Monday, August 29, 2016

Black Dog Dead - August

You know you’ve had a bad month when you find it a struggle to face your blog post on the battle versus the Black Dog.

It’s not the admission of defeat, so much – and after all, I’m here, I’m writing it, so it’s not a defeat. It’s not a victory, either. But it’s not a defeat. It’s just that so much of how we evaluate these things lies in how we feel. Even if that is some distance from the truth.

One truth is that I feel defeated.

It doesn’t help that the subject header is staring back at me, taunting me. Because back in January I made the rash decision to title this, Black Dog Dead. My main aim this year being in essence to bury the Black Dog. See, I’d made such good progress last year that I felt I had moved on from the battle versus the Dog to the issue of where to go from there, how to maintain the peace, so to speak, after the war.

Mind you, I didn’t kid myself it was actually over. But there was a sense of leaving the worst behind and the will to rebuild.

And in January of this year, I was – if not on a high – at my best. My biggest problem that month was a series of strange confrontations with loneliness, born of the unusual circumstances of having a lot of really good days and nobody to share the good news with. Aside from those tearful spells (as much a result of a still-too-recent separation as anything else) I was on a creative roll, achieving loads and feeling good about myself.

Wind the clock on eight months and I find it hard to fathom how I sank so low. But more than that, it’s tough to figure out how or why I remained so low for so long. Because one thing I had learned – and learned pretty darned well – was how to cope with the setbacks, how to keep them in perspective, feel them, then bounce back and move on. Damnit, I thought I had myself well-trained by now.

But – and I take no pride in confessing this – all it took this month was a single disappointment. Sure it related to something close to my heart, and it hurt, but – and here’s the weird thing – it struck in amongst some good news on other fronts. But while the good news was a hearty morale boost it proved only temporary, while the Black Dog sensed weakness around the wound and sank its teeth in deeper.

My usual coping mechanisms failed me. Worst of all, the most common NAT (Negative Automatic Thought) known to plague me so much in the past – that dread question that echoes up from the empty spaces inside, “What’s the point?”- became the much more destructive and emphatic answer:

“There is no point.”

For 10-14 days I wrestled with that. Lost bout after bout.

After all my talk the previous month of returns to Square One and knowing what to do, something inside went AWOL.

I knew the steps involved in fighting back. I knew what I needed to do. But I could not motivate myself to do them. And I don’t know why. Sleep by and large abandoned me altogether, which just added crushing fatigue to the mix. I was down to existing and going through the motions of each day. All the while wondering why I was bothering.

The best I could manage was to sit down once or twice and plan out a carefully thought-out programme for recovery. Only to watch that fall by the wayside day by day as I failed to do any of the things planned.

I resorted to social media a lot. Not to broadcast what was going on. Rather to maintain a ‘normal’ front. Engage in discussions, have a laugh, get angry at political goings on, the suffering in the world et cetera. And people will warn you some of that isn’t good for your health and sometimes they’d be right. But to be honest, I think most of it was a useful diversion at least. Toys in the pram when you’re not capable of doing much else.

Occasionally they were more than a distraction. They acted as fuel. Anger at social injustices or and the like could, of course, further compound despair, but at least it ignited some energy within me. And jokes and conversations about trivial crap like Doctor Who or some other TV I was watching by way of retreat, well, beyond being fun they were a lifeline. Not exactly rocket fuel, but a spur. Driving me, nudge by nudge, back to normalish health.

If nothing else, it amounted to something I could engage in. Better to feel a part of a virtual world, if you can’t function especially well in the real one.

From there, I broke my days down into bite-size pieces. Things to do between social media interactions. And yes, I fully appreciate how sad and pathetic that sounds. But that’s why I’m confessing it here. Because I have to be okay with admitting to sad and patheticness as a means of forgiving myself for sinking quite so low. And arriving, ultimately, at the point where I know it is not in fact sad and pathetic, but merely a necessary survival technique at the time.

(It’s also worth adding that I set myself a deadline of sorts: i.e. that I hadn’t lifted myself out of the slump to some degree by the end of this month, then I would go back to the doctor and seek help. And it was useful having that safety net in mind. It emboldened me to at least try to turn things around myself.)

A drowning man grasping at straws may appear sad and pathetic to you and probably to him. It’s desperation in action. But more important than anything else, it is strength. 

At least he’s grasping.

Which brings me around to the point I made at the beginning of this post.

One truth is that I feel defeated.

The other truth is that this, writing this post here on a sunny Monday in my local café, is a victory.

To those who hop out of bed and enjoy breakfast and look forward to whatever the day has in store, it may be measured as a feeble sort of triumph. But on the scale that some of us have to gauge by – which sometimes has to be measured minute to minute, hour to hour – it’s a huge win.

Where I am now – I’d estimate somewhere around Square Two – means more feeble/huge wins will be required. But the fact that I set myself this task, wrote this post – and if you’re reading it, I will have managed to post it online too – is a surefire indicator that I have regained the will to take the steps required.

That ‘There’s no point’ NAT has reverted to a nigglesome question at the back of my brain.

“What’s the point?”

No idea. I don’t have an answer ready for it. So I’m choosing to ignore it. Telling it to to go away and, hopefully, not come back while I try to figure out an answer.

For now, I have a clear goal in mind. I’ve had to pare down my short-term ambitions considerably and focus on a select handful of projects. And the terrible August has put me behind schedule so I will have to be busier than I had planned for the next couple of months.

What I’m hoping is that the busy-ness will help with the focus and drive. And for the immediate future fend off that NAT with an answer.

The point, for right now, is to get this, this and this done. Anything after that, come back and ask me then and I’ll see if I have another answer for you.

And of course, by ‘you’ I mean myself.

SAF 2016

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