The black dog

“Creature you fear the most…”

I have a long, ongoing fight with depression.

“You? Dave you spend half your time trying to be Chuck Norris. You don’t tolerate weakness in yourself. It’s for other people.”

Yeah. No, it is not. And part of the whole doing rufty-tufty stuff is a coping mechanism. Mostly I cope fairly well. I’ve had a few bleak sit-down-stare-at the wall sessions, for good and fair-enough reason, most of the time.

“That’s not depression, Dave. That’s a normal reaction to things being tough.”

Shrug. Maybe you’re right. I’m no psychiatrist or psychologist. Maybe it is just normal. It hasn’t been my life. It got to me in my early fifties – financially and work wise a tough patch – but not exactly my first or by far, our worst. I assumed this was a problem for other people, and I sympathized with them. It just wasn’t my problem. I’d take on hell with a fire-bucket full of damp sand. I think that was what really got to me: the reaction was not entirely proportional to the cause. Some things I’d ride over, other, lesser things would upset me to the point where instead of being able to write them off and continue working, I’d sit and stare at a blank screen.

Look, you can’t begin to succeed as a writer – other than by being a pampered darling of the industry who has every bump flattened for them (and there are few of those) – without being driven. You have to have a huge amount of faith in yourself, and as a result a high level of self-confidence and motivation. You have to maintain that for years, in most cases, and even if you’re an overnight sensation who only had to write one book to become beloved… still months of writing etc.

I suppose it has a toll. Dealing with Trad publishing (stressful, suspenseful, slow, badly paid for the level of effort, hours, and opacity, at least for most of us, certainly for me for year after year) and other vicissitudes which happen in anyone’s lives, let alone idiots who emigrate to remote islands with no money and no near-at-hand support systems. I must admit last year, when our dear council threatened to demolish the home I worked so hard and desperately to build, that we’d spent the better of the last 11 years living like church-mice’s poor cousins, never buying anything not life-and-death essential, never eating out, scavenging, painting-blue-and-making do for, with Barb’s health in serious question, and another Royalty statement full of obvious issues and pitiful pay… I took a long walk on the beach and thought of just walking into the sea. Never reached that point before.

Fortunately, I phoned a friend. He talked me into a better state of mind. And, although the saga with our home is not yet resolved, things have moved in positive directions (it’s a bit much to hope they’d admit they were wrong – which I believe in the letter of law they are – but at least some compromise seems reachable), the medical disaster resolved into a minor lab issue, and I ended up getting some rights back -and a determination to go Indy and put it all behind me.

Still, it’s been a long, long long haul back up. And small things seem to make me back-slide more easily. I think some of that also comes down to this Wu-Flu mess – and the fact that it and the situation that I see the world in does not fill me with optimism. I’ve done my best to future-proof and make our family as anti-fragile as possible – but it only takes one idiot bureaucrat to screw your life up. Also if – as seems very likely to me, we’re heading into a depression/vicious recession, with stagflation/inflation/hyperinflation, and quite possibly wars and civil collapse in various places… well, that hurts everyone, even the best prepared. And even if it’s not me crushed by it – my friends and relations will be affected, as well as millions of good people who have done nothing to deserve all this. Seeing it (and the idiotic, avoidable, stupid, greedy short-sighted rent-seeking getting worse) is a bit like waiting for the other shoe to drop, and not making me more cheerful.

On the other hand: staring at the screen – or the wall, doesn’t make me more cheerful or anything better either. And I need to focus on writing NOW, and publishing myself NOW, while it is possible, and push those preparations ahead, NOW. As I said, I’m no shrink: I can’t prescribe or even guess what goes on with others. But I can tell you what _I_ have tried to do to help myself. At least some of it seems to work, to some extent.

In no particular order:

1) I set measurable, small goals. I set them across a range of things. I found just setting one goal – which might elude me for some reason (sometimes I just don’t realize how hard it would be, sometimes I need a part or something that is going to take weeks to get here) was a mistake. I write lists. I cross things off. I try to target visible, countable but achievable things.

2)Tidy/pretty things. Just sorting my desk makes me feel better. It’s a hell of a process, we still have a lot of building work to do and less space than it all needs – and the uncertainty doesn’t help.

3) Deal with horrible jobs that I have been avoiding. Just knowing that’s done is a lift.

4)Do physical, tiring stuff, preferably outside for at least three hours a day. I have enough for 50 hours a day to do. It makes me sleep better, and helps with the vitamin D (which, yes, for a writer can be a major issue and factor with SADS too.) It might give me a dose of endorphins too. And it helps with the over-eating – which I certainly tend to do when depressed.

5) Do things for others. It stops you thinking about your own problems so much, and, who knows, you might help them too. A kind word, a positive comment – hey, I need them. They’ve been a welcome gift. Maybe I’m paying it forward, or back. Trust me: it’s always worth doing.

