This old black dog is hounding me
It waits ’round the corner and hides in the trees
I feel the chill of something blown in on a breeze…
I love Andy Bull‘s song ‘Dog’. It uses the image of a sneaky black dog to describe depression, something I can completely identify with. It has been 10 years since I became acquainted with the dirty D word, so I feel it is kind of fitting to have a little ramble on about it, especially because at the moment, I feel pretty crappy.
When I was in my first year of highschool, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. And not just a Joe Blow cancer (not that any cancers are Joe Blow, really), but a highly aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma that had spread from his bowel to his spine, and that they could only identify when they sent pathology samples to America, because no doctors in Australia had ever seen it before. Dad was given 3 months to live in the March of 2001, he told them to hit him with the hardest treatment they had, and he was in remission in December of the same year. We Egan’s don’t do anything by halves, that’s for sure. We have always had a tendency to be dramatic.
So as you can imagine, for a 12/13-year-old, such a fucking shithouse journey is not the easiest thing to go through. Not only was I starting a new school, not only had I left my friends behind, not only did I feel like a social outcast, but I also had to watch my dad wither away to a skeleton, vomit and cry, lose his hair, get so close to the brink so many times, and somehow also adjust to the demands of secondary education. I snapped. I bullied other students, I didn’t do my work, I failed at least one class, and I spent a good portion of the year on the school counsellors couch. It was a foggy mess of a year, but somewhere in about October as I sat on Vivian’s couch and we looked at each other, the realisation came that I didn’t need to be there anymore. I had made it through to the other side, and probably gained a helluva lot of maturity and perspective along the way. The universe dishes out shit for a reason, so that year wasn’t for nothing.
So I came out of 2001 with a fresh start, applied myself to my studies, and started to enjoy my life at highschool. I thought feelings such as the ones I experienced in 2001, the despair, the loneliness, the apathy, the mind crushing numbness, I thought they were behind me for good. Now I know better. I think once you have depression, it always lurks there in the recesses of your mind. The only way I can describe this is to compare it to fat. When you put on weight, your body generates new fat cells. When you lose weight, the fat cells empty of the fat, but the outer casing of the cell remains. This is why it is so easy to put on weight again. Only liposuction can get rid of that outer casing. I feel it is the same as depression. I feel I now have depression cells. I may spend 98% of the rest of my life happy, but every now and then, those depression cells will fill with the blackness and despair and I will have to crawl my way out again.
And the worst part is trying to explain it to you
And the worst part is knowing there’s nothing to do
Explaining depression to other people, friends and family alike, is quite difficult. In fact, with my family, the subject is not one that has been broached at all, although I am sure my mother at the very least has been aware of it over the years, particularly during my latter high school career. I went through a particularly rough stage when I was about 16 that involved spending endless days sitting listlessly in my bedroom doing absolutely nothing, a brief foray into self harm (I still have the stupid scars on my wrist, including, very faintly now, the word DIE), and at least one intentional suicide attempt. In a way it was almost an unfortunate time to be a teenager suffering depression, in the early 2000’s, as the rise of Emo’s was huge, and so I think a lot of teenagers were not taken seriously. You weren’t depressed, you were emo. Like a gigantic wholesale sweeping under the rug of a problem that society didn’t really want to deal with, and still doesn’t. But back to the point. Aside from realising that I was a gigantic sack of malcontent sitting on my bed, I don’t think my parents clued onto too much during that period. My friends were a little more cluey, and expended a lot of energy forcing me out of the house on numerous occasions. Bless their hearts. That is what true friendship is all about, people!
In 2007, after I had graduated from highschool, I got a tattoo on my lower back, the obligatory tramp stamp. It is an excerpt from a song by My Chemical Romance, who to this day are still my favourite band. The song is called ‘The Sharpest Lives’ and the quote in question goes like this: ‘If it looks like I’m laughing, I’m really just asking to leave.’ Here is a picture of the tattoo:
Please excuse many things, including my butt crack, copious amounts of fat, and the general shitness of the photo. It is super hard to take a photo of your own back. To me, this quote typifies how depression feels to at least me. It screams ‘See this fucking smile, this laughter? It is a LIE! Don’t believe it! I am not really happy, I am just pretending because I don’t know how to tell you how I feel, I am afraid you won’t understand, and I fear your rejection!’ All very dramatic and what not, but that is how it feels to me. Which is probably why I identify with ‘Dog’ so much as well, it is like exactly what I would tell someone if they asked me how it feels to be depressed. I would just send them a link to Andy’s MySpace page and leave it at that.
