The Black Dog and the Squirrel

Nov. 5th, 2018

Some people refer to their depression as a black dog. I can identify with that. I have had many days recently when I felt just like an old dog, limping through my days, blackness all around. Which is doubly frustrating because I’ve almost never experienced depression in my life, until this year.

The black dog makes it hard to do almost anything. Things I don’t like become nearly impossible and things I do like seem like far too much effort. For some odd reason, the hours directly before and after I sleep seem to be my best. I feel much better during these moments. No idea why.

The thing is, as anyone who has even a passing familiarity with this blog knows, I have another animal that dominates my life: the squirrel of ADHD. A lot of people find the comparison of a squirrel and ADHD symptoms to be offensive. While I completely respect their feelings, I find it very apt and helps me to smile and laugh at myself. To each their own.

So what happens when my squirrel is joined by the black dog?

The problem is my ADHD traits and symptoms do not take a holiday when depression is added. Often they only compound and make matters worse. For example, having ADHD has been likened to being perpetually bored. And when nothing seems interesting enough to bother with, that boredom increases. And I’m usually ok at organization and so forth, but far from perfect or even average. But when the black dog is laying at my feet, I slip further and further back. Things I was able to remember and do out of habit a week ago now seem like looming, faceless monsters.

I wish I could say that the black dog has chased my squirrel up a tree. At least then the black dog would be doing something, anything, and the squirrel, although probably afraid, would be entertained. But no. It’s more like the black dog is flopped on its side and the squirrel is nattering in its ear to get up and play. Sometimes the squirrel takes a nap long enough for the dog to get some peace and quiet. That never lasts long, though.

So how to get them to play together?

The squirrel of my ADHD is going to be with me for life. There’s no way around that. The black dog, however, even though there is equally no “cure” for depression, is only visiting. I know that if I’m patient, it will eventually wander away. There are things I can do to hasten its retreat.

I’ve found that doing the opposite of what the black dog wants me to do is often effective. If all the black dog wants to do is lay around and think about how terrible my life is (hint: not as bad as it wants me to believe) then I do something. If the black dog is convinced that my only worth lies in what I produce and accomplish, I slow down and relax. The squirrel is usually down to do something, not always so ready to slow down. But even squirrels hibernate.

The question that comes to me is “how?” How do I get myself to do the exact thing I don’t want to do? Most recently I was able to do this by remembering how doing the same stuff I’d been doing for the past few days had just made me feel worse. It felt somewhat like I had nothing to lose. My brain was telling me I was going to be unhappy and miserable no matter what, so I might as well try the thing that had a chance of changing how I felt.

Not a terribly long blog today because the black dog is drooling all over my feet.

How do you manage the black dog and any other animals that accompany it?