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Day thirty-three

December 3, 2016

For a Black Dog Diary, there hasn’t been a lot written this past month about the old black dog. Although that wasn’t really the point of this exercise, was it? The point was to get myself writing something – anything – every day. So far, so good. But my inability to write has, I believe, been intrinsically linked to the depression, so I probably should write more about that.

Earlier this year I knew the black dog had me in its grip. I was wallowing in lethargy and negativity. At the time I was directing our full production play, a tribute to Nellie McClung and the women (and men) of the Political Equality League, which we were staging to mark the centenary of women first getting the vote in Canada. All the cast members were people I like and whom I consider friends. It should have been great fun, but it wasn’t. Like the lack of fun in the more recent panto rehearsals, I finally recognised that something had to be done.

I decided to start seeing a counsellor I’d seen a few times in 2013, the last time the black dog bit. At that time her services were free, paid for by an island charity. By this year she was in private practice. Even though I couldn’t afford the reduced rate she offered me, I went ahead with counselling. (Cheques were written on the line of credit, only used for emergencies. I deemed this an emergency.) I was resistant to going back on the meds, partly, as I told the counsellor, because I wanted to know that what I was feeling was real. Somehow I thought if I could wrestle the black dog to the ground without meds I would be able to put it behind me for good. The other reason, as I also told her, was that there was no pill invented (as far as I knew) that could permanently cure what really ailed me: being old and poor and ugly and alone. Ouch! Pretty harsh words, but that’s how I was feeling.

So, that’s where we started.

Did the counselling do any good? Given the money I spent which I couldn’t afford, I’d like to say yes. Perhaps it did. Certainly it’s true that the simple act of getting intensely negative thoughts out of your head, where they are destructively banging around, and speaking them out loud lessens the feeling that your head is going to explode, so there was that advantage.

A man I met in the UK a decade ago, whom I came to care about deeply, once sent me an alarming email message. At the time he was in his own wrestling with the black dog, after a bipolar diagnosis. The message was a long rant about his struggles. As soon as I’d finished reading it, I rang him, very alarmed by his state of mind. He assured me he was fine, that writing that late night rant to the only person he trusted enough to read it had actually been quite cathartic. “Better out than in,” he said. And he was right. Much better out than in. Much better to shine the light of day on those dark, dangerous thoughts. (I really should write more about this man, but not today.)

Anyway, back to the counselling and repeating the question: Did it do any good? I wish I knew. I don’t know what – if any – role the counselling played in chasing off the black dog. I do know the bastard was almost entirely absent from my life during the weeks I was rehearsing Prothero with my mates.

The bastard crashed back in when I saw the dress rehearsal photos. Bloody hell, I thought at the time, I really am  scare-the-children fucking ugly. When I told the photographer that he’d succeeded in taking the worst pictures of me I’d ever seen, he simply smiled and said everyone knew they were images of the character I was playing, not me. Okay, fair enough, I did pull some hideous faces as the poisonous spinster I was portraying and he’d managed to capture all of them, but still. Christ.

I mentioned this at my next counselling session, the hideous proof that I really was hideously ugly. “You know that’s not true,” was the first thing she said. I don’t remember anything else either of us said that day. I do remember challenging her at the next session, pointing out that simply denying the truth of something that I truly believed had not been particularly helpful, that, from my point of view, it would have been better to start off with “Say that’s true…” She asked how that would have helped and I told her: whether or not it was a universal truth, when I shared my feelings with her, they were true to me. Simply denying my truth was no help at all. Beginning with “Say that’s true”, even if she didn’t think it was (even if no one else on the planet thought it was), might have got me to the point where I needed to be: Even if it is true that I’m hideously ugly, so fucking what? I’m very smart and very funny and that combination has made me quite attractive to my fair share of lovers over the years. (Even if the odds are there will never be another. See previous entry on accepting facts.)

Here’s another sad, but true fact: For most people, everything negative that happens to you in your teens haunts you for the rest of your life. I wish I could say I don’t remember how many times in my teens that I overheard someone say I was ugly or someone said it to my face, but I do remember each and every time. (I also remember being called a frigid, sarcastic bitch, but that’s another story that I think I will leave for today.)

When I was 20 I ended up in New York. The second night I was there, I went out for dinner with my friend Mike. (One of the many Mikes there have been in my life.) Some friends of his turned up in the restaurant and joined us. I started talking to one of them. After about ten minutes, he turned to my friend and said, “Hey, Mike, where did you find her? She’s great.”  Great? I had one of those lightbulb moments. There was nothing wrong with me. Toronto (where I’d lived when I was going to high school) was the problem. New York fucking loved me. And let’s face it: if you’re going to be loved by a city, it’s a lot more flattering to be loved by New York.

When I had to leave New York, I spent two years trying to figure out how I could legally get back there before it finally occurred to me that by right of birth I could just get on a plane and head to London. So I did. London fucking loved me, too.

Bloody hell. I’m not sure what the point of all this was, but I’m pretty sure I’ve strayed some distance from it and there doesn’t seem to be a clear path back.

Ah, yes. Going back to the beginning, I see this was originally about trying to tackle the black dog without meds. While I was going the counselling route, I talked one evening to a doctor friend in Seattle. I told her the depression was back and what I was doing. She said a combination of meds and counselling was generally considered the best treatment plan. I told her I wanted to know what I was feeling. She didn’t try to argue me out of that. I, of course, knew better than an actual doctor, right?

Wrong. It might work for some people, but it didn’t for me. Perhaps some people are more amenable to counselling than I am. Perhaps I am therapy-resistant. (I’ve thought that since I first saw a psychiatrist after my mother died in 1988. I saw him for five or six weeks before finally seeking out the friend who’d recommended him and asking if you were supposed to spend weeks wanting nothing more than to punch him in the face until you suddenly had some sort of breakthrough. “Christ, no,” she said, appalled. “It shouldn’t be like that at all.” So I stopped going. Clearly this was the wrong shrink for me. Much better to cope with my loss by snorting a lot of cocaine for months, which is what I did instead. That, too, is another story which I may or may not get to in the remaining ten days.)

Here’s what I’ve learnt this year: Counselling (or therapy or whatever you want to call it) probably is good thing to tag on to taking anti-depressants. Which is why my doctor, in addition to doling out a prescription, has me seeing The Nurse. Trying to wrestle with the black dog with counselling alone is (for me at least) stupid. It’s like asking a massage therapist to fix your broken arm. If you’re lucky, the massage might help you take your mind off the pain, but the pain isn’t going to go away. On the other hand, a massage might really help after the cast has been taken off and the root problem addressed.

And now I have to do some recycling, then go to see a man about a play.

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From → Black dog diary

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