The Black Dog

I don’t like saying that I have depression. I prefer to say that I’ve battled depression or that I struggle with depression. To me, saying that I have depression implies ownership. The last thing I want is to encourage it to stay. It’s not mine, I didn’t ask for it and I would very much like it to go back to where it came from. I’ve tried medication and therapy, but the black dog still comes back to haunt me. 

Sometimes it’s arrival is sudden. I’ll wake up in the morning with it in bed with me. Before I had Lucy I would know it was going to be a tough day when during my morning ride the dominant voice in my head would be screaming about what a failure I was. It would tell me that I couldn’t make it up the hill. That I was too fat to be out there on a bike. To turn around and go home. On those days I knew that I had to make it to the top of where ever I was going. Because if I could beat the voice and make it up the hill I could get through the day with minimal damage.

Other times I can feel it coming. It’s like there’s a long shadow that falls and turns the atmosphere ice cold. I know what’s coming. If I exercise, socialise, read and maintain a level of miscellaneous activity I can delay the arrival. This happened over the weekend. I felt it coming. I almost cancelled my regular Sunday dinner arrangements, but I’d already promised to take dessert and I couldn’t think of an acceptable reason to bail. Dinner was great. I was quiet. I couldn’t think of anything much to say. We ended up walking around the neighbourhood looking for Christmas lights. Even though I love Christmas lights, it all just felt bleh. I walked in silence surrounded by other people’s chatter. After I left I got a text.

‘What’s going on?’

Telling people that I’m not ok but I’m ok is hard. Sadness is not a bad thing. Hermits used to be people who got depressed, disappeared from society and then reappeared when they were better. That’s a romanticised version anyway. The truth is I can function with the black cloud over my soul. It’s not pleasant and there’s no fun in it but I can do it. It’s difficult for other people to watch but I’ve spent years learning my boundaries. Knowing when it’s just sad and then when it’s time to haul myself to the GP for some external assistance.

The hardest thing now is trying to figure out when it’s grief over depression. They are very close cousins. But grief has a purpose. It’s something that I need to walk through. Engaging with the sadness of grief can bring healing. If I entertain the activities of depression it gets worse. It’s a delicate balance that I’m yet to work out. I’m not sure if I ever will. But until I do I’m going to do all the things I know are good for me. I’m going to go for walks with friends, socialise, read good books, dance around my kitchen to music that I’d be embarrassed to otherwise own. I’m going to look after myself. Because as much as other people care, when everything is said and done I’m left standing by myself. My tribe is always behind me but I’m the one that must face this ugly black thing. I’m determined not to let it win.

Don't send the flowers. Send Love.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when I received the phone call that Dad had died. It came as a shock. He had been in palliative care for several months, but it had begun to feel like he was never going to die. That night I crashed at a friend’s place. The following week I completed the ten-hour drive to Mum’s for the funeral.  

When I arrived at Mum’s house it felt like there were flowers everywhere. With a strange pride she gave me a grand tour of who sent what. Each day as new flowers arrived, another tour would be conducted. Statements of people’s condolences were written on the small cards. It made Mum happy to know that people cared.

After Mum died flowers started arriving. It was lovely that people thought of doing something nice. After one particularly large delivery I found myself getting annoyed. It wasn’t that I dislike flowers. I love flowers. As a little girl I was the horror child stealing them from people’s gardens. Now I’ve got a garden bed of my own  planted with colour. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a floral arrangement is. It does little to help reprieve the hurting during a time of grief.

When I got home from helping sort out Mum’s estate, one of my friends arranged to have a cleaner come to my house to help sort out the mess it had become. Another regularly babysits so that I can have some alone time to grieve. I’ve had friends cook for me and bring me coffee. All these practical things left me feeling loved and helped with the healing process. All the flowers did was die and leave a mess.

Don’t send flowers. Send love. Engage you brain. Use your imagination. Figure out a gift that will help.

   

For my Mum

Tuesday morning we said goodbye to my mum and Lucy’s grandma. As far as I’m concerned the day came too quick. While I’m grieving for the mother and grandmother that we have lost, I’m also grateful for the time we were able to spend together.

One of the clearest childhood memories I have was laying on my Mum’s bed and laughing for hours. It was beyond the point that anything was funny, we were just having fun. There were also times when I was quite young, that I rode around on the back of her bike in one of those children’s bike seats. At the time I thought it was an exciting adventure. But now I suspect it was because they couldn’t afford to have the old brown car fixed.

I have no doubt that my mum loved me and was proud of me. Last year I graduated from university, Mum was there to cheer me on and take a thousand and one photos. That night at the celebratory BBQ she barely ate anything because she was too busy talking to everyone letting them know she was the mother of the graduate. She also spent a good amount of time interrogating everyone there. Who were they, how did they know me and if they were male, were they possibly single?

When I fell pregnant with Lucy Mum was so excited. Although she couldn’t be there with me, after every appointment there was a phone call. My brother’s wife was pregnant at the same time as me. Mum considered herself a bit of a soothsayer. She insisted that I was having a girl with curly hair and my brother was having a boy with ginger hair. So far we’re three out of four. Just waiting on the curly hair.

Speaking of curly hair, until I was in mid primary school I thought Mum’s hair was naturally curly. Getting old enough to learn about perms was a bit of a shock. As an adult she would ring me all excited about the new way which the hairdressers had done her hair. I could never tell the difference from one perm to the next so I just agreed until I could escape the conversation.

Mum was a very conservative, straight laced Christian lady. Growing up this meant dressing up for Sunday church, no drinking, swearing and no gambling. Until my friend Mia came along. IT was my older brother’s birthday last year. Handing out $1 coins Mia suggested it’d be a lot of fun if we all went and played the pokies. Mum’s reflex was to say no. Mia worked her magic and soon my little Christian mother was learning how to play the pokies. It was the first and only time mum played pokies. She was so chuffed to win ten dollars. Mum even insisted on paying Mia back her dollar. She was an honest woman after all.

Even though mum has been taken from us too soon, she left behind a strong legacy. Currently I’m sorting through a mountain of quilts, unfinished projects and a seemingly endless stash of material. We will never be cold. I also learnt to speak my mind, even if I look like a crazy lady.