Winston Churchill referred to depression as a black dog.
As is true with all metaphors, it speaks volumes. The nickname implies both familiarity and an attempt at mastery, because while that dog may sink his fangs into one’s person every now and then, he’s still, after all, only a dog, and he can be cajoled sometimes and locked up other times.
That’s a positive interpretation of the metaphor. Depression doesn’t respond to cajoling, in my experience! Perhaps the metaphor is more sinister than that: the black dog is an adversary that cannot be shaken off, always out there (even on good days), though you can’t quite see it, persistently hunting you down. It’s a scary shadow to live with, akin to the Hound of the Baskervilles.
My family has a marked history of depression and suicide, which suggests a genetic predisposition. Many years ago, the high school guidance counselor took my girlfriend aside to warn her: “If you decide to break up with him, be careful how you handle it — you never know how someone in that family might react.”
I’ve been fortunate. The teenaged years were a real struggle for me, but I’ve been healthy as an adult. Sometimes depressive; even a low-level depression during a particularly difficult period (when my marriage was breaking down), but tougher and more resilient than some of my near relatives.
But this weekend, the black dog was howling at my door. It managed to sneak inside at least once, and leave its muddy paw prints in my entranceway. The good news is, I think the trigger was my asthma medication, so I’ve stopped taking it.
I’ve suffered from mild asthma every night at bedtime for the past several weeks. I have a prescription for a daily inhaler, but I had never filled it until now.
Saturday, I had a somewhat frustrating day. Then I had a small setback before bed, and I had a complete meltdown. I bawled like my best friend had died, and it took me about an hour to regain control. Poor MaryP — she was trying to find out what was “really” wrong, because my response was out of all proportion to the stimulus.
That episode set me to wondering about my asthma medication, so I googled it. Infrequent (less than one percent incidence) adverse events for inhaled budesonide include “psychiatric symptoms including depression, aggressive reactions, irritability, anxiety, and psychosis”. I suppose my inherent depressive tendency made me more susceptible to this adverse reaction.
But of course I’m speculating. Maybe it was just a coincidence. I’ve stopped taking the medication; now we’ll see whether I start to feel less fragile. I’ll follow up with my doctor when I have more information for her.
In the meantime, I worked out my coping mechanisms a long time ago.
- Seek a balance between rest and productive activity.
It’s a mistake to sit idle, with nothing to occupy you except thoughts of how depressed you are. Much better to set manageable goals for the day (changing the cat litter, for example) so you’ve got something to feel good about when bedtime arrives. (For me, “manageable goals” includes blogging!)
- Do something physical.
Yesterday, I went for a forty-minute walk despite the cold weather. (Minus 18° Celsius = 0° Fahrenheit — within seasonal norms for Ottawa in January.) Exercise is a constructive response to stress of any kind — even if it’s a cold day!
- Get extra sleep.
I had an exceptionally demanding week recently, and I suspect part of my problem is the inevitable letdown from that. I didn’t sleep well that week. Now I’m going to bed early, aiming at an extra hour or two of sleep each night to catch up.
- Eat nutritional foods.
Note the theme of the three middle bullets: look after your body. You can’t directly control your emotional state, but looking after your physical health is an indirect lever on emotional well-being.
- Seek support from friends or family.
MaryP has been entirely supportive, making little adjustments in the domestic routine. I’m very blessed, and I appreciate it!
I expect the ship will right itself, soon enough. Or (reverting to the original metaphor) the black dog will slink off with its tail between its legs.
Til the next time.