Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

Chasing dreams, because I can

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The Black Dog

Posted by Oli on Thursday 5th July, 2007

Earlier this week I sat down with K to show her a film I thought she’d like that I’d caught on TV a while back and just picked up on DVD.

The Gathering Storm covers the year or so leading up to Winston Churchill’s re-appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1935, during which time he tries in vain to convince his Parliamentary colleagues that Germany is re-arming itself for a war which no one else in Europe is prepared for.

It’s a fantastic film – an HBO/BBC co-production for television, not cinema release – with a marvelous central performance from Albert Finney and an eye-watering supporting cast.

What struck me, on watching it back again, though, was the reminder of how Churchill struggled with what the doctors called, “a certain melancholia” and what his family – most notably his wife, his adored Clemmie – called his Black Dog. Nowadays, of course, it would be called depression and he’d be on all manner of pills and psychological couches to come to terms with things, but this isn’t the time or the place for a detailed break-down of my personal feelings towards today’s current epidemic of depression.

I have, of late, felt myself under attack from the very same Black Dog as afflicted Churchill, I feel.

The analogy to a dog is remarkably accurate – it carries a life and a will of its own and it can come and go as quickly as the summer sun behind the clouds at Wimbledon. Like a dog, it can be docile and quiet one minute and turn unutterably savage the next: a constant threat hanging over you, but with no indication when or how long the next surge will come.

Today was very much a Black Dog Day. It seems at the moment that whenever my chest is less than perfect… hmm, no, that’s not the right way to put it, given that “perfect” is something my chest hasn’t been since my earliest years… but whenever my chest is a little worse than it was yesterday, or whenever I feel slightly more under the weather than I have been for the few days previously, the Dog attacks with a savagery I’ve never before experienced.

Yesterday was my last day of IVs for this course – normally a time of great celebration and a chance to enjoy a long, hot, refreshing shower (something I can’t do with my port accessed, so I have to settle for half-baths which don’t get my shoulder wet). This time round, however, I feel like I’m losing a crutch which I’ve been leaning and relying on to improve me.

I’ve been so used, over the years, to going down hill, having a course of IVs and pitching out the other end all fine and dandy, it’s an alien feeling to come to the end of a course of IVs as I have the last couple of times and still find my chest almost as clogged up as it was before, albeit with markedly less infection and with much thinner and more “friendly” sputum.

I think there’s a part of my brain which is still convinced that I’m not actually any better at all and that I should still be on the drugs, something which all medical evidence strongly contradicts. It is this nagging centre of the brain which I think is holding the leash for the Black Dog and sees fit to set him free at the merest hint of a down-turn.

I’ve had a few really good days since I arrived back at the flat almost a week ago. I’ve been getting stronger and feeling more upbeat than I have in a long time. So it’s all the more arresting when the Dog attacks as he did today.

As if lost in a cloud of darkness that envelops all around it, I found myself losing touch with myself and veering off down a course of negative thinking that I normally nip in the bud in seconds. And where I sit at the moment, once the cloud does descend, once the Dog has its teeth into me, there’s nothing can be said or done to clear the air or shake it off.

Strangely, the fog I found myself in for most of the afternoon suddenly lifted this evening. I strongly suspect it’s down to a fillip in my physical state, whereby my chest deigned to allow me out of bed without making all kinds of disagreeable noises and causing problems.

What I need to find is something that will disconnect my mind from my body – to keep my mental state separate from that of my physical. Because let’s face it, if I start to bottom out at the first sign of a little physical hurdle, I’m going to be fighting through far, far to many mental battles when I should be focusing all my energy on my physical ones.

Anyone know where I can buy a muzzle?


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