Monday, March 24, 2014

My black dog

I'm not now nor have I ever been wealthy or even middle class. I come from a solidly working class background and that's not a bad thing at all. I know the value of hard work and manual labor, but I'm very glad to have an office job now. I have enough money to live on, if not travel or shop indiscriminately. My marriage is secure and my health, although not fantastic, seems to be holding steady. So what's the problem?

Way back in the pit of my brain, I still need that assurance from other people that I am "all right". That assurance doesn't even have to come from people whose opinions I greatly value. When I look into the mirror, I see a mass of insecurities. I've never felt good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough. Knowing that I still feel that way at almost 50 years old is disheartening.

When I was younger, I assumed that as I aged, self-realization would finally drag itself through my door like a half-eaten sparrow. That has not happened. It will probably never happen. I've lived most of my life with a mental illness called chronic depression. I usually refer to it as my "black dog" because Winston Churchill called his that and it's an apt description. I've tried to eke out whatever happiness I could from my existence, whilst simultaneously trying to keep the Hounds of Baskerville from swallowing me whole. Sometimes, my black dog snapped at my heels; sometimes it followed meekly behind me. Sometimes, happiness appeared and I was almost able to forget my dark companion for a while. Then years would go by and my existence was just that; existing, gaining no pleasure or contentment from life. I suspect that my outlook may be shared by many, except those who are talented or lucky enough to dredge their happiness out of the smallest things and make it last; or those who can rely on a crutch like addiction or religion to help them escape the darkness. By "crutch", I mean anything that can help you forget your troubles for a while, or something that can give you guidelines on how to deal with living. Crutches can be helpful or injurious, depending on your viewpoint, but we all have them in one form or another.

 I have no escape from myself, so I try to take pride in my stoicism, my refusal to allow depression to overtake me completely anymore. I certainly do not fully trust anyone who hasn't had some experience with depression, whether short term or long. How can you live life and not suffer with depression at one time or another? How can you see all of the evil and injustice in the world and not feel angry? How can people just say that it's "god's will" or "there's nothing I can do about it, so why even think about it"? Anyone who says that they don't suffer from depressive episodes at all is not being truthful. Depression is a part of humanity. It's lodged firmly in our DNA. Humans can be happy, calm, depressed, annoyed, violent; no one is only one of those emotions all of the time. I can be all of them in the same day, the same hour. I've been in the pits of despair when I was making loads of money and I've been happy as a clam with very little. My dark periods help me to appreciate my happy periods more fully. That is a realization that actually did come with age.


Nathan said...

I have always found it helpful to compartmentalize my depression -- that is, I develop a schedule of my depressive moments for the coming week every Sunday evening while watching TCM's Silent Sunday features. This way, there are no surprises; I know when the depression will arrive and when the clock strikes a certain hour, I wipe the depression away with no real sense of urgency. It's easy if you try.

cathead9 said...

I can't be depressed when watching Silent Sunday Nights. It's my fave show on TCM!

Tracey Fields said...

Your honesty is invaluable. Thank you for your vulnerability. I love you.