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People used to tell my mum ‘that child of yours is way ahead of her time’. Nor mum or I quite understood what people referred to back then. I knew there was something different because of my ambition, drive, aspiration, even at a very young age, which was nothing like other children my age. It was because of my thought process, which was on a whole other level, even then, that I often felt out of place. Some days I felt like I had not much in common with my peers. It would make me sad, leave me empty or sometimes I would feel an unsettling anxiety. Didn’t think much of it, hell, I was just a kid.
Bigger than me
As the years past the feeling would grow on me, come around more often than I would like. In my late teens early twenties it manifested in different sort of emotion from irritability, recklessness, self-destruction. In my thirties, it manifested in sudden career overdrive to fill the void of emptiness, constant indulging in ‘special treats’, isolation by choice. In my forties I was finally able to address whatever I was struggling with since my childhood: I had, like so many people in the world, a black dog that I allowed, unconsciously, to grow bigger than me.
It wasn’t until a friend shared a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc) with me that explained in a nutshell nearly thirty years of my own battle. And I’m not the only one with a black dog, but I am ready to share with those who are struggling and for whatever reason are, like I’ve been for a very long time, ashamed to seek help, talk about it with others, and in denial about mental illness. Depression is a form of mental illness and there is nothing to be ashamed of because every person, one way or another, experience depression in some way, shape or form.
It started out with occasional visits from the black dog. Whenever I experienced a setback he would pop up. I remember some of the occasions: the first time I had my heart broken by my high school crush. My black dog popped in and I had a pity party. It quickly past cause you are at that age where your comfort line is ‘there are more fish in the sea’.
My dog started hanging out more often when the relationship with my father, who is an alcoholic, took a turn for the worst. I was rebelling against my dad’s addiction and the impact his addiction had on our family. I was aggressive and angry all the time. For my dog, it was an open invitation to come stay with me permanently. He went everywhere with me. I was in my late teens and soon heading off to college, I thought that was normal for teens to have conflicts with their parent, didn’t make much of it.
I was supposed to be enjoying my college years, having fun with friends, hang out at the movies; instead, I let my dog spoil my fun more often than I could foresee. Things that were supposed to be ‘fun’ experiences like partying, experimenting, gaining positive experiences turned out to be destructive, reckless and dangerous. I didn’t know where to draw the line, set safe boundaries and make sound judgments because I wanted to rid myself of the emotions and negative thoughts my black dog constantly weigh on me.
I lost my self-confidence, I lost my self-worth, I lost my self-respect due to the choices I made and the destructive behavior I displayed. I’m not proud of the choices I made, the relationships I entered, the lives I destroyed and the people I hurt along the way. Every good thing that came along was either destroyed or negatively influenced by my black dog.
Yes, I was getting older, had a bit more ‘life-experience’, and became more conscious of my black dog and the damage he was doing. So I tried to maneuver myself out of negative emotions. I had become a person I didn’t want to be. I was determined to do things differently. I tried new things, made new friends, meet new people, and travel a bit more, changed careers, invested in education. All because I knew I needed to make some positive changes and not dwell on negativity, self-pity, and anger all the time. I picked up some reading on ‘positive thinking’, went on all sorts of meditation retreats, took dance classes, learned new skills, and did volunteer work. Few new things that I thought would change how my dog made me feel all the time.
For a while, it was all working out well. I had more good days than bad days. Positive changes had moved my dog back into the dog-house, in a controlled environment, perhaps even on a leash. Occasionally my dog would try to make a point, break out of the dog-house and jump me with everything he got, sink me in a barrel that would flood my mind with so much negativity, keep me up at night, throw a massive pity party, bringing me to a dark place I was literally fighting a battle of the mind to prevent the worst form of self-harm. I fought the mind-battle with every shred of energy I would have in me and get myself back in the ‘Zen-zone’.
I felt so empowered when I overcame such a battle, I was overjoyed and inspired and would often say to myself out loud ‘bring it on, you can’t win this dog’. The more victorious I was the more conscious I became of my dog; what would trigger him to take the upper hand, what would open the door for him to overwhelm me and what could set him off on a tormenting spree. With self-empowerment, I felt that I could fight him, whenever he came around…unfortunately.
I was so ashamed to admit having him around, so I would tell all the ‘positive stories’, in my mind just to mask the sadness, emptiness, loneliness, sometimes defeat, worthlessness; I tried to be this strong, inspiring, confident person to empower myself, which is what I thought I needed to shield myself from my dog. And every now and then I would tell myself a little white lie so confidently that I would start believing it myself, just to feel empowered and hide the true nature of my dog. But once I started going down that road, I had just added another nutrient to my dog’s diet.
As I get older I have less and less energy to keep up the battle with my black dog. Even after years of therapy, help from professionals, following through on medical advice, my dog is like a silent killer, waiting patiently to strike when you are at your most vulnerable moment. It’s like he’s sniffing around to find the slightest way in. Over the years the battles have worn me down, the constantly changing direction just to avoid him have worn me out, the self-help and the professional resources have been exhausted, my energy levels drained and I can’t help to wonder, will he finally win in the end?