Living In The Shadow Of The Black Dog
Chronic Fatigue, sadness and the danger of depression
I think I might be starting to feel depressed, I’m just calling it feeling flat for now. I’ve been through this cycle before. I know that everything will be ok because I know how to bring myself out of it. I have the tools to get me back on track, and I’ve helped teach and guide others on the steps needed to fight the cycle as well.
The problem is that today, I either don’t have the energy or the willpower to fight it. This is what frustrates me the most about the chronic fatigue/depression combo when the mind and body both give up. Usually, I have at least one compelling the other to keep on trying. Keep in mind I have only felt this way for two days so far, so maybe it’s better to categorise this as just feeling melancholy. I don’t feel sadness. I’m not in tears. I’m just tired and have absolutely no energy for anything. Even my motivation has gone. What I’ve described are some of the symptoms of depression as listed in the DSM-V but, I wouldn’t call it depression…yet.
The Black Dog
This is why the Black Dog can end up creeping up on you as you don’t recognise it at first. This could just be a case of Multiple Sclerosis related fatigue, but that can develop into depression if I let this go on for too long.
The thing is I actually want to stay here in this mood for a bit, just for the day. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Feeling sad isn’t wrong or bad. It’s like physical pain, a warning that something needs attending. I need to feel this sadness as a prompt for me to get back up again and fight another day.
You see I’m returning to work next week. Something I badly need, I have been off work for almost a month now. I love my job, and I miss it very much, but in the last few days I have thought, maybe there is another way? Maybe I have my priorities wrong? Which do I put first? My health, or success and a career.
And what about my friends and family, where will I find the energy for them? I cannot live my life in isolation. If I focus on my health and live the most active life that I can, isn’t that success in itself? Or do I try to squeeze as many years from work as I can? I know what it’s like not to work, I want to put off stopping work for as long as possible, but at what cost? Then there is the shame I used to live with when I wasn’t working because I felt ashamed of being on disability. There is a lot of social welfare shaming, especially in the media, and it’s putting undue emotional stress on the ones that genuinely need it. We don’t actually want to have to rely on financial support. Unfortunately, we have no choice.
Well for today I’ve decided I’m going to allow myself to feel sad.
Some might want to call it self-indulgence or laziness. For me it’s cathartic. Every day is a bit of a battle lately, so today I’m going to take five. I’m going to let go and allow myself to feel sad, so that tomorrow I can wake up and say ‘enough of this’, and move forward.
This post is an earlier entry from my reflection journal. Since writing this, I have made some major life decisions about my work/life balance, which I will write about in future posts. I needed this slump to push me to take action on some very important life decisions. Through self-care and the help of doctors and my support network, I have been able to keep things from escalating into depression.
Mental Health and Chronic Illness
The reason I chose to post this is to highlight the relationship between physical and mental health, and the balancing act people with chronic illness constantly face. For too long in my treatment, my physical and mental health have been treated as two separate entities, when in fact, they are intrinsically intertwined. You tip the balance on one side you risk sending the other out of control. Recognising my emotions and understanding the limits I can tolerate are essential to my overall well-being.
Recognising your early warning signs and being proactive is the key to controlling the Black Dog.
Read more about the black dog and managing depression at The Black Dog Institute
You can learn more about my self-care routine as well as crisis supports in my earlier post, Holiday Self Care Toolkit.