Black dog

Today was not a good day, so I made it into a pamper day!

When I finally managed to drag myself out of bed, I headed down to my local barbers for a cut-throat shave, followed by a shoulder and back massage at the mall, then a 2 hour meal at one of my favourite diners, just watching the world go by over a bottomless cup of coffee. I cruised through the day, ignored conversation with anyone I came into contact with, and spent it devoid of a single purpose. Why, you may ask, was that not a good day?

Thirteen years ago, this month, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Not that I like to think of myself as being “depressed”, mind you, as that is a bit too black for me. “Issues due to a work burnout” sounds much cooler! And today was one of those “black dog” days when the words from Coldplay’s “The Scientist”, often go through my head (being sung by Willie Nelson):

Tell me your secrets
Ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start
Running in circles, coming up tails
Heads on a science apart

Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh take me back to the start

Yeah well, OK, let’s move on. Looking back, the day of the diagnosis seems a long time ago even though the issues are still as real and as relevant today. Initially of course I did not accept I had a problem and muddled through, operating on auto control, until a caring (mother hen like) colleague asked me what was wrong. That’s when it clicked.

Now, thirteen years down the track, the emotions, the dark days, and all the other guff that goes with it, are simply apart of whom I am, something I just accept by taking each day as it comes. Not that I admit my problems to anyone else! Sadly the accepted wisdom of my peer group is basically to “have a cup of cement and harden up!” They are not really the most sensitive types, and besides I don’t look depressed – oops sorry burnt out!

Do I wish I had taken better care of my mental health all those years ago? – Yes and no really. What do you mean NO, I hear you say! Well even though I can pinpoint the precise moment that sent me over the edge, and know the exact reason – in some ways it has made me more conscious of the actual inner person. It has allowed me to step off the corporate treadmill, with all that entails, to work on what is really important to me. Besides if it doesn’t work out I can always blame the “problem” in any case.

Nevertheless, in the beginning I did not feel this way at all. I was pissed off, angry, uncommunicative, wondering what was the point of it all – and then to top it off, there were the side-effects of the prescribed medications. Apart from some “experimentation” I have never really enjoyed that “lack of control” or feeling of paranoia that I get from drugs or pills, so alcohol and caffeine have always been my drugs of choice. However when you are diagnosed with a mental illness, drugs of the legal kind are the go to for most doctors and according to two leading psychologists, Margraf and Schneider of Ruhr University, Germany, the  supposed epidemic of depression, anxiety and psychoses is being addressed by the handing out of more and more prescriptions. In the same measure, there is little evidence of a drop in mental problems from doing this, which suggests that either the drugs are not effective or the drugs are making the problem worse.

For myself, I put up with the doctors drug regime for about 6 months – and then kicked them to touch. The feeling of living in a fog, of being unable to think coherently, the constant tiredness, was worse than dealing with the problem head on. A leading psychiatrist, Allen Force, who was, before breaking ranks, employed by the APA in defining mental diseases, puts the case that Psychiatry too has abandoned its legacy and become “just another delivery system for the drugs industry”.

I then, to my doctors horror, did two things (according to him) that I should absolutely not do – come off the prescribed medications and make a major life decision when in this state- that of quitting a well paid career job – even though I had been on reduced hours for much of that period. I resigned, received severance pay, travelled and played for 12 months and then started a part time business. I became me, followed my interests, worked reduced hours when I was able, and didn’t have to answer to anyone else’s schedule.

Over time the highs and lows have evened out somewhat and I actually find myself whistling while I work sometimes. Yes, there are still those days I can’t be troubled to get out of bed, or feel like the sun hasn’t bothered to come to the party – but I deal with it knowing that tomorrow will be another (and better) day.

The road to recovery can be long, but with the use of exercise, diet and positive thinking it does not need to be rocky. After more than a decade of practice, I recognise the black dog days for what they are, and take time out for me, knowing it is me and not the world that has the problem. It is all a state of mind really.



My LIFE = Living It For Experience Nov 2016

EMBO Mol Med 2016

BMJ 2015 351:h609