Another in the sequence of personal guest posts from Malcolm Harvey, one of the founders of this blog. Many people in similar circumstances have found his openness helpful, and I’m most grateful to him for continuing to write about it. Also, even if actual black dogs aren’t always as cute as the one below, please don’t punch them.
At the end of October, I wrote this piece about my diagnosis of depression. Five weeks later, I wrote a follow-up, a note of progress and developments. Five months on from that, I’m writing another update. There are several reasons for this.
That first piece contains the line:
I have depression and I’m dealing with it.
While this was and is an accurate and admirable sentiment, I do wonder if it might have been more accurate with the addition of the word “badly” at the end of the sentence. Because here’s the thing: recognising depression for what it is is hard: fixing it, well that’s a whole other challenge, and one I’m probably not doing as well as I could be at.
Let me back up a bit. After I wrote that last piece in December, I resolved to change a few things. From 1 January, I made contact with one of my friends every day – usually via an email – which got me talking a bit more, socialising, and let me get back in touch with lots of people I hadn’t spoken to in years. This coincided with what appeared to be progress: I was having “down” time, but it was less frequent, I was (generally!) more pleasant company (I think) and I thought I was getting better.
I managed to keep that going until the end of March (and I still have a backlog of emails to reply to…) but then work got busy (there was an election on, dontcha know?!) and I had some conference papers to write, and just ran out of time to do these kinds of things. As a result, I haven’t written any of these emails since then.
Since the beginning of April, I’ve pretty much been in a crater. Lots more down time, low moods, no energy, irritability… in short, pretty much everything that was the case prior to my first GP appointment was back. The medication seemed to have stopped working and I’d regressed significantly. I got frustrated (and continue to be frustrated) by it which really doesn’t help improve the situation.
So back to the GP, a change of medication (which, I’m just starting this week: expecting side-effects, but I’m happy to persevere, because whatever the side-effects, they are better than snapping at everyone constantly) and enrolment on an online CBT course. On the latter, I’ve done two of the eight sessions thus far, and while I understand the rationale and logic, and I’ve tried to do the activities set, it feels a lot like a waste of time. Sure, I’m learning more about depression – though I’ve read plenty around it – but the methods it is teaching don’t really seem likely to work for me. I understand them, but I can’t tell my brain not to think a particular way.
Writing this on a “good” day seems a bit counter-productive: I should really use the good days to do other things. But if I left this to a bad day to write, I wouldn’t write it, and I think writing is helpful. If nothing else, it helps me clarify some of the thoughts I’m having about depression. I said the last time that I wasn’t just writing for myself, that I wanted others to read it and to recognise some of the symptoms within themselves, and to do something about them. While that’s still true (really: don’t suffer in silence) I have to be honest: this is a much more selfish piece. I’m writing this one for myself, to try to identify more of the issues I’m experiencing and to think through better mechanisms for coping. In some senses, it doesn’t matter to me if this one gets read as much – though if you’re reading it, and recognise some of these things in yourself, do get in touch. Talking helps.
I should try to end on a positive note (at least, I think that’s part of the CBT talking). Once again, those around me have been fantastically supportive: family, friends, work colleagues, casual acquaintances who got in touch after reading the earlier posts. I’ve grateful for that support, and I’ll resolve once again to get in touch with people more often.
Finally: this video about depression is really very good, and helps to provide more of an understanding as to how you see things when the black dog is in town.