sit. stay. good boy.

Who Walks Whom? 29/06/2011

I was talking with a friend yesterday who commented on the extraordinary difficulty of the last few years.  She asked about how I’d coped with my depression at different times, what kind of treatments I’d had, the other health problems that had intruded – because there have been significant episodes of those also – just to poke bruises into bruises and how I felt that all of this had affected me.  None of these things are new topics.  They are things that I have had a lot of time to reflect on over the past eight months in particular and to use to build into my Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  But here’s a question it raises for different periods of my life over the last eight – no, realistically the last thirteen years – if I count back to my surgery:

Who walks whom? Was I walking my black dog? … or was he walking me?

For large proportions of that time, my black dog walked me.  How I responded to that varied.  Sometimes I trundled aimlessly along behind him without the energy or fight to do anything else.  Sometimes I would simply sit down and refuse to be moved anywhere and let him pull and tug away at me or haul me along as I sat.  Other times we would do battle – although the amount of energy I had to put into the fight would at times be outweighed by the dog’s.

For example, I injured my back and had chronic pain for months.  Months I fought the pain and the black dog became just another thing to fight, but my fight was strong.  However by the time the back was better, my fight was gone.  My energy was gone.  Before I knew it, my black dog was taking the lead as we walked and I had simply fallen in step with him without the wherewithal to reclaim authority.

Exhaustion does that.

Walking does that.  Especially uphill battles.

How does one keep on walking day by day without getting exhausted?  By walking.  By familiarity.  By over-familiarity with the scenery.  Boredom.  Work.  Idiots.  Medications.  Side effects.  Doctors.  The same stuff as everybody else.  The bloody dog.

I don’t know how to answer that.  All I know is that I can’t afford to let the dog lead when I am exhausted.  I need to stay the one who is the walker and the dog needs to stay at heel.

I think the answer is more related to ‘how do I know how far I can walk?’

I think the answer is related to ‘how do I know when my dog is getting ready to challenge my authority?’

Perhaps the answer is more about pace than distance.  More about awareness than knowledge.

You take a puppy to puppy school and you learn nothing – your puppy doesn’t get trained.  I think that this is also true of depression.  You don’t train black dogs, you teach their custodians how to keep them in check.  Some are easier to keep in check than others.  Mine’s resistant – a mongrel of a thing – but others have worse.  At least I can work with mine.

My black dog needs a leash.  It should not have a halter.  It is not a guide dog.

It must walk at heel.

I must keep my black dog at heel.  I must be alert to his movements.  Too often I have let him have his head and too often I have paid the price.

Heel dog.  Heel!  Good boy.


Vanishing Days 28/06/2011

This was written six months after major brain surgery.  I now know that this is a major risk factor for depression.  At this time I took it that my body was reacting with exhaustion to trauma.  Retrospectively, the truth is that what I was probably experiencing was a combination of both.  It’s amazing how long a black dog can circle you unnoticed despite impeding your walk and causing you to stumble.  One thing that strikes me as a shame is that there was then, perhaps there is now – no active follow-up of people who had major brain surgery to screen for depression.  The statistics for it are actually quite high and warrant it – I will have to look them up again to add them in here.

Anyway, this is Vanishing Days
I’d pack up all I have to disappear

I’d run a thousand miles away from here

To abandon this life with all its confusion

To flee reality and resist the illusion –

I long to be free from all complications

From all of those everyday expectations

Where nobody has any knowledge of me

How I long from this everyday life just to flee.

But where would I go?

And how would I know –

That I’d run far enough to be free?

For no matter where I’d begun –

No matter where I might run –

Every place I could go I’d find me.


Inertia 27/06/2011

Filed under: Poetry — jillnottelten @ 10:00 am
Tags: , ,

Here is a poem written freestyle at a time when I was struggling immensely. Again this was in the early days and I had thought myself to be merely exhausted due to the amount of big things that had been happening that year – including the brain surgery that led to my depression.

Straining forward, forward

Pulling hard against the tide of inertia

pulling me back, and back to some place

as I slice through the gelatinous mass

of my existence in which I swim

Never moving anywhere.








Breathing the same air.

Suffocating as the oxygen thins.

Less to breathe.

More of the same.







Breathe the same –

More of less to breathe.

Suffocating and dying of Inertia.


Groundhog Days 26/06/2011

Filed under: Poetry — jillnottelten @ 4:11 pm
Tags: , ,

Groundhog days was written in 2000 at a time before I recognised the black dog for who he was, yet at this point I was being towed along more influenced by his direction than my own.

Oh to revel in this breath

and not ignore the pain

To go to sleep and not wake up

to live this day again

To laugh aloud so free – so free

from the belly of my soul

And spill the tears that dwell inside

before they rot, erode and mould;

To wear my face, asleep, awake –

whe’er joyed, mad, jealous, bored –

To smash to shards that cursed jar

that stands there by the door;

To place my feet upon the path

not doomed to circle back

After climbing hill and valley

to the same place, same damn track.

To walk the path with someone else

with feet beside my own.

To find the strength of someone’s gut

to bolster and press on;

To soar the heights on laughter’s wings,

to bathe in salt of tears

To be still in someone’s stillness,

to bring arms for someone’s fears;

To have somehow made some difference

in some small unimportant way

And to be made somewhat different

by the passing of a day.


I have a Dog 23/06/2011

I have a dog.

Lots of people have dogs.  Most of them are called things like Spot, or King or “Here, Boy”.  They’re spotty Dalmatians, flat-faced Rotties, alert Alsatians,  perky Jack Russells, yappy little floor mops, podgy Pig dogs, loyal Labradors and trusty Heelers.  Or so we say.  Most of them are bitzers.  But the average household dog is loved.

My dog is a black dog.  He is with me everywhere I go.  I have what  is known as treatment resistant Depression.

My journey has been a strange one.  I find myself standing amidst two different worlds on a regular basis.  In one world I stand with my black dog, visiting a doctor.  In the other I stand with the doctors and other health workers trying to keep my dog out of the way while I see others who come to me, some trailing their own black dogs.  I am also a Mental Health worker.  In fact, I was a mental health worker before my black dog came to join me.  While I had been an empathic one before this, the shift in perspective gave a lot of insight to the way that I worked.

I will always be glad not to have been in the workforce at the point in my journey when my symptoms of depression became so severe that I couldn’t function.  It was a spectacular crash.  I was – it seemed – irretrievably tangled in this black dog’s unsecured lead to a point where I had tripped and was unable to get up again.  Mongrel dog.  As it was with a lot of time, hard work, patience and medication I was able to get untangled – but I’m stuck with the dog and the lead.

More time, more and more review and adjustments to medications by my Psychiatrist, a lot of work with a Clinical Psychologist, an excellent GP, a supportive supervisor and manager at work, a couple of great friends and a magnificently supportive family behind me and eight years later I have my black dog much better trained.

With a lot of time, effort, meds, bucks, sweat and tears I have trained my dog to walk at heel.  He does not run riot anymore.  He is not a puppy.  He is still a challenge and will always need a close eye.  There will always be times when he moves unexpectedly and I stumble on his lead or get pulled in a different direction.  There will always be places that are not as dog-friendly as others, even if it’s not deliberate.   When making plans I must plan not only for my needs, but for those of my dog.  They can be costly in all senses of the word.  They can be inconvenient.  They can seem impossible.

But if I plan for him, I can plan for me.  And I can do all manner of things.

He is not my pet.  He is my responsibility.  I am never without him.

He is my black dog.


%d bloggers like this: