I have a secret identity. Not just a pseudonym.
She appears when the black dog prowls. But she’s not a superhero.
Her superpower? She melts into the weave of the sheets and the very mattress on my bed like 3 day old macaroni cheese sauce on the lounge of a bachelor pad in summertime. She can barely roll over and will do anything not to. Almost anything. She won’t wet the bed. She will tell you the most atrocious lies in the universe. Anything to make you go away and leave her alone there. She barely eats or drinks – far too much effort. She stinks – goes for days at a time without a shower or cleaning her teeth. The thing she does do is sleep. She excels at that … except when she needs to.
And she can never tell you how she got to that state.
I am pleased to say that she has only taken a firm hold on my space a couple of times, but cleaning up after she has even attempted to gain entrance is a nightmare. It’s hard work chasing her out when she’s just passing through and catches me out. Next thing I know, there she is sitting there. She’s not looking like moving anywhere. She looks like she knows she’s not welcome, but can’t bring herself to move. A lazy visitor. In the way. Impeding the things that need to be done. And looking like she’s stay the year out given the opportunity. She has no sense of time. Little sense of purpose. And little sense of the ‘other’.
And then I look over my shoulder and see my dog pacing. He’s never still when she’s around. They feed off each other. Stalker and sidekick.
I am learning that the secret identity has more pitfalls than safeguards.
Superman. Batman (without Robin). Spiderman had pretty lonely existences – and they were the good guys. Secrecy is isolating.
Maybe just one or two people need to know about my secret identity. Need to know now while she’s not around – so that they know to come looking before too long if I disappear; so that they know what to do with my secret identity before she takes over again completely. So that they know when to say “Bulldust!” and when to be gentle. So that they know that I am also vulnerable to her bullying ways for short bursts while I am physically sick. Not everyone – just a couple of people. Perhaps then one or two will know to come not call. To peek in the fridge. To offer a lift rather than remind me. To ring just that little while after I say I’m planning to be up in the morning for a chat – til I sound like I’m awake and alert and up for the day (and to try again in ten minutes if I don’t answer in case I was in the shower or just missed the phone).
It’s hard to disappear when there are a carefully selected few making constant contact and stripping away the secret identity.
Soothing the dog.
Because everyone needs someone who will come looking. The biggest question is – is there anyone I trust enough for that task?
Do I want to share the ugly signs that show that my black dog is starting to pace? That the secret identity is moving into play? How do I decide who to share with? How much can I ask of people who put up with so much from me anyway?
But if it means avoiding the black dog at his worst …
If it means I can keep a job ….
If it means keeping a friend …
If it means not exhausting my family through another painful and exhausting regathering process …
If it means keeping some perspective on life …
Perhaps I am asking less of people than I am by struggling on alone. If only I can bear to share the secrets with those close to me …
… in exchange for those that they have already discovered that I have been too blind to see.
I know what my black dog is like, and he’s always lurking around the edges. Waiting to catch me on my own, so that he can knock me over and pin me to the ground. Alone is bad.
You’re not alone. Call me.
Mine is even nastier when I’m with people sometimes. Alone he can knock me flat and floor me if I let him and run me out of energy. But around people me also exhaust me at those times. Convinces me that I am underfoot and unwanted and that they don’t like me when I am not well. I go home “peopled out” and drained because it has taken everything to hold the thoughts at bay and try and be sociable.
These days I try not to let the dog lead. If I fear him, he will. At times it scares me, but I find that if I stop and reorient myself to the moment that I’m in and just focus on the immediate point in time I can manage for that moment and then move into the next, then the next, then the next. Not always easy – but it is getting easier to do with practice. I try hard to pace myself so that I don’t run out of energy – or I won’t have enough to face the dog down; but also to be doing enough to stay focused, because if all I can think of is what the dog is up to then again – he’s leading me. And that’s where I don’t want to go again. If I’m stuck with the dog, he stays on a lead at heel or sleeps in his bed or I can’t do anything.
For me that means I have to use breathing exercises, mindfulness, CBT, medication, decent sleep and keep a reasonable routine and eat reasonably. It would work better if I exercised more – but I hate most forms of exercise and can never motivate myself to get into it. These things keep the dog on a leash or put him to sleep for short periods of time. I have to plan what I can do around what my energy levels let me do before the dog tries to take over – but at least I get a life. I never want to go back to melting into the mattress again. I hate that feeling. And it is so hard to emerge from. But it really is possible and if you can build a leash for your dog most things are possible. I’m convinced of it.
Hang in there Bill.