Don't Feed the Dog

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Hello. It’s great to talk to you.

That’s what I might have said last week; instead, I am saying it this week. This week, I not only feel like writing a blog, but I feel okay enough to write a blog.

You see, even Facebook was telling me you guys hadn’t heard from me for a while. Yes, I now that it was an algorithm, designed by a super-tech Californian whizz-kid but there was enough in those few words that got me thinking. Clever huh?

Now, I didn’t go and immediately contact everyone or start on my memoirs or even begin to think about what my blog could be about, what it did do is make me think why hadn’t people heard from me for a while. Sorry but this is blunt. I didn’t want people to hear from me. In fact, I couldn’t have cared less (told you it was blunt).

But it was also a lie that I have managed to cultivate on and off for quite a long time now. It’s part of a package that ultimately ends up isolating me (and not in the whole viral avoidance way that is currently ‘in vogue’). Because that is where Depression wants you. On your own. When you’re on your own it can hack away at your self-esteem, your confidence, your wellbeing, your life. It’s an effective, time travelling torture device: isolation – recrimination – desperation. You get to be punished for what you have done, who you have been, what you are now and whatever you might think of doing in the future. No glimmer of hope is left unturned. Even better, you get to beat yourself up for… beating yourself up. It is the most exquisitely designed mental torture and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home.

The truth about Depression lies in the thing it so desperately wants you to do – isolate. Why? Why is it so keen to have you on your own? What is it about connection that it is so afraid of – and more to the point, has convinced you that you’re so afraid of? It’s because Depression knows that what we all thrive on is connection. Or to put it more eloquently, love. We all need to feel loved, needed by someone else, important to somebody. If we feel loved, Depression hasn’t got a chance.

Which can seem ridiculous. I am happily married and have been for nearly twenty-five years. I have two beautiful daughters (inside and out). My family loves me. And believe me, I have certainly given them reason not to at times. But these are facts, they are set in stone, immutable. Yet Depression is a crafty foe, chip, chip, chipping away until it finds the right crack to exploit. And then it does something particularly nasty.

Winston Churchill famously suffered with ‘dark moods,’ spending days in bed paralysed by over analysis, critical thinking and Depression. In typically Churchillian style, he characterised these moods as his ‘Black Dog.’ In an early letter to his wife Clementine in 1911, after hearing a friend’s wife had received some help for depression from a German doctor, he wrote:

I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.

Did you see it? Depression’s trick. It drained all of the colour out of his world. This is the tip of the iceberg – which incidentally is probably floating beside all those people that describe Depression like being completely submerged in water. It flattens everything. Depression cannot actually drain the colour out of the world. What it does is make sure that we don’t see it. What better way to do this than get us on our own, lock us in a room and ratchet up the spiralling thoughts that keep us locked in. Nothing gets in. No-one gets out.

So, how do you break the cycle? Sorry, there is no easy answer. Let me demonstrate.

As an ecotherapist, I love the outdoors. I love connecting with Nature. In hundreds of different seen and unseen ways it benefits me and soothes my soul. Yet, like Churchill’s ‘Black Dog,’ Depression knows what to target and drains the colour out of it. There is an invisible wall. I can see it but I can’t feel it… because feeling isn’t great. Feeling is the road to ruin. So, don’t feel. Isolate. Immerse. Innoculate.

Even better. I can then beat myself up for not connecting with Nature because that’s what I do! It also explains why you hadn’t heard from me… I couldn’t manage to connect with Nature and if I pretended then I would be a fraud!

It’s called ‘feeding the dog.’ Give everything a reason. A reason validates Depression and if it’s valid well then, it must be true.

What that Facebook question did for me though was break the cycle. Depression was taking a nap after a long feed. I wasn’t bothered that people hadn’t heard from me for a while – not then at least – but the question (like questions often do) spawned another one. Why haven’t people heard from me? Imagine the sleeping dog suddenly waking up – ‘Oh wait, hang on, I need to beat him up a bit more.’ Too late Black Dog, here’s another question. Is that what you want? And the answer is universally, ‘No.’ No-one wants to feel like that no matter how much they think they do in the midst of it all.

A couple of things helped. First, I talked to someone (remember, Depression doesn’t like that). So, apparently, I wasn’t as hateful a person as the Dog was telling me. Then, I turned one of it’s tricks on itself. Sometimes, this is a walk in Nature – stopping every now and then to smell and touch and taste something as I go. Appreciating that, actually, there is more than just colour in the world outside.

But this time it was Van Halen.

You see, one of Depression’s greatest tricks is to rob me of everything I love – ultimately it would literally do that of course. Before the Facebook question – and the subsequent de-railing of the ‘D-Train,’ – music was a quick route to the past, a past I couldn’t get back and a past I couldn’t change and therefore, the reason why I am so loathsome. Listening to the ridiculously testosterone fuelled lyrics of mid to late Eighties ‘hair rock’ would take me back to speeding along the Cornish coastline in my brown Austin Allegro estate (I know, cool right?), windows open, shades on. And I was never going to be that young and handsome and cool again.

But, after that question, well…

So there I am, getting the evening meal ready – it’s braised chicken casserole with rosemary dumplings, cooked in the slow cooker by the way – and wallop! ‘Why Can’t This Be Love?’ erupts from the radio. What a question. And what a song! I don’t need to be 18 and driving a somewhat suspect car along somewhat suspect roads at even more suspect speeds. I am making a really tasty meal for people that I love and people that love me back. I love the song. The volume is turned up to ‘11’ and there I am – enjoying the moment and the memories of enjoying the song for the first time around. Depression’s greatest trick – sapping the colour out of something that gave me such joy – turned on itself.

Remembering the joy, the Black Dog looks at me hungrily, its tail between its legs and it slinks off. Van Halen 1 – Black Dog 0.

Today I chose not to feed the dog. Today I thought about the question. Today I married the moment to the memory. And today is exactly what I have.

Now, where’s my Bon Jovi CD?


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