The Black Dog – Depression

Mystic Beach – Juan de Fuca Provincial Park

I don’t know when it started.

I don’t remember ever feeling ‘depressed’ growing up. Looking back through my life from this point there are little things that tip me off that it’s not a new thing in my head. It was never anything big or obvious, nothing that would have tipped off anyone else if they weren’t paying attention. I didn’t even know it until recently when I can see much more clearly the things that are a direct result of listening to the black voice.

They seem like such small things but they add up and then quite suddenly I realize I’m not okay and something has to change or I will end up in a very bad place.

I could drag you back through my life to where I think it really began; I can almost pinpoint where my personality took a sharp dive into the negative thanks to childhood report cards. It was sometime between when my kindergarten teacher sent me home crying every day and my parents split up and divorced.  I was lucky; I had a teacher who truly cared and became quite close to us for the remainder of our elementary school lives. Her report cards show that I closed myself off from other people; she points out that while I could read and spell very well I refused to write.I haven’t seen her since then but without a doubt she changed my life for the better. I rallied, made new friends and did well in school. I never quite recovered the easy confidence I seemed to have before then.

We moved when I was entering the fifth grade. Starting at a new school was hard but it worked out. When we moved again halfway through the year it was much harder.

I was the new kid, the poor kid, the unstylish kid. I came into a school where I was the odd one out and it made me a target. Even still I found friends eventually and passed into junior high school without incident. This is where things got a bit exciting. Bullying ramped up, cliques were even more pronounced. I fell in with the outcasts, the odd-ones-out that got called names and didn’t always fit together but were happy having a place. I started watching Japanese animation, learned to play Dungeons and Dragons (not well) and started wearing more black. I got a trench coat. Sometimes people would come up and threaten to beat me and my friends up. The day I told someone ‘you do that’ they stopped threatening me. I struggled to find my voice, to say things even when just with my friends but it was getting better.

People still called me names but I had already started building up my ego and it was easy to remind myself that they were ignorant and unintelligent and jealous. I could disregard their words because I was confident that they bullied us out of unhappiness in their own lives. I still think this is true–people who feel powerless want to feel powerful and those who feel like they cannot control anything want to dominate the world around them. I understand these feelings and the reactions resulting from them; I am just as guilty as any one of the people who bullied me and my friends.

I was lucky to not have a terrible high school experience. I took Japanese classes, hung out with friends, made new friends and lost old ones. I was liked by my teachers and did okay. Almost failed math because I didn’t do the work. Managed to not fail math and graduated. I decided against going to university because it was expensive and I didn’t know what I wanted to take. I was aimless and free. Worked entry-level jobs, hated all of them. I started spending a lot of time going to a local nightclub to dance. I made new friends. For a few years I wasn’t drinking, just dancing and hanging out. I befriended the staff early and that kept me safe. Someone was always watching out for me. He’s still really important to me almost fifteen years later. I started drinking in my early twenties and that eventually got a bit out of hand as it usually does. I stopped going out as much and cut way back on drinking.

The greyness in my head got a bit darker, but I still felt pretty happy. I figured I was just dissatisfied with work (which was true, I was working in a call centre at this point and it was soul-crushing) and wanted to get away somewhere, anywhere.

I quit for a month and flew down to California where I stayed with a friend and had a great time. She lived in Fremont, and I felt great coming back. Went back to my old job for six months before quitting (for good this time) and heading out on another trip; this time to Finland, Sweden, and Japan.

They greyness–a general dissatisfaction with life–followed me around but it was bearable when I traveled. When I came home from Japan I was crushed. I withdrew completely and had a really difficult time being motivated to do things. The disconnect from my life that I felt in Japan was an almost holy thing for me; I could completely isolate myself even in a crowd of people without any trouble. Even now that public isolation draws me. In Japan it is easy to be alone. The disconnect from ‘real life’ is intoxicating. I don’t have to deal with things when I am elsewhere. Not really. This is the voice of depression. I’ve spent a good long time convincing myself and others that this is just wanderlust. I’m sure the reason I want to travel is not just that I am depressed and want to run away from everything but I can admit that this is a big part of what makes it attractive to me.

Flash forward seven years and suddenly I’m thirty and have finally gotten into climbing. Something I’ve wanted to try since I was young.

I found out that I am stronger than I thought, that I understand my body’s movements and that I am quick to pick up new skills. I climbed often, pushing myself to keep reaching for the next hold and the next problem. I was happy.

Now, coming up on the three-year anniversary of my first date with Climbing I find myself at an all-time low. I have been stuck in this black cloud for almost a year and I’m not sure I can climb out again without help. More than one person has told me that if climbing doesn’t make me happy I may want to consider giving it up. The fact is that almost nothing makes me happy right now so I can’t tell if this is valid advice here.

Light in the Dark – hiker wandered past my camera on a long exposure – Mystic Beach

But I remember all the times I’ve belayed for new climbers or worked with my friends to help them get outside or learn a new technique. Even when I’m totally disinterested in leaving the house and want nothing to do with the world around me I want to share this thing. That whenever a rock face presents itself I find myself looking for the sequence of hand-and-foot-holds that will get me to the top of it. I wonder what lies beneath the moss growing on the sides of cliffs, and I dream of the feeling of rock beneath my fingers. Three years in and I’m anxiously awaiting the next issue of Climbing Magazine and Rock and Ice. My Facebook feed is half people I’ve known for over a decade and half full of climbers.

I made advances in how I dealt with my fear last year, but this year I’ve slid even further down the spiral. The Black Dog is dragging me down and I don’t know if I can fight it myself. I am afraid that the White Dog isn’t strong enough to fight it off anymore. I am faced with the very real possibility that this isn’t something I can fight by myself and that makes me feel weak and worthless. I know that’s a lie whispered by the black dog. My worth does not change if I need help. Sometimes you can’t fight your own battles alone.

Climbing has introduced me to the best support group I could ask for; the climbing community in my area is strong and are extremely encouraging and supportive. Surprisingly not just where climbing is concerned. When I talk about having a total freak out on a climb a lot of them get it. I had a few people tel me that they thought they were the only ones. When I tell them that I’m not really okay right now and that I might need help they give me hugs and listen. When I say that lead climbing outside terrifies me they encourage me to just keep climbing even if it’s just on top rope. Climbing is a source of immense frustration but also immense joy. Climbing has challenged me in so many ways both physically and mentally.

I am not okay.

I am choosing to believe I can be.

And I am going to keep climbing.

-Not Lost Girl


6 thoughts on “The Black Dog – Depression

  1. perfectionhasapriceblog

    i like your analogy to the “black dog” which is ever so accurate. Kudos to you on fighting that fear! stay amazing ❤


  2. Chris de Serres

    You are not as alone as you may think. Climbing isn’t only climbing. It’s the social network, the friends, the experience of nature. So it’s hard to take a break from it, but sometimes when I feel depressed it’s a signal that I need to put the rope down and evolve in a new direction. The rock is always there if you want to come back.


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