All About The Black Dog

So, I think I have a black dog.

Okay, I do have a black dog named Wu-Tang but that’s not who I mean. This black dog is following me and no one else can see it – it hides in the corners of my mind.

This series of posts is going to be about beating that b**** depression (the “bonus” is that I am going to be telling you all about professional approved ways to manage the black dog with a little personal touch. I am going to share with you my own responses to these tools and the reality of all the seemingly pointless tools suggested to us by doctors, councillors and therapists.

A little context…

IMG_1820
A throwback to skinny, depressed 21 year old me

I am a seasoned depression head. In that photo, it was a time when I was terrible at dealing with the black dog and without any intention, I made my condition worse again and again. No longer! I still get bouts of depression (as someone with c-PTSD that’s inevitable) but I am no longer my own worst enemy.

For this bout, I wanted to try something completely different and talk about it because we people who go through it, once or many times, need to talk about it.

Heres the first thing though:

It will never go away unless you DO SOMETHING.

I sound like a total dick right? Clearly, if I’m depressed like I say I am then I would understand just how effing hard that is? But. That is the stone cold truth.

To any of you who might be feeling the same way, I know it’s a scary thought when just getting out of bed seems impossible, but that’s okay, we’re going to “do something” together – you and me.

But first, let’s just do a quick check to make sure we know what we’re dealing with here.

What is the Black Dog?

If you look in a dictionary or get on the google you will find that definition of depression (The Black Dog) to be somewhere along the lines of “feelings of severe despondency and dejection”. I think that sums it up pretty darn well. But still doesn’t say what it is or why it happens.

So, WTF is it really?

Quite simply depression is the longest sad, angry and despondent mood you will ever be in and it is brought on by traumatic or stressful life events. My husband also likes to say “Remember, it’s only a chemical imbalance!” and as much as I hate to admit it, he’s right!

If you go to a GP and say you’re depressed, they might prescribe you antidepressants which trick your body into rebalancing those chemicals, whilst you’re taking them, but there’s no guarantee in the long run and the side effects can be… more than unpleasant. If you’re going to trick your body, why not do it a nicer way?

Here is my segue into the non-pharmaceutical tools you can use to get out of that life-force-draining funk and get back to the happy, hopeful you. I call these my ‘Tools to Put the Dog Down’. I should note that I don’t leave the house regularly so most of these tools will be centred around being at home and not spending money.

The Tools to Put the Dog Down

If I haven’t lost you already that’s great, stay with me because we are going to get straight into the tools that you are gonna need to close this chapter of your life. And these tools are not just depression specific but will help you get things back in control when things like anxiety and insomnia start messing with your life.

Let’s start with mindfulness.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a simple thing but it is still hard to define; it’s like pressing pause on everything and just noticing what’s going on.

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.

Not gonna lie, if you are like me and prone to cringing then you may well find this a little tricky but that’s cool, we’re gonna keep trying until it sticks.

Have you ever been sat on a bus and found yourself focusing on the sensation of your feet on the vibrating floor? Ever closed your eyes to the warm sun coming in through a window and felt the glow on your skin? What about telling yourself “I’m only jealous” when feeling prickly towards someone else’s good fortune in life?

Then congratulations, you have already practised mindfulness! If not, those are some great, simple examples of how to add a little mindfulness to your life but of course, there are more structured ways to learn how to practice mindfulness.

We all know that YouTube is a tried and tested platform for finding ‘how to’ videos so it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for someone to guide you. There are also Podcasts available but my favourite helper has to be Headspace.

Headspace offers website and an app with free beginners guides to mindfulness; an audio track will guide you through ten short chapters and if it really tickles your fancy then they offer a subscription service. A subscription would give you access to the huge, diverse collection of mindfulness and meditation guides they have to offer and personally, this is my go-to source for mental training.

Meditation

An equally important cousin to mindfulness which is an ancient practice that comes in a wide variety of forms. I wasn’t sure how to say exactly what meditation is but after searching around I think The Buddhist Centre says it best and in a way that’s relative to what we’re talking about here:

“Meditation is a means of transforming the mind.”

Boom. I love that and it’s true; by meditating you train your brain in awareness, you transform your brain’s capabilities and allow yourself to exist without being burdened by your thoughts and feelings. Meditation won’t magically make them disappear but allow you to see them for what they are, whims or little manifestations of your consciousness, rather truths we then find motivation in to act in a way where we hurt ourselves.