6) Indulge in some escapism. If i have achieved nothing else in this life, I hope some of my books have left people feeling a little respite. I know I have my comfort reads and that’s always been a major goal of mine as a result.

7)As a form of respite (and I believe it’s the relentless nature of depression that hurts me worst) do something that takes all of my concentration (if I can’t concentrate: I don’t. I read a book. Go to other measures. Tidy.). For me that’s diving, these days. It’s dangerous, hard and I can’t think of anything but that. Also I enjoy it.

8) Cuddle. Sorry partner, I love you, and enjoy that – but a dog is best. It loves you and doesn’t ask questions or share your worries and depression. I miss that black dog terribly. One day, when we have this sorted out, and a fence in place…

Anyway: slowly (I wish I could say fast, but I’m just working on ‘forward’) CLOUD-CASTLES is getting ready. I have an old book -SHATTERED SWORDS I am re-editing, and I will be re-editing and putting up SAVE THE DRAGONS. There’s a slew of other work happening. It should be faster, but at least it happening.

Nil carborundum Illigitimi. And bare is the brotherless back.

Image by kepps1987 from Pixabay

39 thoughts on “The black dog

  1. Take care of yourself Cobber, I want a chance to get down to your neck of the woods one fine day.

  2. The wuflu has definitely impacted mental health worldwide. I think getting outside helps a lot in many many ways, apart from anyting else it gets you away from the news in all its depressing idiocy

    1. Yes. And doing physical stuff helps too. Not only the excercise and sunlight, but the fact of seeing something immediately (unlike writing where the payback is years off at times) is lifting.

  3. Illness on top of the Wu-flu has made dealing with depression slower/more difficult/an uphill climb , and having had suicidal thoughts I can only say, remember they’re just thoughts. It’s why actions speak louder than words.

    That’s not much consolation, but I’m all out of anything else to offer you. Stay well, stay safe, or if not remember you have one life, dead is forever.

  4. We are definitely headed for a rough patch ( probably explains the underlying causes). But whenever I feel depressed over conditions I talk to the ghosts of my ancestors. The grandfather who had to leave his family behind to go fight for the Brits in WWII, and didn’t see them for something like five years. The great grandparents who managed to raise eight kids to adulthood – but out of twelve or thirteen they had in total, living in what today we’d consider abject poverty in early 20th century Lithuania. The great grandmother who had the misfortune to live in wealth, high tech Germany so when she broke her arm the doctors used his wonderful new technology, X rays, to make sure they set it correctly – and gave her the cancer that killed her.

    You’re Christian IIRC. I know it’s considered poor behavior, but “cheat” and go look at the last chapter of the book. It goes something like:

    > He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
    > Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
    > The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

    Oh, and if you feel suicidal, may I suggest you commit suicide by old age? It’s a difficult path, but there are many advantages to that approach.

    1. Ori, there is a trap, in a way. I actually thought I was winning, we were secure, I could start really pushing the writing again. I have put in… well near superhuman effort to get this far. I’m not superhuman. It had taken a huge effort, and I was exhausted, physically and mentally and it had been close run at times. But I thought that at least was behind me. And then, suddenly, just when I thought I could recover it looked like 11 years of work were lost, and we had a possibly untreatable condition to deal with. The royalties were just a final straw.
      I think it was the sheer exhaustion that got to me, and that was nine months ago. I’ve built back, slowly. The Christianity aspect has helped (churches being closed did not) and that is reflected in my ‘help others’ philosophy.
      The one thing I try hard not to do is let people down, and killing myself would do that.

      1. One of the hardest things for me to process is that we will never be secure this side of the grave. That’s not what God built this world for.

        I was on top of the world, I got a new interesting job that would pay me enough to hopefully not need to use credit cards anymore. Considering I’m the sole provider for the nine of us, that was a big deal. And then Ilana (adopted girl, 21 months old) got a spinal tumor that had to be operated on. Now she’s much better and slowly learning to walk again, but having to have an adult in the hospital with her 24×7 made home life (with Kobi who is 30 months old, and Ilai who is nearly a year) harder.

  5. the medical disaster resolved into a minor lab issue

    Oh thank God.
    For the rest:
    Hopefully, the… unpleasant female… is unpleasant enough to get folks to throw in on your side with the defense of being letter of the law correct to throw in weight. Don’t underestimate folks being Fed The Freak Up.


    Glad you called someone.

    Because of my family, I never saw a connection between trying to out-do Chuck Norris and not dealing with the black dog– seems like it makes it more .likely, that’s why we’re very carefully trained that suicide is NEVER an option. Homicide, possibly, but solve the problem, don’t dodge it.

