Founded in 2002 and affiliated with the University of NSW and Prince of Wales Hospital, Black Dog Institute operates in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
I woke again last night. I suppose one ought to be grateful for the fact that I woke rather than not, but the truth is that it’s getting a little repetitious.
After a time of trying to re-enter dreamworld, trying different positions: left-side, right-side, stomach, back, foetal position, I gave up and climbed out of bed to go to the toilet. I knew that that was not the right thing to do if I wanted to get back into snooze-dom, but that was it. I was expecting another hour or so of struggle as I crept, as quietly as I could, back towards the awaiting bed. I didn’t expect a bloody great big black dog to be stretched out in the warmth that I had so recently vacated.
The black dog has been there before. It waits until the cover of darkness before it creeps past our sleeping sentry, a black cat. Our moggy normally wakes up at the drop of a pin, but somehow this big, smelly viciousness of a creature has the drop on her. She would be downstairs, in the lounge, purring softly away on the chair that she had chosen as hers. She would only wake when she needed to have an early morning stroll.
Like our cat, my wife was soundly wrapped in slumber. The reason why I crept around so much, like a trainee burglar, was that I didn’t want to wake her. In the course of this last year, she has been my crutch, my mainstay, and has struggled on with the various items that life had decided to load upon her. She has now become the breadwinner and goes about it with a stoicism that I can only dream of. Tonight I wasn’t dreaming, but she was. I would keep it that way. So, I pushed the hound over a little in order to once again take my rightful place in the marriage-bed.
We have been talking about getting a dog, recently.
Not a great black one like the one that was now sleeping between us, but a golden one, a Labrador or Retriever. My wife doesn’t like ugly dogs and is always shocked that people would choose to have them as pets. I must admit that the recent rise in ugly-dog ownership has taken me somewhat by surprise. In the good-old-days, ugly dogs were the property of gang-members or wayward families on council-estates. They were the dreaded emblem of aggression that would tour a territory at the side of their owner, unleashed and uncontrolled, to scare the shit out of others. Or simply to tear the guts out of other people’s lesser canines or cats. So, when we see these semi-savage types straining at the leads that belong to ordinary, decent humans, we are puzzled and perturbed. Is this just another indication of mankind’s inevitable slide into world-thuggery and Mad Max mayhem?
The black dog was not sleeping. I had my eyes closed. I wasn’t going to let it know that I knew that it was there. I didn’t want to turn towards it because I knew that its fetid breath would distil my senses. Likewise, I didn’t entertain turning away from it in case it sensed this as a sign of weakness. So I just lay there on my back, breathing deeply, attempting to count the sheep that had scattered and fled.
After an hour of this, I left the bed to let our own black creature out for her stroll. She has a polite way about her when she needs to sample the morning air. She tiptoes into our bedroom, sits down, cleans herself and mumbles in the way that cats do. Sometimes, her polite cleaning and mumbling is met with a vexed rapport from one or the other of us, ‘Bloody cat!‘ This morning, I was only too pleased to leave the bed and let her out. Once downstairs, I thought about remaining there until the black dog had decided to depart, but I didn’t. I went back to bed and struggled into the space that had been left for me.
I have written about these moments before. I have discovered that they happen when I am at my most positive, when I dare to believe that maybe, just maybe, things will work out. It’s those Maybe Moments that are the most menacing. That’s when hope steps in and smiles. The smile is a tiny tear in the fabric of my life and it offers a possible escape. It may be that things will work out, just fine. Possibly not.
A big Maybe Moment crept into my life yesterday afternoon.
I was in the car, on my way to pick my youngest daughter up from school. She usually walks, but with me being at home (no work), it was better for both of us if I gave her the lift back. In truth, it was placebo for my sense of self-worth. Yesterday afternoon, I set off earlier as I had decided to bring variety into my life by doing a quick shop at Aldi. Again, this is to do with self-esteem and the need to convince myself that there is just a little bit of the hunter-gatherer left the rest used to be. A bloody shop at a discount supermarket is not wandering the great plains of Africa hunting lions, but it sometimes fills that metaphor (if there isn’t a hole in the shopping-bag).
So there I was, in my car, an old and getting older Mercedes, and I turned the radio on for a spot of light relief. When I drive, the station that I prefer s Radio 5 Live. It’s a sports’ based, talk station with interesting discussions. I have kept away from general public radio-mouth-offs in the past as I can’t stand listening to myopically-opinionated half-wits spout their common-sense nonsense for all to hear. However, whilst driving to work in the early part of this year, I often caught some very enlightening programmes concerned with the issue of mental health. In those days, I was relieved that others suffered in the same manner as myself.
“You ought to phone it!”
That was a voice in my head. It did not shout it out as the exclamation mark would suggest, but it was insistent. What made me follow this alter-ego advice was the fact that the listeners were being asked to respond to the central question, ‘How do you deal with mental illness?’
People who were being interviewed came up with a range of things from stand-up comedy to power-rowing. Good stuff, I thought. They were good activities to take one’s mind off the elephant. I know that when I exercise, am engaged with other activities, read or write, my mental health improves dramatically. I am not thinking about it. During the night, when the big bloody beast sprawls next to me, I think of nothing else. So, I did something brave and phoned up the radio station.
I had parked the car in the discount supermarket’s vast carpark and, whilst shoppers were busily going about their own hunter-gatherings, I spoke to a researcher. It was now 2.53pm and the programme finished at 3. I told my tale and the researcher told me that he was going to get me on the radio as he thought my book/blog was novel. I was asked to wait for a few moments and I did so.
One thing with mental health issues is that people feel ashamed to talk about them. It’s as if it’s confessing to something that is sinister, an admission that there is something profoundly wrong with you, and your lineage. That’s why the book/ blog became a tad embarrassing for my immediate family. I changed the names, stopped writing about things that might have effected my wife and daughters; not even the cat’s name was mentioned. Along the way, all names have been changed to protect the innocent; even mine.
The upshot was that we ran of time. The researcher told me that they would probably call me when they ran another programme on it. In my heart, I knew that this would not be the case.
So, there I was in the middle of the night with this big black dog grinning at me through yellowed fangs and stinkingly self-satisfied breaths. The wife was asleep, the black cat was abroad (Shakespearean for outside) and there was me and the Baskerville Beauty sharing my darkest thoughts about my desperate life.
Or the Moggy will get you!