Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back Dog Down - March

It’s with some shame I admit I struggled this past month. With almost everything. No triumphs or victories to sing about, barely scraped together a draw. I managed some writing, some editing and managed to feel good about some of my work. Not a great deal of blood or sweat involved, but quite often there were tears, for no good reason, regardless of whether the writing went well or not. Meanwhile, as far as home environment is concerned I managed maintenance rather than any marked improvement. But sometimes I guess it’s enough to maintain the status quo. Just ask Status Quo.

After the Germanwings disaster, I even struggled with the notion of writing this blog. Black Dog Down sounds like the sort of tactless crass headline a daily rag might plaster across its front page. But in some ways the gutter press helped me make up my mind. By doing their level best to stigmatise mental health problems, they aggravated my anger issues and if nothing else anger can be a potent motivator. (Although it derails me about as often as it fires me up, so it’s a bit of a coin-flip.) I’ve no need to comment on any of that, because MINDexpressed it so much better than I could.
In this case, the argument in my head boiled down to no, damnit, this monthly blog is all about coaching myself (and hopefully encouraging others) to openly talk about depression. Sensibly, maturely, unashamedly.

Can’t claim to be there yet. Sensible was never my strongest point and the maturity ship has either sailed or never arrived. As for the shame, well, depression is certainly not something I feel I could own up to or discuss with acquaintances in the street. Friends, yes, but even then only a close circle.

So in that respect I guess I do enough to stigmatise depression and mental health for myself without the aid of the tabloids. As I said, it’s with some shame I have to fess up to struggling this month. And while we’re being honest, if I think about it enough (which doesn’t require much) the posts I wrote previously were all done with a degree of shame.

The internet at least provides a helpful screen to hide behind while you make your confessions. But there is always that part of my mind ready to judge. I have to remind myself that it’s the same patch of cerebral turf patrolled by the Black Dog.

Depression’s not a sin. It doesn’t require confession or absolution.

For most of us, if we had an actual disease we’d sooner or later drag ourselves out of our sickbeds, pack ourselves off to the GP’s surgery, explain our symptoms and tell him or her how shit we felt in our mission to extract as much sympathy and medication out of them as we could.

Funnily enough, one of the things that (partially) derailed all my best plans early on in the month was getting struck down with a dose of man-flu. Which, as we all know, is a lot worse than just ordinary flu. It was grotty and it really hacked me off that right at the beginning of the month my carefully laid out schedule was torpedoed by a murky head and a sore throat like I’d recently taken up sword-swallowing as a hobby. Scratch the first week of the month, essentially, and then I’m left with the constant sense of having to catch up. Working harder just to get back to where I should have been anyway. Not a terrific morale-booster for me.

Anyway, long story short, despite the ensuing frustrations and annoyance at the microbes that struck me down like a feeble Martian war machine, when I was ill I gave myself permission to be ill. Gave myself days off, grabbed rest when I needed it, generally made allowances.

Stupid really. Because when have I ever done that for depression?

Well, to be fair, I have on occasion. But that’s a relatively recent development on this slow learning curve. But I find I have to consciously coach myself, to remind myself to be more understanding. We rarely need reminders that the Black Dog is snapping at our heels, but we do need to stop and remind ourselves what that means. Amongst other things, to be kinder to ourselves and treat it on a more equal playing field with other illnesses.

Such an obvious, non-revelatory lesson, it’s almost a waste of blogspace. But like bread and milk on my shopping list writing it down should help me to remember.
So first of all I’m making great mental efforts not to mark March down as a failure or a loss. Call it a draw, like I say.

And if the world of germs plays nice next month (aka tomorrow +), the plan is to dedicate April to writing in quite a rigid disciplined way. It’s not for everyone but as a born writer it’s actually a key essential for my mental health to feel that side of life is going well.

The trick, I think, will be less about adhering to the schedule I have planned and more about writing without judging.

And if I manage to do that with fiction, well, let’s hope this time next month I can do that with respect to depression. Because, let’s face it, if we are so susceptible to our own judgment, small wonder we dread the judgments of others. Small wonder we keep this disease so much to ourselves.

It’s not a disease we should feel ashamed of. People appear on telly with more embarrassing things, for chrissakes, on Embarrassing Bodies. Or with even more embarrassing conditions, like chronic talentlessness, on I’m A Celebrity! Get Me Out Of Here. You must know that invaluable piece of advice to those nervous about public speaking: look at your audience and imagine all of them on the toilet. These days we don’t have to imagine. Just watch what people are up to on reality TV. It won’t necessarily cheer you up – god knows, it depresses me to think that this is what’s classed as entertainment. But it ought to teach us that there’s more shame in other things and some folks seem able to overcome that. So we should be able to, if not actually hold our heads high, look friends in the eye and ‘fess up’ to depression.

So, here’s me telling the world (from behind the protective barrier of the internet) about my month. For more than half of it, I felt like crap, and the things I love and the things I love doing were a battle. And even when the mornings went well I often cried in the afternoons and I couldn’t give you a decent explanation as to why.

It’s all in our heads. It needs to be out there.

Happy Easter, ladies and mentalfolk.

SAF 2015