Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tale of a Black Dog

Despite the title this post is not about our Labrador Lilli.

It is instead about me and why I haven’t been posting for sooooo long.

Since before Christmas, I have been battling an episode of depression. Hence the title of this post, Winston Churchill called his bouts of depression a “black dog”.  The sad truth is posting has been a casualty of my illness.

What follows is an account of what I have been going through.

It will be somewhat personal so you can of course stop reading now.

Still reading?
Well here is some of my story:-

I suffered with repeated episodes of major depression (clinical depression)  from my teens until my mid to late thirties - to the extent that I was frequently suicidal. Fortunately, I never attempted, because I always retained some inkling of what my death would do to those around me. I did the typical male thing and hid much of what I was going through all that time.

Then around 2000 I was introduced to a psychotherapy called cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and achieved amazing results - from about 2001 - 2002 until recently I had been well. I was essentially controlling my illness using CBT techniques.But I guess like a recovering alcoholic there is always the risk of a relapse...

Then, as readers of my blog will know, I have been putting myself under a fair bit of stress with a new job (ironically working in mental health) and rebuilding our house etc. etc.
The final straw was my mum getting very ill. We have always been very close and her condition deteriorated to the point where I thought we were going to lose her.
The end result was last year I became unwell. Perhaps surprisingly given my history it took me some time to realise that I was ill again.

It was quite a strange experience.
I knew depression well and it seemed that my bag of mental tricks was still working. I experienced nothing like the despair I had known in the past.
What I did experience was a growing sense of anxiety, which got so bad that it became virtually crippling. As an example I spent 36 hours worrying about how to cancel an appointment.  Oddly, at the same time I was still positive. I didn't understand what was happening but I knew I had beaten mental illness before, so I assumed I could do it again.

This time I did the right thing, talked to Deb about it, made an appointment with a GP and got a referral to a psychologist.  After discussion with the GP and Alice (my psychologist) we decided not to medicate, but to hit me with CBT.  After all I am an expert at using CBT on myself after all these years.

I was seeing Alice nearly weekly from December until February and have dropped the frequency of visits now. In terms of diagnosis, Alice has plumped for depression rather than anxiety. I have some of the other symptoms such as exhaustion, lethargy etc (hence no blogging) so she argues it is the best fit.  I am not quite sure I agree, because my experience of depression was always agonising despair. And as I said I have felt surprisingly positive the whole time, I guess that part of CBT never stopped working for me. In any case CBT seems to be working for this new species of dog I have had visiting me. I would not say I am well again, but I am very much on the mend.

I am back at work and more or less functional there.

We have the house to the point where it is comfortable enough to allow me to ease up on it. There is still a lot to do, but we won't freeze in the coming winter and the kitchen and bathroom are fully functional. In fact I have barely touched it for weeks.

We have also been deliberately taking it easier, making trips so I can point my camera at things, visiting our girls who live only a couple of hours away now, spending more time with mum while I still have her (her health is improved at the moment). 
Dangar Falls (near where we live)
 Speaking of mum, I have been more involved with her medical journey. That has, I think, been positive. I think when it happens it will be "simply" grief. Part of my problem has been grieving in advance.
As a measure of my improved mental state I am even thinking about my writing again!  I haven't written a word for months, but the creative juices are beginning to churn.  I think I have worked out how to solve the problems I was having with my book Veil of Iron. I have also been composing this return to my blog.
So for me, it is a case of one step at a time, and hopefully most of those will be forwards.


mshatch said...

So glad to see you here! I was wondering where you were...and as someone who has also experienced depression I know how difficult it can be do do anything.

I hope things continue to improve for you and that your mum stays with you a while longer. My mum is getting up there in years and though physically well she is not a spring chicken anymore and I do worry about her - especially since she's down in Florida and I'm all the way up in Maine.

Lovely pic of the falls and of the adorable Lilli :)

John Gray said...

Thank you for sharing that.... Not an easy topic
Yes thank you

Lisa said...

Sorry to hear that you having been having such a rough time but glad to hear you are making your way back. Great that you can do it without medication; my sister finds she cannot do without it. Been worrying about you!

Kathleen Jones said...

Good to see you back Al! Love the photo of the falls. Hope you didn't suffer too much from the recent Category 4 that slammed into Oz. Seems you've been getting some vicious weather.

Anne Gallagher said...

I'm so glad you decided to seek help from your GP. Depression is so depressing.

And Lili is so big and beautiful.

I'm glad things are getting better for you. One day at a time.

Old Kitty said...

Well hello there! So glad to see a post from you! And thank you for sharing too. I am so sorry to read about your mum and send her all the positive and healing vibes in the universe. I'm so glad you are taking a proactive stance with your depression too. It is part and parcel of who you are but you are master of it and with a strong network of support to help you along, you'll always head towards the light! Yay!

Lilli is beyond adorable! Take care and have a peaceful Easter!

Linda G. said...

Good to see you back here!

I'm so sorry you've been going through a recurrence of your depression--it's a rough thing to cope with, especially when coupled with anxiety. Glad you've found help again, and are the back on an upward swing. Lilli is a much nicer black dog to have around than Churchill's version. :)

Kristen M. said...

I had definitely noticed your absence and am so happy that it has come to an end. I'm glad to hear that you are on the mend and I hope that your journey forward has few setbacks and much more time with your mum. I'm sending my best thoughts your way!