Black Dog Days


Having days that are lost or wasted through feelings of worthlessness, unproductiveness, low self-esteem, low energy, lack of inspiration, and sometimes the worst kind of self-hate, are torment. They are also difficult to talk about because people try to fix you by giving well-meaning advice.

‘Go for a walk, why don’t you?’
Are you kidding?! There are other people out there that I would have to be polite to. Being around other people makes me feel worse. And have you seen the weather?! It’s not going to happen, okay?

‘How about a healthy lunch?’

Oh yeah, food… I forget to eat properly when I’m having a black day. Thanks. But would you prepare it please, I’m likely to burn or smash everything. I really am useless today. Oh no – I tell you what – just fetch me the cooking sherry and a massive bar of chocolate so I can hate myself some more.

‘Play some happy music.’
What’s happy music? I can’t remember what cheers me up. If I put on something too jolly it will just irritate me. How about Mahler and a good cry…? Morrisey? Leonard Cohen? Oh leave it… It’s all getting too complicated. I can’t make any decisions today. I’m useless.

‘Think about the positives.’

Positives?! POSITIVES? Are you crazy? There Are No Positives. It’s just bad, all bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. No, not you, you’re not bad. It’s just me that’s bad. You’re too good for me. You should leave. Everybody leave me alone in my sad little head. I know – I’ll see if I can get a bedsit somewhere and you can all get on with your lives. I’ll start looking for something now. Where’s the local paper? Oh I can’t find it, this house is such a mess. It’s all my fault because I don’t tidy up enough. Did I mention how useless I am?

‘Why don’t you go and see the doctor?’

What? Why? What can a doctor do? I’ll be okay tomorrow. And I’m not having my good days ruined by medication.

These days can happen out-of-the-blue or after a tiring or stressful period, they can occur when you have been otherwise happy, they can take over a perfectly beautiful sunny day or a well-planned day of activity. If, like mine, they can happen whatever the weather then bad weather isn’t a cause but an additional problem.
Some people get very angry, some very sad. I get upset and want to slap myself.
I find it tricky to talk to people because most of what I want to say is negative and the theme is always what a worthless piece of nothing I am.

‘Oh cheer up.’

Yes please. Actually, no. It would be pointless being cheerful this late in the day.

As a creative person, having the wind knocked out of my sails when I had planned a productive day is frustrating to the point of desperation. Today is one of those days. I have spent over five hours – no SIX! – hovering around my laptop, attempting to start one thing after another. I could leave the laptop and do something else but, from past experience, this is not a good idea either. This isn’t just your usual lack of drive, motivation or energy, boredom or sluggishness this is lack of a balanced perception of the world around me. Everything is awful. Everything.
I know it’s not really. But still it is.

And yes. I forgot to eat.

People talk of being visited by the black dog or they call these days ‘black dog days’. When I first tried to find a photo of a black dog on the Internet – I had this crazy idea that I would outdo the moody bugger with a picture of cute black puppy – my Internet connection failed. It would, wouldn’t it? Even Broadband has forsaken me, I’m so useless.

The worst thing is knowing I have lost a day. I can bounce back. I will have productive days again. I will dance around the kitchen again. I will see all the positives and enjoy a walk again. But right now all I can think is how I’ve wasted a day – a day when all the children were at school and I had time and space to be productive and yet I wasn’t. I feel illegitimate and it’s not a good feeling.

Now I have to decide between screaming, slapping myself on the forehead or going back to bed. Nope. It’s too complicated trying to decide. Perhaps I’ll pace up and down.

Pity the poor black dogs who have become the representation of such days. And meet my favourite dog:
The flat-coated retriever


They make me smile. Even today.

I’m going to get one some day and outbluff this black dog day thing.

Update, June 25th 2011:
We have a black flat-coat retriever! He came home 3 weeks ago and is now 12 weeks old. His name is Dylan and he’s a little b***** but very beautiful and lovely when he’s lovely. We’re really looking forward to the gentle, loyal grown-up dog that we know he will turn into.

13 thoughts on “Black Dog Days

  1. I hate that feeling of wasting time but feeling powerless to do anything about it. The frustration leads to guilt and so it spirals, dragging your mood down ever lower.

    These days I understand my triggers, take care of myself and do all I possibly can to keep depression at bay but such is the nature of the beast that it can still outwit me on occasion and pull the rug out from under me.

    It used to be of paramount importance to conquer it once and for all. I was desperate to beat it. I’ve since realised that I fare better if I worry less about trying to banish the beast forever and focus instead on believing I can and will survive if the cloud descends.

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  2. Creative people get both ends of the paintbox of emotional colours. It enables us to write the dark, deep, emotional stuff. Otherwise, we’d just write fluffy bunnies and unicorns. To me, writing fluffy bunnies and unicorns would be worse than spending one of the restless days when you can barely start anything and certainly can’t finish anything. When the clouds just form around you and get blacker and blacker. I don’t know why, but I know that after one (or worse, three or four) I’m often really productive and creative. I hope you are too.
    Otherwise, locking myself in the dark with chocolate helps.

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  3. I call them ‘whiteout’ days. Impossible to get any sense of perspective and attempts to ‘fix’ things don’t work because nothing and everything is broken at the same time.

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  4. Well put. You had me with “Are you kidding?! There are other people out there that I would have to be polite to.”

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  5. Well said, Rachel. Yes days like that are hideous. Anyone who says ‘get a grip’ deserves a slap. Only folks who’ve experienced true depression can really understand what it’s like. me – I find that for the moment the tablets help. Take care.

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  6. Very good post Rachel. I get days like this too – nothing goes right and it’s all my fault ’cause I’m useless. Only thing that helps is a hug from peoplace know will be there at the other side.

    Big huh from me xx

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  7. Yes, I recognize these self-doubting unproductive days. Pick yourself up & dust yourself off & start all over again. (There’s a song about that.) You learn from experience that these feelings pass. Yes, you wasted a day… so, what’s a day in the grand scheme of things? Be gentle with yourself. just don’t waste the next one.

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  8. Some days we do well to get to the end of the day especially if we have other people that rely on us, even if we just go through the motions. Some days even if we try to rev ourselves up or have the best opportunity to work or write it’s just too much. Sometimes it’s because the way is clear that it’s too much, now that we can, everything we wanted to do hits us in a flood and all the reasons why we aren’t good enough to achieve this or the fact that the time is not enough or what we have achieved isn’t enough. We know logically that we are lucky, that we live comfortably, that our families are wonderful but we just can’t quite feel it all the way through. It’s a hormonal or chemical thing and horribly real. When in that situation I’ve been through all those thought processes you described. I’ve got a great book called Feeling Good, the New Mood Therapy by David Burns. (and I notice only 3.94 on Amazon right now!) It’s got great techniques for checking depression levels, countering the negative thoughts and making you feel marginally better. I really recommend it. I think the odd black dog day is fine, and the odd wasted day very much deserved (we work SO HARD!) it’s if it takes us over too much then we need to think about medical solutions. Like childbirth, if you know it will pass, go through it and look forward to the light on the other side.

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