Black Dogs & Ravens.

There are some topics that are often harder to talk about because it becomes overly personal, and you show weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and you open the door to have your feelings hurt; but I’m a grown man, and I can take the flack I get.

That being said, this is where I talk quite personally about something else that I suffer with other than lactose intolerance and body image issues. I like to think I know what I’m talking about, but textbook knowledge of psychology versus real life, isn’t what it’s cracked up to be; and I’ve worked for 5 years with people whom suffer with some severe mental health issues in my old job, and even in my current employment it’s a daily occurrence. But away from work, it’s also a daily battle.

Perhaps ‘battle’ is the wrong word. There’s no physical fight, but it’s most definitely mentally exhausting. When it comes to depression, you wage a holy war upon yourself. Everything you knew, everything you believed is called into question and you understand a true feeling of existential crisis. Or so I have.

I battle with my own depression daily, but I have learnt through many years of holding it together, that routine and personal mantras are the way forward…for me. The thing with any mental health issue is that, whilst you can have the same symptoms as other people, it’s a completely unique experience, that sometimes, adds to the isolation one can feel. I am unmedicated, by choice, and have developed my own personal therapies, something that not all people can do.

Winston Churchill spoke of his own depression as like having a big black dog behind you, stalking you, and many people after him have claimed the same. That depression to them feels like a big black dog stalking them in the shadows of their own mind. This isn’t how I feel. To me, I feel like I have a raven perched on my shoulder. It twitches it’s head, and is mostly quiet, but it’s waiting. It’s waiting for me to forget that it’s there so it can squawk in my ear and bring everything crashing down around me. Sometimes, I feel like that raven does leave. I can go for a month or so, not having a care in the world, the raven is just off somewhere, circling high above, waiting for my shoulder to become the perfect perch again.

I recently confided in some close friends about my mental health, and after playing twenty questions, I felt drained. The overall consensus was that I didn’t look like I was depressed, and I guess that is true. When evaluating my life, and trying to find a point in which this all began, I realised one thing: I always slapped a smile on my face and got on with things because it made people happy. I was a people pleaser, but no one was pleasing me.

I do still feel like that is still the person I am. I like to please people so regardless of what is going on in my head, I just put a smile on my face and go about my business, all the while obsessing about my death, or ripping myself to shreds over the way I look, or act, or my general being. Feeling low, catching glimpses of something unsightly in the mirror, not having motivation to do anything, to enjoy anything. It’s quite an empty place to be, but just empty of positivity, it is abundant in negative thoughts.

I sometimes see people share things on Facebook about mental health, of people saying “you don’t look ill” and how it’s so offensive, and I get that. I get that saying someone doesn’t look ill when they technically are is rude. But I have never used the term “mentally ill” or “mental illness” because I don’t think that’s strictly true. I have a mental health issue, because to me, it’s a temporary state, it’s fleeting, I’m not perpetually depressed, but that’s me. I also think that introducing myself as being ‘depressed’ is harmful to my own identity.

There is this idea that we are the sum of our parts, but it’s more than that. We are the sum of our parts, but it is which part we make prominent that defines who we are. From being depressed to being gay, I have a lot that I could choose to define myself by, but these days I choose to define myself with my name: Ted. Ted is a man, who is gay, who has depression, who is chubby, who works with the homeless, who is a brother, son, uncle, nephew, cousin, grandson, friend, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, enemy, stranger and blogger. I could chose any descriptive word I want to define myself, but I chose my name.

Defining ourselves as one thing lets it take over. That in itself is harmful, because you focus in on that, you make it bigger, you perfect it so that you embody it. It’s hard, I know. Depression is a rough ride, and it’s a long bumpy road to travel. I’ve been travelling it for years now, and whilst I get batted between having bipolar and depression, I know one thing: I am the driver, and I can change course.

We have the power in our hands to turn around and growl back at that black dog and make him whimper away for a day or two. We have the power to bat away the raven from our shoulders and have a good day. But we have to accept, as everyone should, that we have our bad days, and we have our good days. Life was made to be lived, and on those good days, we need to live.



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