Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Black dog, red dog, yellow dog, blue....

It’s time, I think, to introduce you to my own black dog. The more we haul these dogs out into the bright light of day, the more control we have over them. Obedience classes for black dogs. Muzzles on, choke chains checked, heel! Sit. Good dog. Except, of course, it doesn’t really work like that.

My beast first appeared at my heel when I was ten years old. My father died of lung cancer – at a time when death wasn’t discussed and counselling wasn’t offered – everyone (children included) were expected to take a deep breath, brush themselves down and get back on with life. My diary page has drawings of tears all down the margin, my writing very wobbly, slanting wildly down the page. ‘My dear Daddy is dead. Poor Mummy didn’t know how to tell me.’
I suppose we cried then. I suppose we comforted one other but I can’t remember any of that. What I can remember, clear as day, was being taken to see Born Free by a neighbour on the day of the funeral. I’d seen it a few weeks before but didn’t like to say anything and politely sat through it, watching the parched plains of Africa, sucking the salt off stale popcorn, cringing away from the neighbour’s kindness. Then I was sent on a coach trip to a safari park (more bloody lions) with some Sunday School kids and I can still see one organiser talking to another, glancing over at me, and muttering ‘Yes, she’s the one whose father died. No, don’t say anything to the children’. But of course it spread like wildfire. They avoided me like the plague, as if by associating with me their fathers might die too.
After that the black dog bit me hard. I developed asthma and would sit in my tiny damp bedroom, staring bleakly at a line of gonks that seemed to belong to another age, to another child. I went from being a bright, bolshy, even a bit pushy, girl to a silent shy ghost. I didn’t mention my father. I got by. I didn’t cry. Not until I was eighteen and at university and I met a girl whose father had died when she, too, had been ten. She spoke about it openly and frankly and that night, in my room, I drank half a bottle of gin and sobbed until I felt sick.

Those were the ‘don’t care’ years – when I would walk around the toughest areas of Manchester, deep in the night, figuring I would give Fate the chance to finish me off. Sometimes the whole world seemed so unreal I would cut my arm or face to feel something, anything – even pain is better than not existing.

I left college but the dog came with me back to London. However I found that, if you pushed yourself hard enough, if you worked hard, played hard, took the right amount of alcohol and the right drugs, you could pretty well kick it out of the way.
But it crept into my dreams. A dark shape, sometimes a dog, sometimes a cat-beast, sometimes just an amorphous shadow. A sick feeling would wash over me and I would just know it was waiting in the shadows, waiting to bite. I had one of those dreams a week or so ago. I was standing at the top of a flight of stone steps leading down into somewhere dark and frightening. I heard the tick-tack of claws clicking on stone and the familiar sinking feeling washed over me. Looking down I saw a small black dog climbing, slowly, in no hurry. It knew I wasn’t going anywhere. It’s always pointless to run. It drew level with me and grew, stretching up and out until it was the size of a Labrador. I could feel its breath on my hand, hear its breathing and then, oh so slowly, it took my hand in its mouth. I could feel the damp softness, so gentle as if my hand were a gamebird, perfectly retrieved. Then with a horrible sense of the inevitable, I felt its teeth sharpen and draw back and it bit, hard, deep, straight through the sinews, crunching the bones of my hand.

As many of you know, I suffered from post-natal depression after my son was born. In retrospect, I had pre-natal depression too – born of moving out into the middle of nowhere when I was pregnant, away from all chance of support. I was working furiously and did so up until a week before the birth. There were complications, I had an emergency section, then got an infection and ended up on a drip with a blood transfusion. Nonetheless I was back working a couple of weeks later. My doctor was pretty dismissive when I told him how low I felt: how I was barely sleeping; how I was so paralysed with anxiety that every time I left my baby I thought I’d come back to see the ambulance with lights flashing outside the house, Adrian’s face trying to form the words that my child had died. ‘Welcome to parenthood,’ he said cheerily. ‘You’ll get used to it.’
After nine months I diagnosed myself and asked a different doctor what she thought. She plonked me on Seroxat and, luckily, it helped. It pulled me out of the hole. I came off it after six months though as I was terrified of becoming addicted. Since then I have battled the dog with a mixture of herbs (Magnolia Rhodiola complex), exercise, positive self-talk and long lists of gratitude. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The last few months have been really hard – life has hit me on several sides at once and the dog has been having a field day.

