Dancing with the Black Dog

I wanted to share this, but never knew how. After watching the special concert in honour of Chester Bennington, I figured I might as well just do it. I highly recommend watching the concert (below), and have provided some websites that help with depression as well as foundations.

https://www.dancingwiththeblackdog.com/its-okay-to-say/

https://www.changedirection.org/320-changes-direction/

http://musicforrelief.org/

Water was streaming down my face, my head against the tiles, my body standing stiff, and my mind blank, a million miles away. I didn’t want to move; I was not motivated to move. I could have stayed under that shower forever. But I knew eventually I would have to get out, dress myself, and eventually get to work. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

It was 2008 and I was a week in to my first time on anti-depressants and I wasn’t coping with the adjustment. According to the information pamphlet, side effects include nausea, constipation, insomnia, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, nervousness, strange dreams, blurred vision, changes in appetite or weight, decreased sex drive, impotence, difficulty having an orgasm, and increased sweating. Sounds fun doesn’t it.

I was on this, my first medication, before I approached my doctor and advised them that I had to change as the side effects were affecting me too much. I lived close to work (3km) yet had to time my public transportation otherwise my stomach would start churning and I would have to find a bathroom pronto. It was horrible.

My doctor changed the medication I was on and I adjusted, dealing with the lesser side effects, although spending 6 months or more with 40 hour days due to insomnia wasn’t much fun either. Nothing like getting up at midday, and staying up until 4am two days later and then passing out for only 8 to 10 hours, cycle repeats.

Fast forward to 2011 – my then girlfriend and I break up due to my emotions getting the better of me and not controlling my anger. There’s never been an instance where I’ve hit anyone, and I maintain that to this day. But my anger came out in extreme yelling. I am not justifying my actions by any means and take full responsibility, even going to anger management classes. But in saying that, anti-depressants are a horrible thing. They make you feel like a zombie, where the rational part of you that helps understand emotions, empathy and sympathy, disappears. So ultimately, a thought pops in my head and where normally that logical part tells you that’s not right, is not there to stop you. This resulted in me steadily getting worse with road rage and yelling at people.

6 months later, after the breakup and moving interstate back to Queensland and settling down again, after six months of not dealing with the emotional side of the breakup and only dealing with the logical steps of moving out, moving interstate, finding a job, a place to live, once all the logical steps were exhausted, the emotional toll caught up to me where it was the worst I have ever felt. I went to a local doctor, started seeing a therapist, and then began my road to recovery, and the long one month wait of the new anti-depressants to kick in. I knew I had to seek help at the time because the only thing keeping me going and honestly, alive, was my dog. Knowing I had him kept me handcuffed to this earth. Without him, I am sure I would have killed myself. Suicidal thoughts were prominent and my doctor even suggested I check myself in to a psychiatric ward of the hospital. The thought of leaving my dog however left me feeling even worse.

I did however survive on copious amounts of alcohol and fast acting anti-depressants which made me blackout. My doctor prescribed me two types of anti-depressants: the normal kind which is a slow acting release and takes 4 to 6 weeks to begin having the required effect, and then a fast acting, temporary medication to help in those moments prior to the long-term medication kicking in. So, I would get depressed during the 4 to 6-week period, pop a fast-acting anti-depressant, and drink half a bottle of whiskey. I would black out. I remember one Christmas, a liquor store was having a sale and I picked up three bottles of whiskey cheap, and drank an additional two bottles after that. I survived on alcohol and fast acting pills.

Medication is the worst. I gained 20kg because I couldn’t stop eating – I never felt full. I always wanted to eat and couldn’t stop. When I look at photos from 10 or so years ago, I weighed 75kg and I thought I didn’t look too bad at all. Now it takes a lot of energy – both physical and mental – to give myself the motivation of trying to lose the weight and slim down again. It’s extremely easy to reach for that pizza and booze again when your mind is feeding you negative thoughts that you might as well just cheat because you won’t succeed anyway.

There was also the previously mentioned side effect of saying or doing whatever came to mind. It was a false sense of confidence that was never good. But it’s a necessary evil sometimes. It’s not the full solution mind you – therapy and a chance of attitude and approach to things is needed, especially for handling anxiety. That built up like a ball in my chest until it exploded. I needed to learn strategies for dealing with things in a healthy way. I had to learn how to become extremely self-aware about my mind and body, then interpret what was going on, and then adjust. When emotions ran high, that goes straight out the window and you become reactive rather than putting in place those strategies.

