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Making Friends with the Black Dog
Posted by
9th Sep 2016

Then too you cannot spend an hour alone;

No company's more hateful than your own

You dodge and give yourself the slip; you seek

In bed or in your cups from care to sneak:

In vain: the black dog follows you, and hangs

Close on your flying skirts with hungry fangs

"Satire VII" Horace (65 - 8 BC)

Anxiety is very 'en trend'it would appear. Even the likes of celebrities are afflicted according to a BBC Celebrities with Anxiety report. I am slightly baffled as to why this should come as a surprise. I don't appear on television, perform on stage or have my life scrutinised on an hourly basis and I am still riddled with the damn thing. I do, however, consider it a necessary evil to highlight how anxiety and depression are taking our societies hostage and for this I am grateful to the media for reporting it. It appears that there is less of a need for a cloak and dagger approach, as the stigma is slowly receding and the public realise that mental health issues aren't solely for the nutters of the world. I couldn't tell you the exact number of professionals I know personally, who are either being treated currently for some form of anxiety or depression or have been at some point in their lives but it is a lot. Professionalism, social or financial status aren't the deciding factors in whether or not you suffer with a mental health issue. There are no boundaries to protect you from ending up on Prozac. From the rich and famous to the destitute and homeless, the effects of the black dog are rife.

The Black Dog

The term 'black dog' was first coined by Horace, a Roman satirist and poet and Winston Churchill is known for talking about the black dog visiting. A marvellous book I Had a Black Dog - by Matthew Johnstone, manages in a serious of beautifully detailed illustrations, to encapsulate fully the effects that depression has on you. A further book by the same author Living with a Black Dog was written for people living with those affected by depression and is equally as poignant as the first. If you would like to know why we refer to depression as the black dog there is a detailed historical essay written by Linda Michael and which can be found here.

It matters not what we call it but I won't deny that since reading those lovely illustrated books about this clumsy dog whose tails rests in your usually divine glass of red and ruins it, or who sits on your head while you try and have a conversation, I have felt a more affectionate relationship with my depression. When I am really crap I take my black dog for a walk so that it can get tired and go the hell to bed when we get home. When I feel like nothing can change and my apathy is reaching dizzying heights, I explain to my dog that no matter how crappy we are feeling, it will pass and we can look forward to life again very soon. I'll admit, giving my depression a canine persona doesn't always work and anxiety is especially a sod to calm.

Living with Anxiety

I live with some form of anxiety on a daily basis now. It never used to be that way, or at least, I don't think it was. Although as a good friend of mine who also happens to be a forensic psychiatrist explained to me recently, it wasn't psychotic episodes I had been having 12 years ago, more like OCD. So there you go.. we don't always self diagnose correctly. I fight intrusive thoughts regularly and fend off the feelings of nausea as they take a stranglehold of my insides. I become breathless and my hearing becomes altered and eyes lack focus. Especially in supermarkets. As I type, my heart rate has quickened and I note I am holding my breath "let it go" I speak to myself.. "let it go.. no emergency here... just typing...it's all cool...".

I was at my own leaving do for work this week and unbeknown to me I was feeling anxious that day. I felt fine up until entering the pub. Then I become self-conscious. I started looking at my phone constantly. I forgot how to laugh properly.. I sounded like a sodding hyena. I didn't want to stand in front of everyone and throw the ball into the skittles. With my quite questionable sporting skills it was a miracle I didn't behead anyone. I gulped back a couple of drinks in the hope that they would quieten the voice of discontent. It worked finally but it reminded me of how quickly a situation can change your mental status.

Where now?

For me, now just as important as ever, I need to learn how to manage my anxiety even better. I am starting my nursing degree at Brighton University this year and I know from experience that being on a busy ward is worse than a supermarket. So I have taken a step (pun alert) towards managing my anxiety. I have recommenced running and am due to do my second Parkrun tomorrow. I went out for a run this morning too and have ordered a swanky waist belt so that I can fit all me accessories in it. I have started to look at how to organise my house better so that I don't get lost in the mindclutter that resides inside. I don't ever expect to be free from anxiety or depression. It's part of me. It's who I am. However, I can have a say in how often or how badly it affects me. I have lived with it since the age of 10 and at least now when I cry, I don't have to do it alone...Hell no, I got my dawg with me!!




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