I think starting a meditation practice is daunting and I’ll admit even now my meditation habit ain’t the strongest but using guides definitely helps. The sources for guides are much the same as for mindfulness – the choice is really yours and I can’t stress how important it is to try a variety of them until you find what works for you. It is your path to enlightenment after all!

Moving on, let’s get into some physical stuff you can do to help shake things up.

Exercise…

…isn’t for everyone. Scrap any ideas of a workout regime or gyms or any kind of equipment, the important thing when exercising for your mental health is regularly getting your heart rate up and those endorphins flowing.

The easiest, least exercise-like way to do this is walking up a big hill kinda quickly. So pop on some tunes, grab your trainers and go for it! You will be at the top before your favourite song has even finished, your heart will be going and believe it or not, it will bring you some relief. Going back to the idea of tricking your body into behaving like the chemicals aren’t imbalanced, this works a treat; at the end of a very brief uphill walk, along with the positive hormones flooding your system, being literally higher up in the world boosts the natural chemical high.

If the idea of natural chemical highs appeals to you then yoga is a must try.

Yoga

This ancient practice has been around for anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years. The name yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj meaning ‘union’, which is pretty perfect since this practice is all about uniting your mind, body and spirit.

I’m going to suggest YouTube as a source for guides again since a) it’s free and b) no need to leave your house and stick your bum in the air in a room full of strangers. Also, there are so many instructors to choose from, you can be as picky as you like although I will recommend my lady of preference Adriene, a sweet-talking yogi with a laidback attitude who tends to make the odd joke here and there. She changed my life and she caters to every level of ability, offering beginners practices, training for specific poses and even multiple 30-day programmes.

For this anti-depression tool, the best thing to do is just give it a go and commit to the video (or class if it’s within your comfort zone) no matter how short and see if you feel different. There is also the option to opt for a yoga meditation which I like to think of as a special combo attack when it comes to lifting your mood and helping you find some inner peace and motivation.

Short, Intense Workouts

We’re still not talking about some kind of commitment to working out every day but throwing a high-intensity workout into the mix, even just once or twice a week, can have some serious health benefits in the long run.

HIIT and its cousin Circuits

HIIT workouts can be found online (YouTube, Pinterest or just a google search) and take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. The idea is to workout at a high-intensity level (dripping with sweat and heart pounding out your chest) for a burst of cardio and muscle tone exercises that will give you a whole body workout in very little time. As the name suggests, these are intense so try not to bite off more than you can chew!

An alternative or additional workout strategy would be circuit training with the HIIT method in mind. Basically, you pick the three areas you want to exercise and the amount of time between sets. By doing this personalised circuit training, you have more control over your workout and you can monitor your progress by the ‘size’ of your sets and the break you allow yourself between them.

Self Help Books/Courses/Step by Step Guides

Just in case you hadn’t considered it, I wanted to add these little gems to the toolkit. I’m guilty of having judged these books in the past and even now when I’ve got two on the go, I am still a little jaded but there’s no denying that these tried and tested formulas for ‘success’ work. Most of the time I have things figured out well enough but when the dog bites, I go to pieces and suddenly everything is bleak and my life has no direction. Cue self-help books.

I was recently searching for ‘books that will change your life’ and I came across The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino and with nothing to lose I bought it. Then it blew my f****** mind. Someone else’s carefully crafted words helped me to find the motivation I couldn’t find in myself and they made me believe that I could do every task that had been too much before and just like that, I got my life back on track.

Try something new!

If you’re feeling up to it, do something you’ve been meaning to do. Start a new hobby, go camping, pamper yourself, whatever it is, just go for it. This part isn’t going to magically make you feel better or give your mood an instant lift, it’s about adding a change to your routine, that you want, is your choice and will make you happy in the long run.

Depression robs us of vitality and what’s worse once we’re drained and feel like we have no more to give, we have to give, we have to fight to rid ourselves of it. By making the choice to do the things we’ve always wanted to in spite of the dog, in spite of the lethargy and lack of motivation, we give ourselves fuel for that fight. We’ve all heard of fake it til you make it and the same thing applies here – keep faking it like you love yourself and one day you will.

And that’s a wrap!

Feeling alone with no one to talk to? Get in touch!

Don’t want to fill out a contact form? Head over to @heyaphrogurl on Facebook to message me directly.

I am not a mental health professional of any description, just a sympathetic ear with some tried and tested advice.

Peace x

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