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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

Depression: The Black Dog

By: Olivia Pennelle

Editor Remarks: Check out Olivia’s Amazing Project: Liv’s Recovery Kitchen

The Black Dog

I’ve hit a wall, a bottom, a point of brokenness. I have rekindled my relationship with the black dog.

​The black dog is a metaphor for depression, used by Churchill; that ever present companion, just over your shoulder, lurking in the background and ready to pounce and sink its teeth into you. And its here, right here, up in my throat and I feel in its grips. I feel suffocated by it. I am all consumed by it and I can’t see a way out.

The pen is the tongue of the hand

​I have to get to that place; that place of brokenness, of feeling all encompassing pain, confusion, depression and desperation… then the urge rises – I’m compelled to write and express – to process, to pull together and to begin to heal. So here I am. I feel broken into pieces and I’m picking up those fragments, watching the rays refract through them and I am beginning piecing myself back together.​ That starts with assembling those pieces into words.

This quote perfectly encapsulates what writing is for me: the tongue of the hand… it is my process. There is such power for me in expression; its a means of enabling me to process what is happening; its a reflection of my soul.

Feelings and destruction

These feelings are familiar. I’ve had them many times before. They call it growth. I say that I fucking hate hearing that. Frankly, I’m sick of the pain, I’m sick of the anger, I’m tired of the lessons. And I’m worn out. Sometimes I feel like I have such depths of despair and bone-aching loneliness.

But,I know, in my gut, that it has purpose…

Joe McQ says that recovery is a process of discarding, uncovering, letting go. It is. I’d say it goes deeper. Much deeper. I feel broken apart during each phase of ‘growth’. This quote says it beautifully…

That’s where I’m at – my insides are outside and I’m rummaging through to make sense of what is going on. But I’m trying to do this whilst in a state of depression. I feel low, sad, and have that sinking feeling. I’m struggling with everyday activities – work, meetings, interaction, self-care. I want to sleep my life away. I’m exhausted. I feel like I am trudging through treacle. My motivation has waned and I’m torn between pushing myself through and giving myself a break.

Recovery, to me, is about the space to sieve through feelings and emotions and making sense of them. Often with the help of others. And with a recovery lens – one that can look at perception and reality versus my feelings. Albeit reluctantly, this is something I have to do. Because if I don’t, and I push it down, things fester, rot, and that is what leads me to use: an inability to cope with my feelings and experiences.

​​These are the choppy waters I’ve been treading water in:

Dating in recovery

I’ve written about my experience of dating in recovery, and doing so at your peril (link here)! It can cause the most amount of pain we suffer in recovery; it serves to challenge your core beliefs, your self-worth, your esteem, your values, your boundaries and brings to the front any unresolved issues of abandonment and rejection. It is not for the faint hearted. Especially given our propensity to feel, in a hypersensitive sense of the word.

I figured that in my fourth year of recovery I should give it another go. My thinking was that I’d love to share my life, to have a companion, a love, and a partnership. There isn’t anything vaguely destructive about that, I wasn’t acting on any defects, I was simply trying like everyone else.

There is a parallel here between how I present my soul, writing; and the presentation of my soul, dating. I got to a stage where I’ve held back for too long, I’ve uncovered some real gems within me and I am shining bright. I took a leap of faith.

Dating is like a dance; you present your authentic self. You step forward and take a risk. Its fucking scary. They return the step. You move the dance forward, you embrace. You get a glimmer of hope that something magical might be happening. You gasp and catch your breath. And, just before the chorus, it stops in its tracks. It doesn’t work out. For whatever reason. I’m left dumbfounded.

This isn’t about them, its about me.

Its about my reaction and perception of what has happened. And it hurts. I feel rejection. I feel pain. But instead of celebrating the fact that I am now able to call bullshit, enforce my boundaries and know my self-worth, I turned this inward — I wonder what the fuck is wrong with me? Why am I single? Have I been to needy, too keen, too this and too fucking that?!

Here is what I know… I’m 36, beautiful, kind, warm, engaging, loving and caring and passionate. I’m bright. I’m funny. Really funny. I’m fiery. I am, unashamedly ME. And yet, in spite of those qualities, there just hasn’t been a guy to appreciate all of that. I just don’t understand why.

I am fucking Mangry!

​I came across Holly & Laura’s podcast, HOME, (Episode 45…Holly’s mangry) where Holly coined this phrase ‘mangry’. She was able to crystallise – and I fucking love them both for this – exactly how I was feeling.

I am mangry! So fucking mangry!

They helped me to question why it is that we, as women, feel inadequate because we are not fulfilling the archetypal role of a woman – which is to meet man, get married, procreate – and, therefore, are somehow less than when we can’t. How those beliefs can generate an icky neediness within us, that is only fulfilled by a man’s presence to validate us. Bullshit.

​Holly’s right. We don’t need a man to fulfil us. Especially not men who are emotionally unavailable, unsure, don’t want to put in the effort for a relationship and don’t appreciate all that you are, for example. I think she talked about leashing a cockroach. Hell YES! So, for the time being, I am done. I am sick of putting myself out there. Perhaps if I stop looking, the right one will come along? Another phrase that I hate. Fuck them. I’m done.

Perception is Everything

Because of my depression, everything feels more overwhelming than it probably is. Who knows if the dating has caused a depression, or if the depression was always there in the background ready to pounce. But Life feels grey. It probably isn’t. I miss the sunshine and my appreciation of the flowers in bloom. They are still there. My tastebuds are dull. But food is abundant. I feel like the many plates I spin are crashing down, but they probably aren’t. I am probably where I need to be – another annoying phrase. I do, however, understand that my perception is everything.

Elizabeth Gilbert, my girl crush, says this:

“Listen, we’re not always in control of our fate – and that is a fact. You may be robbed or you may be blessed (or some combination of the two, most likely), but that is not really the point. The point is: If you feel like you’re constantly being robbed, then you live in a world of constantly being robbed. And if you feel like you’re constantly being blessed, then you live in a world that’s about constantly being blessed. What we usually see when we interpret our lives is nothing but ourselves – as the truth gets screened through a thousand-layer filter composed of our weirdness and wonderfulness.

If we try to see things with the most generous eyes – searching for the truth, yes, but then bestowing upon that truth the brightest and kindest interpretation — we can learn how to perceive a more beautiful world. Do that, and I promise you this: You will get to live in one.”

​​I look forward and I have to trust that it will pass. I know it will, it has before and I came out of the other side, stronger and more resilient. I trust my process; in writing my perception changes.

In the meantime, I take time out. I rest. I exercise. I talk and write, a lot. And I sit and experience my feelings instead of trying to avoid them. I embrace my loneliness – leaning into it – and nourish it with healthy activities. And I take care of myself. I heal. I trust. Who knows, everything may change…I perceive that to be the case.