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Day six

November 6, 2016

On Day three, before my computer refused to start (Holy heat attack, Batman), I had planned to sit down and write something about the black dog. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. How do you describe that thundercloud hanging permanently over your head? Especially to someone who’s never experienced it?

And then I remembered that a while ago, a friend of mine in the UK, who was experiencing his own problems with the black dog, posted an image on Facebook which hit me like a ton of bricks. I was pretty sure I’d saved the image and this morning I found it.


Yep. That says it all. Before I’d experienced it myself, that’s what I thought. If I found out someone was living with depression, I did feel sorry for them, because I thought it must be awful to just feel sad all the time.

That ain’t it. Feeling sad all the time, as awful as that would indeed be, would involve feeling something. For those who’ve never experience a black dog day (or month or year), it must be difficult to imagine feeling absolutely nothing. Lost in a fog of nothingness.

I know what anxiety looks like. I know people (including my partner Mike) who’ve suffered with it. It’s paralysing. I’ve seen panic attacks and on one occasion a decade or so ago I had one. (Fortunately, when I finally got to the safety of my flat, having walked up my road muttering like a madwoman, I rang a friend who knew exactly what was wrong. “Breathe,” she kept telling me until I was finally able to do so. She is someone who has been crippled by anxiety at times in her life. I’m still grateful to her for talking me down on that occasion, because I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to live with this as a regular occurrence.)

No, anxiety isn’t my problem.

Sadness? Check. Self-loathing? Check. Hopelessness? Check. Guilt? Check. Isolation? Check. Nothingness? Check, check, check. Bucket loads of all of the above.

Of course, that’s before the meds kicked in. All that bad shit is, I’m sure, still swirling around in my subconscious swamp, but the meds allow you to rise above it. I should really have been writing about this several weeks ago. (Oh, ha, bloody ha. As if I could have forced myself to the keyboard several weeks ago.)

What’s missing from this picture? The bloody obvious, of course. Where is happiness? Where is joy? Where is optimism? They’ve all been sucked into the swamp. While nothingness may seem like a weightless proposition. How can you weigh nothing? Writing that sentence has actually made me smile, reminding me as it does of the very funny opening scene of our panto, The Return of Robin Hood. But nothingness is not a laughing matter. It is the elephant in the room, Babar the Bastard, the ten ton bloody weight that squashes anything bright. Nothingness is the Dementors. (J K Rowling must have had some struggles of her own with the black dog to have come up with these guys.)


During my first session with the mental health nurse (whom I shall hereafter refer to simply as the Nurse – yes, I do feel stigmatised even typing the words, whether or not I should), she asked a number of questions.

First she wanted to establish whether my depression (and resulting dark, tooth-brushing thought) had a substance abuse component. No, I said, I do not use hard drugs. (Although, truth be told, if someone I trusted offered me some coke or ecstasy, I’d jump at the chance. I did not mention that.) No, I said, I don’t smoke dope. Alcohol? A spritzer or two of an evening. Every evening? Yes. “When was the last time you were drunk?” she asked. I thought about it and genuinely could not remember. Apparently that was a good answer. (When I got home after out session I realised that I’d got quite drunk on at least one of the nights my friend was visiting from Toronto in September. But before that? No, I really could not remember the last time I’d been drunk before that.)

Then she asked me when I’d last felt genuinely happy. That was a no brainer. Back in May, I told her, the weekend of the one-act play festival.

It was an Alan Bennett two-hander, A Visit From Miss Prothero. When the director asked me to read the play, I’d just finished back-to-back directing of last year’s panto and the early spring full production. I was, I told him, completely fucking knackered, so if he was hoping I’d agree to play Miss Prothero, he should forget it. Then he told me a mate of mine, who’d never acted before, was willing to give it a go if I was. Hmm, I thought. That could be fun. So I changed my mind on the spot. Sure, I said, I’m in.

It was fun. The rehearsals were fun and as for the performance weekend, it was bloody exhilarating. It was so much fun that, as soon as it was over, I thought, “I simply have to do it again next year.” I considered the hassle of trying to find another two-hander and then, because I was riding such a high, I thought, “Sod it. I’ll just write one myself.” And I did. In three days. I wrote a fucking one-act play in three days. And, if I do say so myself, it’s pretty bloody good. (This is an opinion which has been verified by others.)

So, yes, I can remember feeling genuinely happy. I’m not sure how long this elation lasted, but it wasn’t long. And when it was gone, it was simply an agonising reminder that it was possible to be that happy. To have fun.

And where are we today? Well, I guess you could describe the feeling I have about sitting here for an hour, stringing words together with no difficulty whatsoever as a type of happiness. It’s certainly satisfaction – another feeling that’s been woefully absent for some time.

I guess what I’d call it is a pretty good start.

From → Black dog diary

One Comment
  1. janeshead permalink

    Hullo – Just wanted to say, as one who lived a long long time with someone who suffered under the motherfucking black miasma (but refused to deal with it except by taking it out on the people who loved him) how glad I am that you’re tackling this thing. I see glimpses of it myself as I get older, but I can pretty much always find a piece of happiness or at least contentment, to keep my head above water; I can only imagine not finding it anywhere. Ha – truly one of my biggest pieces of happiness, when I’m feeling seriously blue (not black – I don’t get the black miasma, I know that) is my actual little black dog. When I do get those “is that all there is” feelings, when I wonder what difference my not existing would make in the world, there’s my little black dog, beside me, worrying about me, more immediate than friends and family… I dunno how you feel about dogs, but they’re great for the health, generally. They make you go outside and walk them no matter how much you don’t want to. And then you feel a bit better; even if you resented them making you go out, once you’re walking you feel better. And NO ONE loves you like a dog does, they’re basically just made of it. Like Iggy Pop says, what is a dog but a machine for loving…I love my cat to bits too, don’t get me wrong, and I daresay he loves me, but it is not the same!

    And that is the end of the unsolicited advice. I will be following along on your…whatever it is – I can’t bring myself to say “journey”, it’s too cliche, but you know what I mean. I’m there sistah! xox Jane

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