Monday, February 01, 2016

Black Dog Dead - January

Wow, so 2016 started off a real downer, didn’t it?
Bowie, Rickman, Frey and the lesser-known to many but actually pretty significant to my early experiences of Doctor Who and other TV dramas, Robert Banks Stewart. Like a hero cull.

As I’ve said elsewhere, many of us are just at an age where we begin to lose our heroes. No matter whether it’s too soon or whether they have lived to a grand old age. We would much prefer them to be immortal. They are, in a sense. But we still feel their loss keenly. It’s impossible still not to feel a little sadness when I think of Elisabeth Sladen, Caroline John, Mary Tamm. Although that touch of sadness comes hand in hand with a great appreciation for their contribution to – well, I was going to say my childhood and so on – but, ultimately, to me. Heroes help shape who we are.

Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with depression. But if we happen to be suffering with it, then it is another of those contributing external factors that can really seem overwhelming, especially when combined with the general post-Christmas blues and frankly shitty weather that generally characterises this time of year. I’m looking at more of the wet-and-windy gloomfest through the café window right now and it’s not doing a whole lot to lift my spirits.

Fortunately, today, they need no external lifting. I’m – what’s the word? – okay. I’m tempted to say good. But something makes me wary of overstating how I am. There’s a cautionary note attached to my self-diagnosis. So let’s go comparative and say way better than I have been.

That first fortnight of the new year, I was fairly miserable. But the chief culprit there was a germ. Some pernicious virus invading my system through the protective barrier of alcohol consumed over the festive season and proclaiming “Contact has been made.” Once it made contact, bloody hell, it settled right in and seemed determined to stay like a malignant microbial squatter. I’d keep shouting at it to leave, in short exclamations ending in *cough* but it paid m no attention. Laundry day required an extra machine just for handkerchiefs.

All right, that last part is pure exaggeration, but it was a menace and I felt grotty. Partly because I wanted to be cracking on with so many projects and things, to make a really good start to 2016.

Two weeks in, it finally packed its biohazardous bags and left, presumably to make greener pastures in someone else. Yours truly was free to throw himself into those projects and, even if I didn’t have a whole lot of energy to burn I did feel highly motivated. Determined, I guess, to make up for lost time.

Here we are at the end of January and a rough estimate concludes that I’ve achieved approximately half of what I’d hoped in this month. And several things that I’d not planned on achieving at all.

Which is about what you’d expect plus bonuses.

Now, I’m training myself out of the habit of measuring my days, weeks or months purely in terms of what I’ve achieved. There has to be more to the mental health and self-worth scale than that. But for right now I can look at the things I’ve done in the face of a poorly start and take that as an indicator. On top of that, I know that in the latter half of January I’ve had far more good days than bad.

There were times, moments usually, when the Black Dog threatened and one seriously down and strangely tearful day. Like I hadn’t shed enough fluids already with the damned cold.

But even there I was able to identify a clear and distinct trigger. And this was a new phenomenon to me.

There were moments in the wake of a really really good day where essentially I looked for someone to tell, to share that with, and felt the lack as keenly as any loss. Ironically, it cut sharper than when I’ve felt a need for someone to talk to about a bad day. I guess in part because when I’ve had a bad day, a really bad day, my assumption is that nobody will want to hear it. Whereas a good day, a really good day, surely everyone wants to hear about those. Anyway, yep, I’ve a suspicion it’s that old devil called loneliness at work.

Again, nothing to do with depression and a common enough condition. But a dangerous contributor to the Black Dog. Might as well coat yourself in Baker’s Complete and invite the Black Dog in to feast.

So, what’s the course of action now, especially in light of the clear progress I’ve made throughout 2015.

Obviously, the ultimate goal is to take that Black Dog out back and put a shotgun to its head like Old Yeller. In that event it would probably rise from the dead and continue to shamble after me like a canine zombie, but they key word there is shamble. There’s every chance I can outrun it if it’s undead.

The mission then for this year ought to be focused primarily on tackling those contributing factors – or rather, how I deal with them. It’s akin to dosing up on Lemsip, Echinacea and burying yourself under several duvets and a cat to combat the symptoms of a cold. You can’t immunise yourself totally against the germs and once they’re in they’re probably going to run their natural course, but you can alleviate the effects to some degree.

Clearly, with the best will in the world, I’m not going to be able to prevent further hero culls. Although I am fighting the good fight there to a tiny degree, as royalties from my Evil UnLtd series will continue to go to Cancer Research UK. That and an appropriate spell of mourning coupled with a celebration of their lives and works is pretty much all anyone can do.

Loneliness? A trickier foe, perhaps. But there are measures that can be taken. Getting out, taking a night off. I’m very lucky to have friends I can go seek out or bump into randomly on the street (Penzance is a small town) and even luckier that some of them are such brilliant company they can lift me with just a few words or a laugh. One of my favourite people has a smile that I really think ought to be available on the NHS: one sight of that smile and you’re set for the day. And then there are the friends that you don’t see but they’re only a Facebook post away. It’s not proper social human contact, but many people’s personalities manage to shine through the screen.

Meanwhile, since I’ve been busier and more creative/productive than ever it would seem to make sense to continue in that vein. Besides the achievement factor, it delivers other – probably more significant progress – in terms of confidence and feeling generally happier within myself. That is a change that others are able to see.

Only the other day a friend told me, “You’re looking well.” It surprised me – my first thought was, “Am I?” But hearing it worked wonders. As though it needed someone else to observe the improvement in me in order for me to quite believe it. Gold dust. 

And I will take that and bank it and let it earn interest.

Am I rid of the Black Dog?

Probably not.

But I have shotgun and ammunition.

SAF 2016

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