Guest Blog: "He's a Cowardly Bastard!"
Black Dog Rider and our Inaugural Guest Blogger Peter tells us about his own 'Black Dog'.
The call was put out for guest bloggers a couple of weeks ago and the response was fantastic. Peter, a long time Black Dog Rider, told us he'd give it a shot. Peter's magnum opus, below, is an eloquent, relevant and beautiful piece describing the 'cowardly bastard' black dog that has shadowed him. Thank you Peter for your courage and powerful honesty. Please honour his effort here by sharing this piece widely, and as Peter says, "initiate the conversation". - BDR
As a bit of background, my name is Peter [sounds like the start of an A.A. meeting doesn't it]. I'm turning 60 this year [gets brighter all the time] and have had a black dog for company through most of my mid fifties. I'm ecstatic to say we've now pretty much parted company, and in some ways I don't even want to look back on where I've been, but I didn't get through it alone and if sharing my thoughts rings a bell with anyone else it is the absolute least I could do.
I should add that I've always, or at least should have, regarded myself as about the luckiest bloke on two feet. Wonderful partner, family, lifestyle, toys in the shed etc. So why did I spend about 5 years of my life dwelling on that empty useless feeling of depression? Coming home from work every day having not achieved very much but totally exhausted because I felt like I was acting out someone else's life, not mine. Laying in bed at night, or alone during the day, thinking of ways to kill myself. That statement sounds so brutal now but it was the theme of almost wistful daydreams. Not sleeping at night despite the tiredness. Drinking too much, even on my own if I had the chance. Looking at my achievements but thinking they were, like life, pretty much worthless. Convinced no one would even miss me much if I wasn't here. How very descriptive the ''Black Dog'' title is.
Early on in my depression a friend told me the message on my answering machine sounded like it was recorded in a morgue, I would spend days off in withdrawn silence. Loved ones would ask; What's wrong? And all I could say was ''nothing''. Because there wasn't anything tangible wrong with my life. Who was I to complain, living in rural Australia with all that I had. Because for a couple of years I just thought the world was pissing me off and it had to be the worlds problem as much as mine.
But then some awareness started to dawn on me, and looking back now I can see that awareness came at two levels. Firstly, awareness of depression as an issue and then, following on, a more personal awareness. And both of them critical. My first Black Dog Ride I went on because I like hanging around with other bike riders and big cruisers. I had just bought a cruiser after years of trail bike riding on the farm and thought some networking would be good. At the same time I was also thinking that picking off the front of a truck if we were both doing 110k's would be one way to finally rid myself of the blanket of fog that seemed my constant mental companion. But I didn't think it would be quite right to ruin some truckies life as well as mine. It would take an enormous amount of guts to kill yourself. I shudder now when I hear of the many that do it. More than die on the roads. What enormous anguish and hell must they have gone through. And all the while so much pretence that all is okay.
When I look back at my own level of pretence I think I could now be successful in the local theatrical group. I feel like I've acted my way through the equivalent of Wolf Creek and Silence of the Lambs. And I haven't killed myself. It is beyond tragic to think of the loneliness those who have killed themselves went through. I think that is the worst part of depression. The gut wrenching loneliness.
But back to that Black Dog Ride. I started listening to the speeches at the end of that ride and had to put my sunglasses on because I didn't want so many strangers to see me with tears in my eyes. None of the speeches were that personal, it just hit me like a thunderbolt that there were many people out there like me,''functioning'' in daily life but struggling with the mental equivalent of massive lead weights on their backs.
Which brings me to the second and more personal level of awareness. A few days after that ride I burst into tears in front of my G.P. Looking back I can see I was drawing strength from simply acknowledging what was going on. And I started to talk more openly about it all to my wife and daughters. As difficult as it was. And it was difficult. For a long time it was difficult to finish a conversation and not feel there were ''gaps''. I had to repeat myself. I couldn't explain properly. But then those same people started to re-enforce the fact that they ''missed'' the old me. That was flattering, but we have all been loved. We all have people who won't turn their backs on us. Either family, friends, or, if that is too difficult, professionals. It is just so critical to seek them out. To initiate the conversation.
My wife has also discussed her periodic depression, which probably shouldn't have been surprising considering what she was putting up with. At least these days the subject is out in the open. In our house the black dog has nowhere to hide. And we are also finding that without anywhere to hide he doesn't want to hang around so much. He's basically a cowardly bastard. A sneaking cur. The Chinese have a saying ''look the dragon in the face''. I know it is a lot easier said than done, but the Black Dog can be stared down. With help and support. And I've noticed he doesn't enjoy good diet and exercise either.
Courtesy of talking to loved ones, a good family G.P. and taking the time to explore the subject of depression more widely, I sometimes think I've almost managed to make a pet out of old Winston. In the sense that I now know when he's about. I can tell him to behave and, despite his disobedience, order him from the house. He doesn't always go, but at least I can say to myself and those around me, ''it's just the Black Dog, he doesn't rule my life''. After all how could I let a fantasy affect my decision making? How could I let a fantasy hurt those I love?
I believe that I can honestly say that talking about the black dog and depression has actually made me closer to a lot of people. Depression can well around a myriad of issues, ageing parents, your own mortality, things I may have done differently as a parent, professional and personal mistakes, failure at a variety of different levels. All those things that we all have and can all get out of perspective from time to time. When you openly, honestly and deeply talk about it all, the weight, like the dog, finds there's nowhere to hide. Looking back I can see where my depression was born. Back when I was an alienated 18 and 19 year old. And through the subsequent years when I was using alcohol, quite successfully, to mask anxiety and some insecurity.
My take home message is; whether you are depressed, or even just feeling flat, start the conversation. It's all part of the parcel of being human. I sometimes wish I had started some of those conversations a lot earlier. Not that I'm beating myself up about it. I was busy, I was coping well for decades. Some people have this curse surround them in their adolescence, a time when lack of life experience may make deeper conversation next to impossible. In these times of cyber bullying that is a whole new minefield. As I stated in the intro to this rather long blog, I am a very lucky person. Lucky, but appreciative beyond words to organisations such as the Black Dog Ride. Because of such people I am a lot more aware. Ready to ask others. Are you okay? And really listen to the answer. As difficult as it may sometimes be.
Life is good, beautiful and precious. And there's an eternity to find out what comes next.
Peter, for Black Dog Ride
(If you have a message or comment of support or thanks for Peter, you're welcome to post them here: http://is.gd/BDRblog )