However, I am noticing something interesting. A psychologist once told me that depression always hides other emotions. That it’s a kind of coping mechanism for when other emotions might overwhelm us. Of late, I’ve noticed that my black dog is being joined by other dogs, by a whole pack. There’s the red dog of anger and pure fury, snapping, snarling, biting back for once….. The yellow dog of fear, cowardly, cringing, sideways glancing. The blue dog of grief, of sudden sobbing tears, welling up like a huge wave threatening to break over my head. Anything can set it off. I was reading Cait’s blog a few days back and Halleluyah was playing. I felt a catch at the back of my throat and that was it. I howled for about an hour, great wracking sobs.

This is written, by the way, not for sympathy or even empathy. It’s written for me (because I can’t write about everything that is happening in my life but I figure I can still write about how I feel about it). It’s also written because I truly believe that keeping depression, and all forms of mental illness, hidden and secret only increases the taboo, the shame, and stops other people from seeking the help they need. My black dog is, like my real life dog, pretty badly behaved – but at least I can own it, stick a microchip on it and a name tag on its collar. What is known is always less frightening than the unknown. Just maybe, if I can own my anger, grief and fear, I won’t need that black dog so much.

39 comments:

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

I, too, have a black dog whose name I dare not speak. Your post touched me so deeply. I think I started my blog as a way of keeping my black dog at bay, and it's helped. I hope you are feeling better and that your life has settled down somewhat. Mine is somewhat crazy at the moment too. I thought this was supposed to be a good year for us Capricorns. What happened?

Pipany said...

Jane you are having to cope with so much at the moment and take note of that 'having to' - when there is no choice it is hard to find any positivity to hang on to, any new way of attacking the black well of depression. Let the tears come and rage at will, here if that helps. We are all here for you xxxxx

Frances said...

Jane, how well you do express yourself. You have been and are such a help to so many other folks.
Writing this blog is another example of how you do give of yourself.
I am so sorry for all the darkness that has gone before in your life. I am so happy that whatever paths we have travelled on have allowed us to meet.
All that Pipany has written are in my thoughts now as well.
My words are never as eloquent as yours, but I do hope that you can sense the support and great affection that they send you.
xo

KittyB said...

Oh, Jane, gulp. So beautifully written and so touching. I'm sure it helps to get some of it out by writing it down - I feel by typing a tiny bit of the angst/worry/hurt starts to flow away immediately (and what helps a lot is the resultant support that comes from the Purple crew!).

elizabethm said...

Jane
as always you capture it in words. I think you are spot on about depression being linked to other unacknowledged emotion and perhaps your understanding of the other dogs that surround you will help. You have an extraordinary amount to cope with just now so I think you can expect the anger and the grief. I hope the sense of how many of us are on your side is a little bit of help.

Miss Penelope said...

One step then another then another.

x

Elizabethd said...

Jane, I can only say that my thoughts and prayers are with you right now.

LittleBrownDog said...

Dear Jane - that was beautifully written, and here I am reading it with tears running down my cheeks because it rings so many bells with me. My father died, too, when I was at college, and only one person there acknowledged my loss - everyone else either avoided me or expected me just to get on with thing. At home, everyone just told me how I should be supporting my mum. I also had PND and an unsympathetic doctor who said just about the same thing. You write so beautifully and you're so good at propping everyone else up and knowing what to say.

Interesting what you write about the different coloured dogs - I'm sure you're right. As a Capricorn, you're ruled by Saturn, who can be a curmudgeonly old beast. I wondered whether you've read Liz Greene's book about Saturn A New Look at an Old Devil (I see it's now out of print). She talks about the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast and suggests embracing your own beast in order to transform him. I found this a helpful image.

Lots of love and positive vibes

LBD xxx

Fennie said...

Do so like your blogs - they strike so many chords. Always a different and interesting way of looking at something. You say you don't want sympathy or empathy - but the site is here for you, we all are - you know that. Work, of course, is a great release and exercise and great fiction, but then you know that too.
So best wishes and a virtual hug. Fxx

mountainear said...

What an open, honest and moving post.

I hope writing it down has helped you 'know your enemy' a little better.

Best wishes

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Ah Jane firstly a big hug - if that is ok. You know what . . your Black Dog may well be becoming a bit scared now - there are other dogs joining the pack and he is not the leader anymore . . it is a sign that you are now in the long slow process of moving on. There will always be dogs lurking, but as you come to understand them better they will stay longer away and locked in their kennels and you will control them and not the other way round.