    1. As far as public support goes the local community are very solidly behind us. The bureaucrat draws all her support from the distant city bureaucrats. Suicide is… just not my nature. That’s why even thinking that way, even once, was such a shock to me. I just don’t work like that. I’m FAR more get even, with interest. And yeah, it was the medical side that I think pushed me into stressed to the nines but don’t show it territory. The safety valve could not be deployed.

  6. the reaction was not entirely proportional to the cause.

    IMO That’s the definition of Depression.

    Been There, Done That, Still Fighting It.

  7. Re: cuddle — Well, obviously one’s loved ones are the most important to a person, long term.

    OTOH, there’s also something to be said for talking to the bartender, or a random person who doesn’t know you. And there’s also something to be said for cuddling with a stuffed animal, or better yet, a real animal, neither of whom can judge or worry as much as a Real Human.

  8. I skipped reading the post because I read the title, and the black dog lives here too. And I don’t care for him.
    However, I decided to be brave and do the reading. And yeah, the black dog is the same all over the world.
    The PRIMARY bit of wisdom I gleaned out of the years when I could find no joy anywhere is this: Feeling bad doesn’t mean doing bad.
    I truly have only the slightest bit of control over my emotions, BUT I have a great deal of control over my behavior. I was helped greatly by studying the biological factors impacting mood, because that clued me in to the fact that the reason I felt bad wasn’t because I WAS bad, it wasn’t because I had DONE bad; it was just brain chemicals that weren’t present in the right amount and quality at the right time.
    It compounds, of course, because when nothing motivates me, I don’t exercise, and then I get more things wrong physically.
    I’ve had enough episodes to know that I have at least a chance of emerging from the Pit. But even if I don’t, I have found great comfort in knowing that I don’t HAVE to self-medicate or self-terminate. I have duty! And that has gotten me through, so far.
    Because feeling bad doesn’t mean doing bad.

  9. Yeah for Barb that it was a lab thing and not an “I’m afraid I have bad news” thing! And yeah for a glimpse of twilight in the house tunnel.

    The past few weeks I’ve had the Black Dog whining outside the door. Too much “news,” too much uncertainty with Day Job, too much fear around me. Now that I have a schedule, marching orders, and something vaguely like a plan, that helps. Getting a book out the door helps, too. The Black Dog’s still there, and I’ve considered taking the walk into the sea more than once in my life. But not yet.

  10. There’s a reason I visit friends with pets when I’m feeling really down. Once we’re in a bigger place, we’ll have our own. And one of my big projects when I quit the Day Job was Help Friends Do Things! It’s been fun and exhausting and I think I’ve gotten through the worst of the…nonsense, I guess you can call it, from quitting. The words seem to be coming back, at any rate, and my imaginary friends are talking to me again.

  11. Wonderful to hear your lovely lady was *only* subject to a bad lab report scare! And yay for hope on the house!

    As for the rest, yeah, I should tell the black dog I’m going to love him and hug him and squeeze him and name him George, he hangs around so much. This year has been better than the last; I’ve set a goal of at least 10 minutes of daylight outside (in the shade, usually. Is Texas. And in the winter, it was basking in the sunbeam at the window with a book, like a cat. Because winter.) That, and figuring out some dietary issues. (Because depression is a symptom of inflammation. Remove the common element to the arthritis flares, and…) The odd part? It often doesn’t actually feel any better, even when it is. I have to look back, or have Calmer Half look back, to realize that what feels like same as always is really anything but.

    Here’s to both of us getting better, and getting books out!

    1. Given the arthritis issues (not cheering. My fingers are trying to become tentacles. not much joint left.) I might look into that. Yeah ‘it doesn’t look better’ is a real issue. Sometimes – as Ori said earlier, you have to look at history. After all 11 years ago all we had was hopes, and even food was hard.Now we could drown in food, and we have a place of our own, and an orchard. And a camper-van the worst comes to the worst. And most importantly we have each other.

  12. As someone that has a number of issues (ADD, depression, anxiety, rejection sensitivity dysphoria), I have enough black dogs to pull a reasonably small sled team but not enough to compete in any major competitions. It doesn’t help that I have a lot of things on my plate and that makes it harder for me to get writing done, including the full time job of finding a job. Most of my friends are either leaving the area or are a day trip to see, and in general just…it’s been a sucky eighteen months. Wishing for working immortality so that I could accept with more grace this light Time Of Suckage (medium would be H5N1, heavy would be what some of our local idiots are trying to do). But, I’ve accepted it with some grace and charm.

    The only thing I can suggest is keep camp and bugger on. Kick the demons that are harassing you in the goolies with steel-toed boots and let your lovely wife come out the cut up the remains.

  13. One of the biggest parts of stress is not being in control. Dave, you had the three big ones, threats to Barbs, your house, and your career. And very little you could do to correct any of them. Well, now, Barbs is all right, the house is less threatened, and you’re going Indie.

