Running With A Black Dog – Part 4 – A Wife’s Tale & A ‘Conscious Uncoupling’

Barking Up The Wrong Tree


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How should one kill oneself? Gun? Tricky in this country. Poisoning? A bit old fashioned… Jump in front of a train? Commuter delays… Slit your wrists? Ouch..! Exhaust pipe into the car..? Think of your carbon footprint dear!


If you have never suffered from depression you may have found that a bit shocking. If you have had depression, you may have had a serious and troubled variant of that conversation with yourself at some point. I know I have, almost on a daily basis, for years. I have made light of the subject with some ‘gallows humour’, and here is why…


A friend told me a story recently about a group of women commenting on another woman who had attempted “unsuccessfully” to take her own life for the third time. The ‘victim’ in this story remarked: “Oh, for goodness sake, if you’re gonna do it, do it properly. Next time, she should hang herself.”


The lady, who fortunately is still alive, has two young sons. Her reason for attempting suicide is that she lost a child seven years ago and has yet to come to terms with the death. I call the person who made the shocking comment a ‘victim’ deliberately. I surmise she is untouched by any mental health problems herself. But also, she is seemingly without a heart… For this you surely must convey sympathy, for life clearly has no meaning to her. I truly hope the grieving mother gets the professional support that she so clearly needs.


If you or anyone else you know is need of professional support, please talk to one of these organisations here who will help:


Every Dog Has It’s Day!


Is weighing up the options of your own suicide any worse than somebody encouraging a distressed stranger to make sure they do it “properly”? Many people don’t try to understand this prevalent topic, or make a positive difference of change to the language of their community and thus, our society. This sadly, is the negative energy that fuels every stigma.


However, my ‘open’ journey has fortunately given me a very different view. The level of support and encouragement from so many people has been truly inspiring, and I thank everyone who has spoken up about their feelings and mental health. You may have felt alone at times, I know I did, but we aren’t and you never have to be. There are so many people we can talk with, please do it! Don’t waste another day feeling low or depressed. Speak to your GP this week, it will be the best decision you have made in a long time… If you don’t get the support you expect, go to another one.


You deserve to be the person you were always meant to be.


Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to bring positive change to lives. Pictures of cats still seem to garner more support and Likes, but my black dog has barked back loudly with great effect!
An act of suicide, as with any death, leaves many suffering. Those of us with jobs where the worst thing that can happen is a paper cut are lucky. We will never have to cope with those awful recurring memories and feelings of finding the body of a deceased or unconscious person like the paramedic, the police officer, the railway worker, the house cleaner, the dog walker, the lifeguard, the hotel porter.


My wife is a nurse. She is a talented and well respected ITU Sister specialising in the heart. I am biased of course! I see first-hand the impact that a death can take on a healthcare professional. The unexpected loss of life is cruel and shocking. Which is why talking about mental illness can help reduce this absurd stigma and encourage more people to consider themselves, and then seek professional support. 70% of people in the UK who take their own life never do this. If we don’t know the person is ill or struggling, how do we help? We all must change this together through greater awareness and talking openly.


A Wife’s Tale


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“On the 29th March, Richard and I will have been together for 18 years, 7 ½ of those as husband and wife. Most people know that long term relationships can be seriously hard work and we’ve most certainly had our fair share of difficulties over the years. But when you add depression into the equation, the intensity increases, to a new level. Living with someone with depression is hard no doubt, living with someone with diagnosed depression is, let’s say, easier. I don’t suffer with depression and I have never had to deal with it until now.


I found out quite early on in our relationship that Richard would have ‘quieter days’ and wanted ‘time to himself’. Initially I thought nothing of this; we all have our ‘blue days’. Jokingly I would often think, and I may have even said this to him on occasion: “Well if you listen to that sort of music you are going to feel down…”


Looking back now it wasn’t until we moved in together that I started to feel a little suspicious to the fact that these now often ‘blue days’ were something more. We spoke about it, argued about it and we sulked about it, but nothing was ever really resolved we just moved on and moods eventually improved. After some time and more discussion we both agreed that maybe some counselling would help these low mood days and that due to circumstances in Richards childhood maybe these were the reasons for how he was feeling. The benefits of these sessions were great – for a short time. What we actually found out, was what we thought were the main reasons, played only a small role in Richards’s mood.  However, Richard felt better, and to me that was all that mattered, and life carried on.


Time passed, and we had some of the best times but also some really bad times too. The days that Richard struggled getting out of bed I found hard and stressful. He was unable to explain his true feelings at this time; just that he felt unwell, like he was suffering with the common cold but minus the runny nose! In the end I was beginning to find this difficult to cope with I was losing sympathy. As a nurse I needed something more concrete and I was beginning to feel like I didn’t want to be there. In reality I don’t think Richard actually knew how to explain that at times like this, his brain was just not functioning.


There were times when I hated leaving Richard alone. I wouldn’t be able to settle at night until I knew that he was asleep. My heart would be in my mouth each time the back door opened, or the outhouse light went on; hearing the rustling in the cupboards, just in case this was the time Richard had decided he’d had enough. Yes, he had spoken about suicide to me.


Having a professional diagnosis of depression, and with some understanding of this dreadful illness, everything seems to be making sense regarding some of Richard’s behaviours, the emotions and the arguments.  But I do question myself: I’m a nurse why on earth did I not recognise what was happening? Why was I not persistent in him seeking further advice…??? I now realise that I had no idea about depression, the dark thoughts that one suffers, that unless help is sought, and we talk openly and honestly about it, these thoughts may never go away.  I feel terrible for this. I had let Richard down.