Gawd what a lot you are having to cope with indeed and don't you just hate it when people come up to you and say - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - aaaarrrrrgggghhh wouldn't it be nice to be calm and peaceful and gently weak just once in a while.

Ivy said...

I have sent you a PM. Purple hugs Ivy

Cait O'Connor said...

Your blog has touched me deeply Jane, I may pm you about why exactly. The trouble is that when stress rears its head - and you have a lot at the moment - then we (you and I) can't help but revert back to our child selves with all its insecurities (well I do). But you are proving what I say, that to bring all these feelings out in the open is the right thing to do, it will not only help you, it will help so many others who are lucky enough to read your words.
Sorry about Hallelujah but tears are e - motion, energy in motion, Nature's release of a blockage.
Remember we are all here for you.
Big Hug
Caitx

Tattie Weasle said...

I have come out twice in public about my Black Dog and each time I was well and truly thumped back into the background. I cannot bear the stigma attached to depression and fight hard to get it talked about openly and honestly - problem is I sometimes don't feel stong enough to keep fighting people's narrowmindedness and the Black Dog itself....
Keep strong
XXXXXXX

lampworkbeader said...

Thankyou Jane.Thankyou for being so honest.

Faith said...

I realise now that the few things I have had to cope with in life are nothing compared to what you (and many other P'Cooers) have had to cope with. As always, I admire your writing, your honesty and your courage. I often think about you Jane; wondering how things are for you. My black dog is more black hamster these days; hope yours will be truly downsized soon. Cling onto the light. Prayers and hugs for you xxx

toady said...

Spot on girl and wonderfully, eloquently put.

Withy Brook said...

May God bless you and hold you in his arms. That was very brave and I hope therapeutic too. May I send a big purple hug - for what it is worth.

Zoë said...

^5 Jane, so glad my mumblings inspired you to write this and in your doing so, you will help many others too.

xxxx

Pondside said...

I really don't have the right words to respond to such an honest and graphic description of your black dog. You said you write for yourself, and that is really the very best reason.
You have such a lot going on now - I wish you some peace in the midst of all the turmoil.
xoxo

CAMILLA said...

Dear Jane,

So much for you to worry about at the moment. Hoping that in time your life begins to feel more settled for you. Black Dog for me too reared it's head moons ago, although I was too frightened to mention it, but as you say it is a good thing to bring it out in the open. Blogging here Jane has certainly helped me to cope with darker sides of my life, and now I will be able to own up to that Black Dog rahter than sweeping him under the carpet, so thank you for that.

You have been so supportive and helpful to others Jane, and I loved you the very first day I was fortunate to read your wonderful blogs.

Lots of love to you Jane, and big hug.

Camilla.xx

Cowgirl said...

Ahhh, Dear Jane, that was brave. You are loved by so many here that I struggle to add to what has already been said, so will just write that I'm so glad you wrote this. You and I found each other back on the other site - in such a short time you have done so much for me, been there for me, helped me be strong. You are my muse and my inspiration in so many ways.

My dear friend who I've never hugged, never had a coffee or a wine with, never even heard your voice but it doesn't matter one bit.

Let that big old Labrador lick you next time - change the ending with another vision. Bless you.

Milla said...

Goodness, Jane. I don't know what to say. What a burden you carry. You are really going through it at the moment so it is hardly surprising that you are so overwhelmed but you have a wonderful husband, a sweet boy (and a ghastly dog) so keep taking comfort from that. You have moved from up your hill to the middle of where you want to be, so the thrust in so many ways is positive, and forward-marching, and remember the good bits of your mum (who, thankfully, is emerging from the worst of those difficult days). I always remember a line from Lear, "the worst return's to laughter," meaning that when it gets really bad, as bad is could get, the only way is up. Onwards and upwards into the spring, dear girl. All love xxxxx

LittleBrownDog said...

Jane - I think you've had a couple of phishing comments (multifunctional and mp3 + mp4) - DON'T CLICK ON THE LINKS.

(Forgive me if they are long lost and special friends - from brasil, probably, if they're anything like mine. But I think probably not.)

LBD XX

Her on the Hill said...

Jane, I have read this in a terrible hurry when I should be going to bed. I think we need to talk. I'm away tomorrow till a week Sunday, but will try and email you not long after my return (hung around with kids). So many resonances and similar circumstances...
Till then, big hugs.
xx

ska said...

oh yes, this touched a chord. take care

Pixie said...