    Now I won’t say that Indie will increase your income–getting people to buy your books is still nothing you can control. But concentrate on what you _do_ control, writing, editing, cover, publishing, and marketing. And don’t sweat the rest. I, personally, find putting words, stories into electrons makes me happy. No doubt a brain chemistry thing.

    Highly recommended, especially since I know how much I’ll enjoy them.

    1. You’re quite right. I AM a control freak (why I don’t drink except in extreme moderation, and drugs are right out). The house one we fought tooth and nail and I believe found their achilles heel.(they are so used to riding roughshod with zero resistance, that they didn’t follow the rules – because who applies them to them?)Taking control is important to me. Trad… success or failure was totally at their whim. At least these will be my stuff-ups and my choice. IF we can get the house sorted, the money side – while welcome is no longer very demanding – we’re substantially self-sufficient -which I suppose is mre of this control freak thing 🙂

  14. My dogs are all white. This is not a coincidence.

    But I’ve been there. And my best advice is: Persevere. I may never actually meet you, but I value your insights here and in other places. You have friends you’ve never even heard of.

    I will share how I dug myself out of the pit that the Black Dog dug for me when our investors took over my publishing company and bled it to death back in 2002. I opened a new Word document. And then I sat at the keyboard and *exploded* at the SOBs for half an hour. I used every filthy word in the book and invented a few. I was repetitive. I was obscene. I was violent. (This may surprise a few of you who know me.) When I thought I was done, I started over and did it again. When I couldn’t go on, I closed the document without saving it.

    Putting emotions into words is more valuable than a lot of us think. What matters appears to be the emotions more than the words. After doing the above eight or ten times, I was mostly out of the hole. Any time the black dog shows up and wants a chunk of my life, I throw him a half an hour of derision. I don’t know precisely how it works. I don’t think anybody does. It may not work for everybody. But it certainly worked for me, and for a few others in my inner circle.

    Again, persevere. You are valued. You MATTER. And as one of my friends told me not long after my company was gone, “You still have a lot to do.” He was right.

    1. What Jeff said, for some people. When I went back through my “unused snippets” file for the Cat books, it was horrifying how far into the Slough of Despond I had been. Writing it out as fiction scenes might be what helped keep me closer to sane during a chunk of grad school. (Those of you who have read the later Cat books know how much made it into publication. Darken that by, oh, 50% and you are getting close to what was in that file. *shudder*)

    2. Thanks Jeff. I’ve always thought it a bit unfair to name it after dogs – but dogs, bless them, don’t care. I’m somewhat more normally inclined to giving back in kind – even if that is just that the best revenge on those who set out to harm you, to destroy you… is to have them fail, and know that galls them to the core. I want to push that bit harder now, and firstly proof myself and my family against their worst, and secondly get up their noses and itch.

  15. Trying to cut back on random time wasters, myself. And write.

    Preliminary success, but habit is what counts.

  16. Damn it you Tasmanian devil you, Cloud Castles is a fine piece of work. I read and felt elements of Pratchett, Heinlein, and half a dozen of the old masters who knew how to tell a tale and make readers love the ride and beg for more.
    I have watched too many people I held in high regard succumb to that black dog, put in a round or two with the beast myself a while back.
    You have a loving wife, you have friends, and you have far more fans than you could possibly imagine.
    Give in, give up, and I will carry my tired old ass down under, find where they lay you to rest, and piss on your grave. And I mean that with the utmost love and respect.

    1. I’m not giving in. Give out, maybe. But it’s really all about the battle. I know others are battling too. Standing up and saying I am fighting this, this is what I am doing, gives support and strength to them too, Lar.Like so many of us, though, I have battle fatigue. But we will push on, again.

  17. I don’t have a black dog. I have a Black Cat. He doesn’t bring depression, he drives it away by purring like a maniac.

  18. I entirely relate to where you’re coming from Dave. It probably doesn’t help much to say it but thank goodness you are not in South Africa still…it would drive you over the edge…as it is doing to me. When a country displays such unbelievable amounts of dishonesty, corruption and lack of integrity at ALL levels of society one really feels as if one has “fallen amongst thieves”. Stealing has become the National Sport…and yes, they are still blaming us for all their faults. If that’s not depressing amidst all the Covid stuff, then one must be blind, deaf and stupid…as so many are!
    I envy you your wild island away from this crazy mob…enjoy it for what it is. Hang in there, friend xx

  19. With how many of us have issues with The black dog, how about we consider a gray one, instead?

    Don Bosco called him “the gray one” — “El Gris” in his native Piedmontese, or in Italian, “Il Grigio.” His friends suspected that Il Grigio was not just a helpful stray dog, but a guardian angel appearing in canine form. Bosco refused to make a declaration, saying that it seemed silly to say he was an angel; but that he clearly wasn’t an ordinary dog. Either way, he said, El Gris had been providential and a good friend.

    But Il Grigio apparently didn’t end his work there.

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