I begin to slide, she ever so gently nudges me in the direction of my studio because she knows what a difference it makes to me.
For Pete’s sake! I’m 51 (shhh) and I’m only learning this now! When I’m in a creative space (mentally), my depression lifts. I cope. I create. It can take a monumental effort to get there sometimes, along with much gentle nudging from those who care about me, but that space opens up in my heart and my mind clears.
My Meg used to let me know when I was sliding – her behaviour told me that I needed to stop and do something about whatever it was making me feel so hideous. When I ignored her, she’d use her teeth! Now she’s gone I am having to learn to listen to the whispers – it’s a steep learning curve, but I think I’m getting there.
I’d always looked on my Black Dog as a hindrance, and a Terrible Creature. She’s not. She’s a gentle, loving part of me who only wants to guide me back to being creative. She loves me so much that sometimes she has to bite me to make me stop, like Meg did.
I’m learning to love my Black Dog, and life companion. She is a part of me. How can I feel complete when hating a part of myself? While I’m writing this, she is curled at my feet, sleeping peacefully. I love her for her guidance back to my heart.
Who is guiding you back to your heart?
Rachael, and The Black Dog