Depression is a beast! Learning and understanding about Richards’s depression has helped me tremendously. I know it’s early days and that there will be some not so good days. But I know now that together with Rich, maybe through trial and error, I can make up for lost time and to help him manage those periods when the old black dog is closer than we like.


Depression is part of Richard. It isn’t his fault he suffers with it. He certainly doesn’t choose to feel the way his does. It’s only been a short time since Richards’s diagnosis and what he is doing fills me with great pride and I love him with all my heart. He is finally getting the life he deserves. This has made my smile, nearly as big as his!!!!!


Like Richard advocates, let’s talk about poor mental health and seek help. Yes it’s hard, but you are so worth it!”


Please watch this film to help you understand what depression does to a person, I found it very useful and very powerful:


Carry On Running


The half-marathon race is days away now. The furthest distance I have run is 10 miles in 1 hour 45 minutes, which for a middle-aged wreck like me is alright – life in the old dog yet! I need to run a little bit further and hoping the crowds will carry me the last few miles. Am I worried? I wasn’t until my running number arrived in the post!


This journey of recovery isn’t about one event; this fitness regime is for life, literally! I have already pencilled in some more races. The thrill is seeing how much fitter and stronger I can get. It excites me to understand how much we can repair and improve ourselves on a daily basis. It feels like really good things are waiting to happen… If you open the curtains, the light will come in.


A key element in my recovery has been the reduction of alcohol in my life. Like many people, I would binge drink. I tried to alleviate this by spreading it across the week. It didn’t work; my total weekly consumption just went up. I wanted to be the person who could come home from work and enjoy a drink as a reward, or to placate a bad day. I wasn’t. One would always lead to a second, third and finishing the amount I had bought. I would then replace them the following night and so on. Those weeknights I didn’t drink, I would perhaps subconsciously, make up for it at the weekend.


The main problem for me when drinking with depression is where it took me emotionally. We all tend to use drinking to open metaphorical doors: new exciting and uncharted avenues of adventure and discovery, both socially and mentally. For the depressed person, it tends to only open a trap door into your own cellar of self-hate, paranoid doubt and anxiousness. Mind castration rather than mind expansion.


Thoughts and feelings are magnified and quantified under the influence and your access to useful options of a safe escape is reduced. It fuels a negative attitude upon you, allows a false self-medication principle to kill time, like an antidote to sleeping pills. You are physically awake but essentially asleep to your life, a similar state to “locked-in syndrome”. Blinking eyes straining in the darkness, communication reduced to grunts and shrugs. Alone to yourself, broken hearted, lost in a drunken fog, floating adrift on your shipwrecked life. Your own death seems closer. There is little comprehension in these bewitching hours of how inhumanly unkind you are upon your own self. Nobody treats themselves as badly as a depressive. You wish that the world was flat and you could just fall off the end… So strange, how we seek comfort in the things that will destroy us.


Tying The Dog Up Outside St James’ Gate


At my diagnosis, I had to make some key decisions. I made them quickly. I knew what they were, I had just ignored the obvious for too long. That “relaxing” drink in the evening was costing me my chances of improved mental and physical health.


So, Arthur Guinness and I, my loyal and much loved friend have had a “conscious uncoupling”… A refreshing alternative to the “unconscious unbridling” my mind and body would normally have after an intimate night with Arthur. He had always been there for me, looking all lovely and cool, so dark, handsome and Irish. But we needed some time apart, we will always love each other; remain good friends, etc etc…


My new rules were: no drinking Monday to Thursday – and just two drinks only, before or after 6pm on the weekend. I also included a “special occasions rule” that allowed me to have more, like a special birthday, wedding etc. I have since discovered this rule doesn’t work. The two occasions where I have used it have left me feeling terrible. My body can’t take it, more saliently; my head now demands clarity and kindness of thought.


On the second occasion I used the “SOR”, it invited the black dog to nip at my ankles again a few days later. I had lost a precious day of my weekend; I didn’t exercise at all and spent it zoned out from myself and my family. My defences were low and I felt vulnerable. Did I beat myself up about this like the old days? No. I took it on the chin, talked to my wife about how it was making me feel (awful) my reactions to it (annoyed and disappointed) and what I learnt from it (I needed to scrap the special occasions rule).


Waking up without that terrible hung over feeling, replaced by increased levels of energy is brilliant. Reduced thoughts of self-destruction and being mentally led astray by my own thinking, is a revelation. I don’t want to remove alcohol from my life completely, enjoying a pint or two with a friend, a glass of wine at dinner etc. is a wonderful thing. Exercise is my reward. Exercise is my habit. Exercise is my punishment. My body craves swimming and running. It makes me feel complete. It wipes the slate clean each time. It fills me with happiness and energy, reward and motivation. It reboots my brain and gives me strength, calmness, energy, empathy and time to think. After a 45 minute swim in the pool, my world is assailable. My mind is coordinated and at ease. My body aches as the strength returns. Why would you not want to feel like this? I have to work each and every day to ensure that the depression is kept at bay. I cannot ease up on this. But I have the wherewithal now to make the change.


What is even better is having the courage to know my own limits, learn from my mistakes and to keep on my path of getting fitter and stronger and being a happier, calmer person in my world.


Chin-chin indeed!


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To read Richard’s previous blog post click here and to sponsor his half marathon in aid of the Matthew Elvidge Trust click here.


To read more about the Matthew Elvidge Trust and the work they do click here.

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