I think you might have guessed that the black dog is here again. She might be wearing a fancy paisley printed bandanna and guard me with all she has got, but yes, she is here and at the end of a torrid few months I can feel myself being yanked towards malaise, no matter how very hard I am trying to pull her back…
Over the years at BrocanteHome you will have marked her comings and goings and observed how her presence affects me. You will have noticed how quiet I go. How my work simply stops. How my laptop comes to be something that frightens me so deeply I hide it away, so the mere sight of it doesn’t remind me of what I am not currently capable of doing. For how can I help you when I cannot help myself?
With the black dog comes deep shame.
But you are so patient with me. You wait for it to pass with kindness and understanding despite how utterly dull and predictable these dips in my equilibrium might strike you. And you wait without always knowing why. Without asking questions. Just patiently sitting back and waiting out my silence for after fifteen years of BrocanteHome, you know I will return refreshed and stitched together by the kind of extreme self-care that is more than hot baths and lavender and is instead permission to feel what I feel. Permission not to try to disguise my malaise and offer a second rate version of myself to you but to instead allow myself time and space in which to repair the cracks in my soul with gold leaf like so much broken china.
As you might know my partner Ste, suffers from a form of depression much more threatening than mine. Depression that consumes him after a lifetime of trauma. Very recently he became suicidal again. Stock-piling tablets ready to die and It frightened me out of my wits. After four years of being as strong as possible, his all-consuming urge to simply cease to be paralysed me to the degree that my own black dog seemed to sneak into my bed and sit upon my chest. So although I attended doctor’s appointments with him, sat with him while he raged (often at me) and sobbed, and called upon the Crisis team when it looked as though he really was ready to leave this mortal coil, although I was relentlessly strong for him, (you can listen to him talking about his struggles here) inside I was falling apart. Panicking about the money he wasn’t earning after being off work so long, showing up for you, my precious readers and pretending everything was ok, feeling anxious and faking strength, and worrying endlessly about wider family issues, that I was letting people down and that my life was about to come a-tumbling down on all our heads. That somehow I was responsible for EVERYTHING and must not stop in case all shades of hell were unleashed.
For a long time I ran on adrenaline. Coping. Writing. Helping. And then the pain got too much and this week after we all suffered from a hideous bout of stomach flu I came to grinding halt, still standing, but otherwise paralysed with sadness.
For that is my black dog’s name: Sadness. And she will not give up on me until I give up on trying to run the world; on trying to force joy into the hearts of those who are ready to feel it; on imagining that I, and I alone can fix all those who depend on me.
Ste has been an inspiration, because he suddenly understood that he cannot face these things alone and that no amount of addictive, often preposterous behaviour or misplaced distress will fill the gaps in his soul and that ultimately we have to ask for help. We have to say “I need…”, “Can you help” and “I can’t do this without you.”. He let the stories held in for thirty years come spilling out. He joined a group called Hope Street that is the most incredibly heartfelt resource, and he threw everything he had into the blog I set up for him as a means of coping, finding his voice in an arena utterly new to him and quickly catching the attention of radio and print journalism. He has been an inspiration because he has been brave and true, acknowledging the damage he has caused in his own despair and humbling those who love him with his tenacity and willingness to finally allow himself to come completely undone.
But I have found it more difficult to say I am not alright. For when you are she used to be the one providing the answers, being the font of all wisdom and the one the rest of the family expect to remain solid and dependable, it is much harder to say I am tired. That the burning crick in my neck and shoulder is merely physical, debilitating evidence of my exhaustion and that I have to find other ways now to cope before I fall apart completely. That I do not mean to ignore emails and messages but simply haven’t got it in me to talk today. That I am trying, but sometimes even the trying has to stop.
Today then I am going gently. Letting my family of men sweep the floor and cook the sausages for a breakfast fit for a Queen. I have stopped completely. Deep Heat on my neck and words pouring from my fingers. Reading this and when it gets too much, too true, swapping for the uplifting message in this. I am going gently. Cosy socks on my feet and a hot water bottle tucked between my ear and shoulder, drifting in and out of dreamy naps and sipping at huge mugs of tea Stevie and Finn take turns to make me, while Ste folds laundry and irons uniform. An extra-ordinary but deeply ordinary Sunday, football the sound track to the domesticity going around me and a vegetable curry simmering in the slow cooker.
My depression has never been all-consuming. It lifts as gently as it settles on my shoulders, and I never feel as though life is worth giving up on. It remains for me too beautiful, too joyful, too inspiring to be lived anything other than whole-heartedly. But I have to stop believing I can be all things to all people. That I can fix others while dragging my broken self from pillar to post.
I have to remember that I matter too.