Return of the Black Dog


I’m still swamped by those recordings in my brain, “I should do something, I should call someone, I should write a book, I should learn to tap dance.” The ‘I shoulds’ are on constant parade, they never end. Every time I get a blast of one of those ‘I shoulds’ or a memory of screwing up it feels like someone’s sticking a syringe in my heart and squirting something toxic straight into an artery. I try to deflect or accept those painful ‘I shoulds.’ It’s like I’m babysitting myself, trying to sooth a sick child.

Ruby Wax

I’ve known for days that I was sliding back down into depression. I’ve been blaming myself for everything, from my son being allergic to the cat to over-catering the party on Christmas Eve (we’re still guiltily consuming cocktail sausages, and probably will be until someone succumbs to food poisoning, and then I’ll feel guilty about that). Here I sit, caught between the feeling that nobody ought to be depressed at Christmas, surrounded by their loving family and in a comfortable home, and the looming, half-dreaded and half-anticipated New Year exhortations to make meaningful, significant changes. I should not be miserable, I tell myself. I should not feel as if making a simple phone call to thank someone for their Christmas present is a mountain I cannot scale. I should be visiting the health club, cleaning up the leaves out in the garden, doing the ironing – anything to make me feel I am not completely and hopelessly useless.

It is one of life’s sad ironies that I am surrounded by piles of lovely Christmas gifts and feel unable to enjoy any of them. It is not that I lack gratitude. I am just used to others setting the agenda and can’t seem to give myself permission to choose to do something I want and then go ahead and do it. I cannot allow myself the holiday that others are righty enjoying.

We have loads to celebrate and even more to look forward to, but none of it seems at all signifiant right now. Having recently observed the child of an acquaintance commit suicide, I know beyond all doubt that I could never put my family through something so agonising and so public. I know beyond doubt that they love me dearly. What I don’t really understand is why they bother.

And at an intellectual level, I know why I feel like this. I feel like this because I drove myself hard all through the run-up to Christmas, going the extra mile at work, taking on the immense and wonderful challenge of learning a foreign language, recovering from a ghastly tummy bug and trying throughout not to let my fragile fitness regime collapse (in the end it did, and that’s something else I can’t quite forgive myself for). And then came Christmas, and my partner’s retirement, and three parties in the space of a week, and then I cooked and washed up Christmas lunch. I did a good job, and I know the family appreciated it. It’s okay to be exhausted, it really is. It’s okay to miss one or two Italian lessons rather than repeat them over in a parrot-like trance and retain almost nothing of them.

I won’t feel like this forever. I might only feel like this until tomorrow. I feel this way now because it’s the first day for ages I have only had myself to look out for, and I’ve been distracting myself by looking out for everybody else, whether they asked me to or not. My kids have reached the age where I cannot live their lives for them, or even through them. That is something I actually wanted to happen. And I will find new goals, and new challenges, and new dreams, and it is all waiting for me, and the fact that right now all I want to do is crawl under a duvet and sob into a pillow does not negate any of that at all.

And if someone like Ruby Wax can be so beautifully and courageously honest about depression, then there is hope for us all.


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