Friday, February 27, 2015

Black Dog Down - February

Welcome, my friend, to the show that never ends. Welcome to my personal War On Terror.

Perhaps an overly dramatic way of putting it, but I was always told you need to open with a good hook. And maybe a song.

Anyway, so here we are and the end of month two is nigh.  So I’ve just made the mistake of reviewing my goals and aims for the month, looking at all I’ve achieved – and all I haven’t. And despite going to all the trouble of marking the achievements with a big red asterisk, guess which ones stand out the most? That’s right, the failures.

Except, of course, they’re not failures, are they? They only happen to be goals I missed. We hit the crossbar or headed it off into the crowd. And believe me when I say I hate football, so I would never use such analogies lightly. It annoys me that I didn’t manage to score every goal, it frustrates me and, yes, it compounds my depression.

There’s a little Yoda in the back of my mind that shakes his head despondently and murmurs something about there is no try, do or do not. But what does the stunted old Jedi Master know? He can’t even form proper sentences.

That’s going to be a key battle in this war. Unlearning all those habits, all those NATs (Negative Automatic Thoughts) that, frankly, ought to begin with a G the way they swarm around and settle on any piece of shit that springs to mind.

What I have to consciously coach myself to do is to see the red asterisks in bold and not berate myself for the blank spaces. Missed goals don’t amount to much when you’re still in the match and the referee’s not about to blow his whistle. There’s no time limit here. I have, it’s true, set out this year as my own personal target for ‘re-training the Black Dog’ (sic) but that’s only a neat, convenient and (we hope) realistic and manageable timeline for what is, after all, a fairly major project.

This then would be an opportune point to report some of the things I have achieved in practical terms. In some respects, this blog is like checking in with a therapist, so as much as it’s also meant to be of some help to other depressives, it’s helpful for me to account for my time and recognise any progress et cetera. Like, say, if you’d trained your pet (Black) dog to roll over and play dead you’d want to tell everyone, right?

Well, fair to say, I’ve not achieved anything quite so spectacular this month. What I have done is continued the de-cluttering campaign that I began in January. It’s a slow and steady process, highly compartmentalised. Mostly a couple of hours every Sunday, cleaning and tidying and, for example, sorting/clearing out a particular cupboard or shelf or drawer.

Pretty basic stuff, but the kind of stuff that qualifies as a major victory when you have some mornings where you wake and lie there in bed afraid to get up and start your day. It’s helped me conquer that ‘terror’ for a minimum of one day a week – Sundays I don’t fear at all, because I’ve come to understand that Sundays are comprised of tasks that are perfectly do-able, tasks that I am more than equal to. It’s rewarded me with visible, measurable improvements in my home environment. And it’s (slowly) encouraged me to care. You know, where these things felt utterly pointless and futile previously, I now feel it’s worthwhile. It makes a difference.

Another part of the plan for this month was to really launch back into my writing. It’s something that’s never gone away altogether, but it has deserted me for longish periods now and then. I’ll talk at more length about that next month (largely because I’ve chosen to make writing the priority for March – it being an instrumental element of my mental health), but for the present it’s probably enough to note that after a scrappy start I didn’t hit any sort of creative stride until 16th of February.

Halfway through!

Again, I must resist the impulse to beat myself up about that. Yes, Master Yoda, some days there was no try.

Forget all that. The flip side is that the same half-empty month is in fact half-full. I’ve been busy and productive most of the time since the 16th and while some of what I’ve written was, if I’m being kind to myself, utter drivel, it was still writing and when I despaired at a particular chunk of scribbles I’d produced last Friday I confronted it head-on the following day and actually salvaged something passable out of it. To the extent that I could feel pretty good about it.

That’s a win. Not the match, but a point.

In fact, tennis will probably work better as an analogy for me.

I love to watch Wimbledon every year – it was one of the interests me and my mum shared. And I’m a big fan of Maria Sharapova – the last Wimbledon I watched with my mum was the 2004 final when Maria won. And I’ve been an admirer of hers ever since.

Now, I’m a deep thinker but I’m not without my shallows, so yes, it hasn’t escaped my notice Maria is pretty. But one of her qualities you’ll often hear commentators commentate on is her mental strength. And that has made at least as strong and lasting impression.

Guess what? She loses. She loses matches. She loses points all the time. She can have serious runs of bad games in a set. But she composes herself, wipes it from memory almost and is one of the best at tackling one point at a time.

That is the kind of contest we’re in here. A year-long tournament, month-long matches. Maybe a week is a set and days are the games. However you choose to look at it, you – and by you, I include myself – have to view each point for what it is. A single point. If you lose one or even let one pass you by, you don’t dwell. Because you can win the next one. Difference is, we only have to win a few points to win a whole month/match.

So in that sense, I have it easier than Maria. I mean, apart from her millions and her looks. But, like I say, I have to keep my goals and ambitions realistic.

Anyway, that is essentially the belief I have to carry forward into March and beyond. And I’m the umpire as well as the player in this tournament. I get to say whether the ball is in or out. And the Black Dog can call on Hawkeye all he wants, but I have the final say.

As it is, I can’t bring myself to call February a victory. But I’m calling it a draw at this stage and I think I’ll win on a closely fought tie-break.

Next month, we’ll aim to prove the pen is mightier than the tennis racquet. Write is might.

That Black Dog is going down.

SAF 2015