Archive for the ‘Health’

December 5th, 2007

Battling the black dog

Depression, melancholy, the blues, despair, misery, sadness, low spirits, despondency, down-hearted, hopelessness, gloom, the black dog—whatever you call it—is back again.

You thought you had it beaten this time. You even started to feel a bit complacent. But it was still there, just one step behind you. And now it has caught up and is dragging you into that dark pit once again.

It started innocently enough—a couple of days of just feeling ‘flat’—no energy, no enthusiasm, a bit irritable. Then the insomnia started, waking at 3 or 4 every morning, suddenly, alert, heart pounding, and you can’t go back to sleep.

It’s been down hill from there. All the light seems to drain from life—you can’t see any purpose in anything, nothing interests you, nothing gives you pleasure. You feel like an alien among normal people.

Nothing matters. You don’t matter. Nothing you do or have ever done is any good and never will be. No one cares about you and never has. And why would they when you are so boring, so worthless. You see life through gloom-coloured glasses. Life is all bleakness. It seems like a bad joke.

Everything, even the smallest task, requires colossal effort. Preparing a simple meal, paying a few bills, going shopping, feel as exhausting as climbing Mount Everest. Your personal appearance suffers because you don’t care what you look like and it takes too much energy to be well groomed and well dressed.

You lose your appetite. All food is tasteless. Your mouth is dry and chewing and swallowing is hard work. You live on bananas and milk because they relieve gnawing hunger pangs but are easy to get down. You lose weight but don’t care.

You avoid people. Even being around anyone else drains what little energy you have. And talking is so hard, and you have nothing to say anyhow. You lose the will and the ability to communicate. You can’t string sentences together. You feel incoherent. You feel voiceless. You spend more and more time alone. You spend a lot of time sitting, staring at walls.

You can’t stand noise and everyone and everything is so loud, so chaotic, so aggressive. You recoil.

You can’t make decisions and you brain feels like mush. Nothing interests you, nothing can hold your attention. You have the concentration span of a gnat. You try to read a newspaper but the words all run together and don’t make sense. You give up. Who cares anyway? The world is a mess and headed for ruin.

All day (and half the night) the black dog drips its poison into your mind. You dwell on past problems, unhappiness, failures and betrayals. You have never been happy and never will.

The black dog is an old and familiar enemy. It first found you when you were 14. It felt like someone had cut a hole in your soul and your life force slowly drained away. It lasted for a year—hormones your mother said. Things went well for a couple of years then the stress of year 12 and final exams plunged you into the pit again. How many times since then? You’ve lost count. Sometimes the black dog stays for just a few months, sometimes for years. Once it haunted you for 4 long, torturous years that drove you to the point of suicide.

Where does this beast come from? Genetics. Your father was a depressive. An unhappy childhood—one parent an alcoholic and the other emotionally cold and manipulative. An atmosphere of gloom and negativity. Plus stress, sensitivity, wrong thinking, poor life choices.

What set it off this time? The death of a loved pet. An argument with a family member. The strain of an unsatisfying relationship. The black dog feeds on stress, loss, disappointment, grief, loneliness.

So the battle begins again. It will be a long, drawn out guerrilla war rather than a quick decisive battle. For the black dog is a cunning beast. It saps you of the very energy, determination and optimism that are the best weapons against it. So what do you do?

  • You could go to your GP and get a script for antidepressants. Most medicos believe in the imbalance of brain chemicals theory and that a few pills will fix you. They help many people but over the years you’ve tried countless drugs and none worked for you. Some even had disturbing or dangerous side effects. Will you try again? You’re not up to making decisions today. You’ll think about it tomorrow.

  • You know you must help yourself.

  • You console yourself with the knowledge that eventually the black dog will go. But how long and how agonizing will its stay be?

  • You must constantly remind yourself that the bleak thoughts that sap your will are a trick the beast plays on you. They are not yours but are planted in your mind by the illness. They are distortions of reality and truth. Remind yourself that although they seem real they are as false as the view an anorexic has of themselves as fat.

  • So you must challenge the negative, sabotaging thoughts. They are not real, not accurate, tell them to stop, go away, and replace them with positive thoughts and memories.

  • You have to marshal your anger, anger at this illness that saps your life. Feed that small spark of indignation and refuse to let this thing control and ruin you. You will not let it beat you.

  • It is your burden, your handicap. Many people have worse to endure, much worse. This is yours and you will deal with it, learn to manage it and live with it.

  • Don’t expect everyone to understand and support you. If they haven’t experienced the black dog they cannot possibly know its impact. Don’t be hurt when people say such things as ‘pull yourself together’, ‘snap out of it’, ‘get over it’. Find support groups, find people who have intimate knowledge of the black dog. There are GROW group meetings, helpful websites, and online forums of people who are experiencing what you are.

  • You crave relief from the black dog but you wont find it in unhealthy behaviours. Alcohol might numb you for a while but it is a depressant and in the long run will make things worse. Promise yourself you will avoid all forms of self-destruction, even those that bring temporary relief.

  • Take one day at a time.

  • Spend at least 20 minutes a day outdoors in sunlight.

  • Reduce the demands on you. Delegate, ask others for help. Eliminate or at least reduce anything that stresses you.

  • Exercise every day. You can manage to walk around the block. Or spend a few minutes on the exercise bike. You know anything that makes you move and get the endorphins pumping will help.

  • For at least a few minutes each day read from a self-help book that encourages positive thinking, increasing self-esteem, motivation, or that gives any up-lifting message. You have trouble concentrating but even if you can read only a few sentences it will help.

  • Cut as many negatives as possible from your life. Don’t listen to or watch news bulletins, don’t listen to sad music or watch depressing or violent films or TV shows. Keep away from people who put you down, complain, gossip, or are negative in any way.

  • Make a list of positive sayings and affirmations and repeat them to yourself several times a day.

  • Don’t feel sorry for yourself.

  • Don’t be cruel to yourself. Promise yourself that you will not say anything to or about yourself that you wouldn’t say to or about a dear friend. You deserve at least as much consideration.

  • Be patient. Everything passes and so will this.

  • Don’t give up hope, expect a miracle and you just might get one.

© 2007 All rights reserved.


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