Jane, as you know I'm a therapist, but I'll try not to sound too bossy about what you could do. But therapy does work and I know there are therapists in your part of the world.
There is also a couple of really good books written by women who have come through more than one patch of depression.
Sunbathing in the Rain by Gwyneth someone? is excellant.
The other book is by Sally Bampton and has a dog in the title but can't remember it. (Jolly helpful aren't I !!!!!)

Depression comes as a result of not dealing with your rage and pain over years. It's the bodies/minds way of protecting itself against dealing with profound lonlieness and being scared. So rather than deal with grief the person unconcsiously hooks into depression as a coping mechanism.

The more you scream shout rage against the world the lessyou need the depression.

Oh dear I seem to be giving you the whole lecture, I'll stop there. But if I can be of any help to you email me.
hugs
pxx

Iota said...

I loved reading this post - in spite of the subject matter. You express it all so eloquently and beautifully. It helped me on my way too - I hadn't thought that depression can be a mask for other feelings. It's given me a new seam to mine.

I'm sure that writing must be for you, as for so many bloggers, an important way of making sense of these thingss, and moving along with them. Do keep writing. You were my first blogging inspiration, and I'd miss you if you went for good.

Milla said...

Come along Jane, all dogs locked firmly in the pound and a new blog please.

bodran... said...

Bloody hell jane you've nearly got as many as me!!!
That was very deep and beautifully written xxoo

The Country Craft Angel said...

Oh Jane

Remember my Orange Man Blog? I so understand what you are feeling.

One day last year 40 years of baggage caught up with me...and it wasn't pleasant.

You have to cry, scream, hermit, rage...do whatever you have to...but survive...and you WILL.

I've just sat here and cried at your moving post-I really feel for you.
Blogging does help...you always have a friend....
but then you should know by now that you have lots of friends here rooting for you.

xx

nuttycow said...

Thank you for this post Jane. Mud recommended it to me since I'm going through a similar thing (sort of) at the moment.

Brilliantly written and so so helpful.

English Mum said...

What an amazing piece, Jane. I actually found myself sobbing into my cereal - your description of how you felt after having your baby echoed my own experiences so well. I remember being told to 'pull myself together' and that it was bad for the baby... shoving the baby at my Mum, screeching 'well YOU have him then if you're so worried about him'.

I'd love you to meet the children of my friend who died last year. I fear I am the inept neighbour, saying the wrong thing, and my friend's daughter is so quiet.. I hope she's not going through the same thing as you.

So many rushing emotions, but thank you - I've enjoyed them washing over me. xx

Laura - Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? said...

I read this post and could relate a lot of it to my own life, particularly losing a parent.

I didn't have post natal depression but for years I have played hide and seek with my black dog!

Last year we had a particularly horrific family trauma. I was put under immense pressure and that was when I lost it big time. Like you I realised that I had hidden so many emotions away and they all came out.

Of course now the family trauma is ebbing I am hiding once more.

Hope all the above waffling makes some sense as it has just fallen out of my head during my lunchbreak.

Herry said...

What a wonderful piece of writing; I have rarely read anything so moving. You must bring hope to so many similar sufferers by drawing your own with such clear insight.

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Suzie @nowriggling said...

This is so beautifully written. I can really understand your analogy. The red dog of anger is the one pulling on a choke chain for me at the moment and even with Christmas coming up that old black one keeps growling in the corner. Like you, I take my very real black labrador dog out for a walk to keep the vicious one at bay. Good luck with everything. Wonderful stuff.

Gillian Philip said...

Thanks for such a wonderful post - I shall bookmark it and come back when my hound does. I refused to acknowledge said hound's existence for years - and refused to believe I had PND after the birth of IVF babies who'd taken 12 years to arrive (I mean how could I? Ungrateful bitch! Which is more or less what one doctor said). And I wasn't as young as you when I lost my father, but I still remember the pent-up grief, and, like LittleBrownDog, being told to be strong 'for your mother'.

Jane, I hope all your dogs are cowed into submission soon (except the rather lovely real ones in the photos). xx

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

Powerful and resonated with me in so many ways. I won't go into them here.
I remember though that death was such a shocking taboo but when I was 16, I had 3 close friends the same age die in the space of six months, and it changed everything for most of the people I was at school with, and as it affected all of us in that sxith form, it did get talked about. Healthier I think.
hugs
Viv