I try to outsmart him but somehow he knows
Wherever I am, that fucking dog goes
I’ll kill him the next time I swear I won’t fail
I’ll kick in his ribs and rip off his tail
I have personally given up on the idea of ‘killing’ my depression. I have accepted it as a part of me, that will always be one of the facets of my personality. I recognize the signs of when it is creeping back in, and I know what to do to send it slinking off with its tail between its legs. I am proud to say I have never taken medication for my depression. Having said that, I don’t think less of people who do have to take medication for whatever type of mental illness they suffer. Every journey and every person is individual, and you have to do what you have to do to get to the other side without losing it altogether. I guess I never went on medication because as a teenager I relied on my mother to take care of my healthcare, and there was no way I was going to admit to her I needed that sort of help. So by the time I graduated highschool and took over my own healthcare, I had realised that I could beat it off on my own. So that is what I have continued to do, with the bout that caught me after I dropped out of uni and worked full-time, and then last years horrible blur. I will just continue to inflict enough injuries to my black dog to get him to go back into whatever cave he hides in, and then enjoy my life until he cames out again for another round in the boxing rink.
Last year was particularly nasty. I spent the whole year in a funk. I hated living at home, I was fighting with my mum a lot, I couldn’t be bothered with my course, and I just generally didn’t want to play. I was over my friends (sorry guys! I do love you!), and had a brief ‘relationship’ that in hindsight was a stupid stupid idea. I was messed up and in no fit state to date anyone, and I guess used the whole thing as some sort of emotional escape. Mind you, the whole thing falling apart did rouse me out of my apathy a bit, and I got my indignant rage on and felt some good healthy hatred. In about September an opportunity came up to do an exchange to Mexico over the summer for my degree, so I jumped at it. I needed to escape, and I was so glad I did.
Mexico taught me many things. It taught me how to make friends even though it is terrifying. It taught me a degree of independence. It taught me I couldn’t be petulant with people who haven’t known me for a long time (Sorry, Kate!). It taught me that friendship can transcend state and country borders and that you don’t have to see people or even talk to them on the phone to think of them often and fondly (I miss you Ash!). It also brought to my attention a few home truths about myself. Like the fact that the Year of the Fog had manifested some pretty poor habits. Looking at photos of myself in Mexico and LA, I realise how much weight I put on in 2010. My depression and my eating habits are intrinsically linked. I get depressed, I eat. I then get depressed because I ate. Then because I am depressed because I ate, I then eat more. It is a stupid vicious circle that allows me attach all sorts of silly emotional messages and meanings to food. It also allowed me to stack on 10 kilos and realise how close I was to the dreaded triple number on the scale. When I got back from Mexico and saw how close I was to hitting 100kg I knew it was time to stop letting my emotions dictate my eating habits. It was also time to stop putting off my goals to not be a fatty any longer. So I have embarked on a very slow health and fitness journey (A big shout out to Luka, Ann and Victtoria for spurring me on!), and have so far lost almost 5 kilos. I have realised what an awesome part exercise can play in controlling my depression as well. I feel amazing when I exercise, and depressed when I don’t. Pretty simple really.
Anyway, that was a whole lot of ramble, but I guess I almost felt it was time to come clean. Like this weight loss mission, this fitness obsession, the purge of my body, can only work if I purge my mind also, and be honest about how I feel and how it affects me. I don’t know, but maybe it will also strike a chord with other people who feel the same way, and give them a warm fuzzy feeling that they are not alone. And so we shouldn’t be. It is time the stigma of mental illness gets destroyed once and for all, so that people can be honest about their problems and don’t feel like lesser people because they suffer something they never asked for.
I will leave you with Andy Bull’s song, purely because it is awesome, and it was the fact that I felt like listening to it randomly this morning that spurred the writing of this entire post.
And the worst part is thinking it’s something it’s not
Yeah the worst part is thinking it might never stop
Oh if I can pull myself together I’ll try
Oh but I can’t explain the tear that sits in my eye
If I can pull myself together I’ll try
Oh if I can’t pull myself together I’ll die