Come on, Black Dog, make up your mind. Are you IN or OUT?
Now, I’m sure I’ve talked before about how ideally I’d love to better manage my emotional reactions to the news, the world of politics and so on, and if ever there was a month to test my progress in that quarter, June 2016 was it.
So how’d I do?
In some respects, hopelessly badly. In others, pretty damned well.
For the most part, my personal focus this month was on one goal: completing edits on my Lethbridge-Stewart novel and submitting the MS on time to the editor at Candy Jar Books. That was the be all and end all on the work front and I must confess other things did slide – household chores neglected, social life (what’s that?) and general R&R.
If at times the editing marathon looked too packed and too daunting, I broke it down into short sprints. Even as little as half an hour, short break, half an hour, short break, through the afternoons and some evenings. It enabled me to largely ignore the big hill I had to climb and focus on the details, making the task easier to approach and, I hope, benefiting the writing.
And I did it. Goal achieved. Hats off, hurrah, well done me and I remembered to award myself some R&R after it was done. Actually, I had more days off than I’d intended. I meant to move fairly quickly on to resuming writing on Evil UnLtd Vol 5 and did get to work on some notes and plotting, scribbling ideas here and there, but my creative brain demanded more rest and for once I gave into its demands.
As with May, the busy daily timetable didn’t leave a great deal of room for contemplating my mental state. I continued my habit of the weekly morning swim and that remains beneficial, although I still have an occasional struggle just getting myself to that pool and there are feelings of anxiety and isolation that surface now and again during the swim. But I know the benefits and keep going. And I think it’s generally fair to say that if you’re not stopping to think about it, if you’re doing, then at the very least you have generated a revolving door which really confuses the crap out of the Black Dog and keeps the bastard out for a while.
Still, without adopting a completely hermitic lifestyle it’s impossible to shut out the world altogether. And in any case, if we care at all, we shouldn’t when there is an opportunity to have our say in a national democratic decision.
So I followed the EU referendum campaign as best I could in between the workathon.
What a horror show.
Worse because quite apart from the main feature it put me in touch with other world news. And in the midst of some of the basest level debate I’ve had the displeasure to witness, there came reports of shootings. Mass murder in Orlando and the murder of Jo Cox MP. And because I’ve yet to become inured to such things, it’s fair to say there was some sense of despair and hopelessness colouring my world view as the debate marched on towards June 23rd.
Obviously, discussion of the politics belongs mostly elsewhere and believe me I did my share. Suffice to say, I was deeply disappointed by certain aspects of the campaign going on before my eyes – lies, misinformation, ignorance, racism – and further dismayed by the result. Oops, just gave away which side of the fence I was on. Oh well. But in this context, it’s irrelevant. Because the country today is full of Remainers and Brexiters who live in a world of uncertainty and anxiety and some of us, whichever way we voted, were already suffering with mental health issues.
I don’t mind telling you, on Friday 24th June I was depressed.
Yeah, I was gutted, like any person would be, waking up to bad news. And I got angry and I vented on social media and all the rest.
But, and here’s the thing, this wasn’t Depression with a capital, clinical D.
We know the difference when the Black Dog strikes. I especially knew the difference because it did strike a few days later, on the following Tuesday. Yeah, that’s the day we went from ordinary old-fashioned blues to when the Black Dog voted itself IN.
Now, I know there were several contributing factors that just converged and became too much. Thinking back I can even recall the stages throughout that day combining to tip me over and sink me into a deep dark pit.
And I think that’s quite significant, because so many times before I have been totally unable to tell anyone why I’m feeling Depressed, to identify a triggering incident or chain of incidents. Often when you are dragged along in an undertow of emotion, it’s easy to lose sight of the source.
I’m hoping that I can retain some measure of that awareness and be alert for warning signs in future.
Anyway, what’s even more important is that I came through and emerged on the other side. Not exactly a ray of sunshine today as I write this – partly cloudy, might best describe my state of mind. But once again we have kicked the Black Dog out and if there is any depression lingering then it has shed its capital, clinical D for now.
How did I battle my way through?
Well, I didn’t put up a fight, I can tell you that much.
Gave in to it. Gave up, even. Allowed myself to crash, then slowly hauled myself out of the wreckage the following day, when I was ready. You have to be real careful when moving an accident victim.
In practical terms, what it amounted to was extending a break I was already supposed to be on after completing my novel. A planned couple of days off became three or four, carrying me right up to the end of June. Indulgent, but necessary. Carrying on with a few scribbled notes, just to let the imagination play and help me feel like I wasn’t quite out of the game altogether, combined with being kind to myself – a dash of comfort telly, a spot of video gaming, watching some tennis highlights, general vegging, curling up under a blanket and/or a cat, much like you would if you were ill. Which I was, of course.
And thanks to a bit of good timing on the part of the calendar this convalescent spell was nicely tailed off with an evening out for a mate’s birthday, right at the end of the month. Can’t say I was in the best spirits for partying at the outset, but I recognised the need for it and went out and took my medicine. And it did the trick.
After a brief and untidy and highly disorganised campaign, I voted the Black Dog OUT again. Hurray!
And here we are, next day, beginning of July. Another fresh start in a sense, where I’m reminded of my limitations and know how to proceed for the next thirty-one days.
Yes, we can change the world, but it’s a question of scale. You do what you can and that is all you can do. And sometimes if it looks hopeless or pointless, well, the only thing you can do is focus on yourself and your small world, where you can see and measure the differences you make.