Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – January 8, 2004
Chasing My Black Dragon.
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – January 8, 2004 –Winston Churchill referred to ‘depression’ as his black dog. I have a rather more sinister take on it and during the time I was clinically depressed, the year I was 26, I thought of the experience as my black dragon. There is a period of time during a serious depression when the condition becomes ‘familiar’ and to some degree ‘safe’ .
I knew what to expect during the course of a day. I kept a monthly calender beside my bed and my first order of business every morning, when the fog cleared from my eyes, was to take my thick magic marker and black out the day. I got a perverse sense of satisfaction out of that simple act – chasing down my black dragon and acknowledging his presence. It is said that depression is anger turned inward. I had lost a significant relationship that year, was in a dead-end job and was still devastated by my brother’s death. Was I angry? At the time I felt an inexplicable, surreal sadness, a melancholy so heavy that it cloaked and choked my body, mind, heart and spirit.
One day my coping mechanism simply shut down. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t work. I cried for weeks. I could not eat. I lost 35 pounds. I didn’t think I had anything to live for. I was ashamed of my weakness, crushed by my loss of strength. I wanted to be anyone else but who I was. I was envious of anyone who was happy. I was angry with everyone – mad at the world. I needed to tell the story of my sadness, over and over again. Gradually my friends got tired of listening and called less frequently, and some not at all.
My need for attention was insatiable. No one understood me or gave me enough of their time. No one had ever suffered like I was. I swore like a mule skinner, my soul was raw and I railed against the injustice in my life. I seethed with self-righteousness. I imagined myself looking up out of a black hole – I tried to claw my way to the top – but the sides of the hole offered no toe hold and I simply slid back down into the darkness – the hellish muck that was my life. There was no light. I listened to sorrowful songs of loss and desperation. I welcomed my black dragon every morning and stroked his frantic, fierce head.
Six months went by. I went to see a counsellor. I took anti-depressants. They didn’t help me. I fought every suggestion from any quarter that offered support. My depression was like no other. For a time I wanted to die. Spring evaporated in desolate self-loathing. Summer did not bring the hint of a smile to my lips. October came. I was like an infant – whining, dependent and self-centred. The only thing I did was read.
Sixteen words written by Albert Camus rescued me. November was rainy and cold, but one morning I woke up and picked up my familiar marker. I blacked out the day. Wait a minute – did I leave a sliver of white in the calendar square? Gradually the sliver got larger. One day half the square was black and the other half was white. By December a narrow line of black edged an otherwise white square. The sun was shining on the winter day when I looked down and my square was white. I knew I had something to live for after all.
I still get down. I still get the blues. I still feel sorry for myself. I’m human. It’s okay. When I think of that bleak time, I sometimes wonder if my black dragon is lurking – waiting for an opportunity to steal into my life. Could he ever swallow me whole again? No chance – now I could stand toe to toe with him, look him straight in the eye and say, “Give me your best shot”. You can still roar, you can still rear up on your hind legs, swing your massive tail and breathe fire into my face – but you can’t touch me.
Are you wondering what Camus said to me – the phrase that awakened a glimmer of hope in my dark and lonely heart, touched my spirit and finally reached my soul. I’m eternally grateful to him and honoured to share his wisdom with you:
“In the midst of winter, I finally found
That there was in me, an invincible summer”.