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.