Walking the Dog

Before, there was only an everyday struggle to be normal- a sense that I wasn’t, that others knew things about life that I didn’t. For some reason, I was doomed and they were not.

Knowing about depression is not entirely helpful. Let me explain. Knowing about it means that I was reluctant to acknowledge it, to allow it space in my life. As an enemy, it had to be avoided, and if it could not be defeated then I had failed. I did everything in my power to deny its existence. So long as I kept successful and kept moving, it could not be a space in my heart.

Somehow in this pursuit of freedom from sadness, I became a competitive athlete, an international official, got two degrees and even contributed to a book. I could not simply accept that this dissatisfaction with myself, with the world around me, was something other than ambition. To be defined as depressed, or to give it a name, would be to have to sign it on insurance forms, and to be seen as something other than me. Who I was seemed to be contained in achievements. I just had to keep achieving.

Eventually the label became anxiety, and even more eventually my requests for help soon saw me getting assistance from medical professionals in a way that actually helped. For a $5 prescription, the daily struggle became just a struggle, and not a journey of dismay as I berated myself for constantly snapping, losing patience, finding noise too much and lists too onerous even as they were necessary.

I am now walking the black dog.

I have a list of tools that give me peace.

  1. A good doctor who acknowledges I am doing enough, and keeps an eye on what medication can do for me. This is not as easy as it sounds. Ask other people for their recommendations, and do not tolerate a medical professional who behaves as if you are just weak. You are not. Believe me when I say your struggles, while not bringing out the best in the world, have given you the chance to develop skills that will make you better at resiliency and empathy and compassion than any person has the right to be. Here’s some mental health advice on medical professionals. After all that advice, I can say honestly that what helped the most was having an advocate. In NZ you are entitled to an advocate, and I was lucky enough to have a nurse intervene on my behalf.
  2. Happify. I joined this website in its beta testing phase and I get all its premium tracks for free. That said, it is easier to do when you are feeling better, and a litmus test for when you are not doing well. There is a happiness check in- if I’m dodging that, then it’s time to do the exercises. And if I’m not doing these exercises on the site, I’m in real trouble. Anyway, this site guides you on ‘tracks’ that give you daily exercises based on the science of happiness. Invest in it if you can afford it. It’s working for me and it is based on science, so there’s a great chance it will have something for you. Some of its content is free so you can try it out first.
  3. Mindfulness. At the moment I use Insight Timer. Previously I have used Smiling Mind, and before that I used UCLA’s tracks on mindfulness. I also checked out Sri Chinmoy’s free meditation course, but when I found myself in a sari being inferior to men I decided there are easier ways to gain a sense of peace than joining a cult.
  4. Yoga. At first I threw myself into Ashtanga Yoga, thinking that the power part of it was me. After various injuries (from falling down in general life, not in the studio, where instructors consistently try to stop me overdoing it) I am now discovering hatha. Yoga in itself is a moving meditation, so can really help curb anxiety. Here’s a random youtube video tutorial specifically for anxiety. Obviously you need to find what works for you..

This is not in any way an exhaustive list. I’ve had counselling for two years, group sessions, and read so many self help books I basically should’ve written one myself by now. (I threw them out because having a bonfire is not going to save the planet.) But here’s the dog now, walking with me, just because of a simple mindfulness routine and learning about what really makes a person happy.

If you think you need help with anxiety and depression (the two often go hand in hand), then please get help. If you think this post has been an epic waste of your time, please enjoy this moment where I acknowledge that sometimes, I don’t have the words to fit. And maybe take a deep breath and click for the exit.