The Return of the Black Dog

It’s been awhile. Maybe it’s because when I feel well, I think clearly enough to put thoughts into words that can be heard. When I’m not, I need the space and time of a blank page to piece together coherency.

These words are for me. But maybe for you too.

It has been almost two years since I last felt the suffocating weight of darkness. Two years since hope seemed an illusion. Two years since I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be normal. Bad days showed up, but they also quickly passed.

The bad days have begun to linger again this summer. They have strung together instead of being sprinkled across a calendar.

After eight years of living with this brute, I thought I had the words to talk about it. It’s amazing how sterile those words sound now. Their cleanness robs them of impact. They are neat. And easy. And anesthetized. Try as I might, those who hear don’t seem to understand the cruelty of this beast.

So this is my attempt to describe what depression feels like:

It is physical. So very physical. It builds in my body and holds me with all the force of Round Up, the ride from Joyland, where the walls spun and spun until the floor dropped out beneath. It took every ounce of strength I had to lift my head during that ride. The Black Dog feels an awful lot like being trapped on Round Up. Every movement feels like I’m carrying 1,000 pounds.

Fog thicker than the clouds fills my head. Visibility is short, and it takes all my energy. I can not take in a room. I have to work hard to focus my eyes on the person in front of me. Even harder to not only see the person but process what he or she is telling me. I have very limited minutes to do both.

The fog also robs me of my ability to think. I hear words, but it takes an eternity for the sound to take meaning. When meaning does come, pieces have a hard time sticking together to make a whole. Connections and completed thoughts stumble.

My eyes literally begin to ache, and the middle of my brain physically hurts. Not every time depression visits does my head hurt. But when it does, it is my brain is telling me it’s sick. This summer it has hurt.

In the morning, I wake with eyelids that do not want to open. The fuzzy mind and fog bare down thick and paralyzing. My bed is the cocoon that protects me from the harsh stimuli of reality. With the comforting weight of my blanket and a pillow over my head, it doesn’t matter that I can’t think or respond or want. Reality can come and go. It takes so. much. work. to leave that haven.

Facing the day is overwhelming. So many minutes. All I can think about is when I get to re-enter the safety of my bed.

It is hard to find the words, the analogy, that carries the weight of loss in losing one’s ability to process stimulus. Every word requires monumental effort to understand. Every sound rings like a boom that never stops. Touch that is not constant and firm chafes my nervous system like nails on chalkboard.

Depression has been very physical these past months.

This summer has brought battle to my mind too, but I have been spared the worst of the dark I once knew. I want to hope it is because I recognize the lies depression tells–they come without warning and assault my mind like shrapnel. They dig deep into wounds still visible and remind me of pain long passed. They make me believe the bleeding will never stop. That is danger for me. In God’s grace (because truly it is), the battles for my mind have been brief. Respite has come quickly. Hope in the form of truth has been spoken, by me and by others.

As I crawl into the safety of my bed, I read the same words every night. In this season, they cover me.

The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. . . I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:3-10

Please hear these words: depression is a beast. It is relentless. Most of the time, it is not about anything, but it requires everything. Don’t take for granted that for some it takes a lot of work to stay alive. To keep fighting. To not seek rest in any form it’s offered.

Tonight, I spread out my hands, and I wait for the rain to fall. I hide myself in the One who made me, and I wait like the watchman for the morning light to bring word of his unfailing love. I beg for his good spirit to lead me to level ground.

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