It’s unfortunate that these days there’s still a stigma around mental health – as soon as it’s mentioned, people usually don’t know how to react unless they’ve experienced it themselves. It is always a case of never being sure who you can trust to share the information to, because you don’t know how they will react or judge you moving forward. When someone opens up about what they’re going through, just know they are putting their absolute trust in you to not judge or react negatively and they’re asking for help. Maybe it’s just to listen to their story – half the time, that’s all I need. To feel like I have someone who can listen and just be a support tool. You don’t even have to say or do anything. Just listen without judgement or reaction. Sometimes it’s just having someone there at your darkest moment that helps the most.

I’ve had people tell me all the clichés – I’ll get over it, just go out and have a good night, go get laid you’ll feel better, go get drunk, it’ll pass. You name it, I’ve heard it.

The truth of the matter is, it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s always there unless you go down the path of long term medication to force the brain to adjust, as well as coping mechanisms for once off the medication to unlearn old behaviour that became so ingrained.

I’ve seen a friend post continual Facebook posts where they are feeling absolutely at their worst – then post a photo of a noose and that they’re ready to kill themselves. The reaction of their friends? “I’m here if you need me”, or one that I’ll never forget – “I’m here if you need to talk, if not, that’s on you”. I mean seriously, how is that in any way supportive? None of the people posting in response even took it seriously enough to call 000 and get someone around there ASAP. He lives interstate and I didn’t have his address, otherwise it would have been the first thing I had done.

When depression or anxiety kicks in, there’s no logical thought process going on – the brain is on an elevator to hell, going down. No stops, no turns, no stopping at a level. Walls go up and the brain is focused only on that negative energy. It’s like the Terminator – there’s no reasoning, no bargaining, it has one purpose. A mind in that energy will not accept help from people, it will continue to tell yourself that there is no one there for you and there’s nothing left. As an outsider watching someone go through this, you need to understand there is nothing you can say to change someone’s thought process until they themselves get out of it. Most of the time it passes and the person can regain some open thought process.

Even when I’m not going through an episode of depression or anxiety, I know my thought processes are different to other people. That long term medicated fog on the brain doesn’t just disappear once you’re off it. I don’t interpret or see the same way other people do. I know everyone is different, but you really do perceive things differently because of how the brain works with depression and anxiety, and on medication. It’s almost like dyslexia where you interpret everything backwards. It’s like looking through the world with a different set of eyes.

I’m now at the stage where I’m witnessing people I grew up listening and watching, who helped shape my childhood, start to take their own lives – Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington – people that look like they have the world, and still they drowned in their own inner demons and felt the only way out was to commit suicide. It shows that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, you can still suffer from it. It leaves me only empathising how deep of a hole they must have been in, like I once felt, to get to that stage where the only option was to not exist anymore. I know it’s selfish of me to think this, but if by doing what they’ve done it brings real awareness and consideration to this illness, then maybe their deaths won’t be for nothing.

The more that depression and mental illnesses are brought out in the open, perhaps one day it will make sufferers feel safe enough to open up and talk to people to help them understand without judgement or reaction. And that’s why I decided to open up and tell you my story, to help you understand. And I hope I’ve achieved that.

I’m a survivor, but I still struggle. I avoid certain situations because I know that it’s just easier to. I have to pick my opportunities to interact with people because I’m aware of how they may affect me. Other times, I just have to soldier on and put on a happy face. I use music as an escape and a way to describe how I feel as I can relate to so much of it.

I’ve given up, I’m sick of feeling, is there nothing you can say? Take this all away, I’m suffocating! Tell me what the fuck is wrong with me!

I’m holding on, why is everything so heavy? Holding on, so much more than I can carry. I keep dragging around what’s bringing me down, If I just let go, I’d be set free. Holding on, why is everything so heavy?

So pray to music build a shrine, Listen in these desperate times. Fill your heart with every note, cherish it and cast afloat, because god is in these clef and tone, Salvation is found alone. Haunted by its melody, Music it will set you free, let it set you free.

We build cathedrals to our pain, establish monuments to attain, Freedom from all of the scars and the sins, lest we drown in the darkness within.

If they say, who cares if one more light goes out? In a sky of a million stars, it flickers, flickers. Who cares when someone’s time runs out? If a moment is all we are, We’re quicker, quicker. Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do.

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