When I was first diagnosed with depression, I excitedly told anyone who would listen about it. Why was I excited?
Because, in my eyes, a diagnosis meant a cure.
I happily took my medication and went to therapy and waited to be cured.
And guess what? 20 years on, I am still waiting.
Except it took me less time than that to figure out that there is no magic pill, no amazing therapy that was going to cure me once and for all. My doctor told me, a few years in, that I will probably be on medication for most of my life and that therapy is something that I will need to participate in on and off as I needed it.
For me, the Black Dog wasn’t a one time visitor, he was a lifelong companion. So, I needed to learn how to live and work with him, rather than resent him and constantly try to push him out the door.
In fact, visualising my depression as a black dog has helped me to manage and accept him.
Sometimes he is a great big Newfoundland sitting across my shoulders, weighing me down so much that I can barely move, but at other times, he is a tiny Chihuahua, sitting on a plump red pillow in the corner of my room, still there, but non-intrusive, just minding his own business.
While I’m not clever enough to visually shrink my Black Dog from a Newfoundland to a Chihuahua in the blink of an eye, I have developed daily and weekly habits and processes, that help me move him from one to the other.
This is pretty much a no-brainer, but I see so many of us suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders, or just putting off sleep in the evenings because finally, we get some quiet time to ourselves.
Get it checked out. Get it fixed.
Develop some good sleep habits and good sleep hygiene.
I need and get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep a night. And this is pretty normal for adults. We kid ourselves when we think we can survive on less. Survive we may, but surviving is not enough, we need to get enough to be well enough to manage that Black Dog.
Sometimes, when things feel unmanageable and we don’t know how we can possibly go on an early night, or a nap, may be just what we need. I find that I always feel better after a sleep.
Again, exercise is a no-brainer. We know we need it. We function better when we get at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week.
I know I do.
It can be as simple as a walk around the block. I’ve tried running and I’ve tried the gym, but walking in nature around my local neighbourhood, gets me connected to said nature and gets my heart rate up and it just feels too good, both during and after.
Yes, it’s hard to get out the door on the really cold and miserable days in winter, but do it. Your dog needs the exercise.
You have to talk about your feelings.
Whether you do it with a therapist, a best friend, your mother, or your beautician, make sure you talk to someone.
I am so very good at bottling up my feelings, that most of the time I don’t even know how I am. And then, of course, I explode, for no apparent reason.
Blogging is my talking of choice. I also see a psychologist. I am also learning to open up to a few select friends. It is so hard, I know, but so worth it.
Meditation is a great way to connect with your feelings. I know, it’s usually sold to us as a way to let go of our thoughts, but there are techniques that actually allow you to better connect with your feelings, by following your thoughts deeper and deeper until you get to the very root cause of what is causing your surface emotions. This has been so helpful to me in uncovering festering hurts and resolving resentments.
4. Be Gentle
Give yourself permission to have bad days.
Spend a morning – or a day – in bed.
If you have no deadlines, or you can call in sick, do it. Sometimes a day of rest is exactly what we need.
It is very easy for those of us living with the Black Dog to use distraction as a way to run away from it. Whether it’s work, or exercise, or a hobby, or Facebook, alcohol or socialising, all of us will have our favourite distraction method.
For me, it’s Facebook and Netflix. I know now that cutting out either of those will just make me feel deprived and crave them more, so instead, I just use them more mindfully and stop when I know I need to get on with something else.
Scheduling in social time with friends and colleagues also helps to get me out of my head and away from Facebook, because it gives me a real connection with people, which is what I think I’m getting from social media.
In fact, scheduling all your activities will make sure you have a balance of work, exercise, social time, distraction time and rest in your day. If you prefer to be a bit more free-flowing, just write a list of everything you want to accomplish in a day, making sure you include a bit from each bucket.
As a freelancer with a mental illness, it can be easy to just be quiet about your disability, but the truth is that there are a lot of us out there and we all manage to still get our work done, despite the Black Dog that lives with us.
It’s time to come out of the closet.
Being busy with work for our clients gives us a great distraction from our Black Dog, so we crave it and become very good at fitting a lot in. Being ill doesn’t mean we cannot deliver amazing work, run successful businesses, and live valuable lives.
And although we all have bad days, doesn’t everyone?
If you are struggling with mental health, please reach out to Lifeline Australia for immediate assistance, referral, or support:
13 11 14
HDS? Featured Writer
Dorothy is a truth talker, opinion owner, feminist, solo parent, business owner and cat minion. She is forever opening and closing doors for them.
Dorothy has been blogging since 2009 about what’s going on in her head, because it’s cheaper and more effective than therapy. She also works as a business coach and virtual assistant for women entrepreneurs.
She is based in Ballarat, Victoria, but works with clients from all over the world.
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