Dogs Don’t Cure Depression

Don’t read this blog post.

At least not if you’re sensitive to sad subjects and violent imagery—including violent images involving dogs and human animals.

Really, I won’t mind if you stop now. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have something lighter for you to read.

But if you’re still with me, read on.

Honey the golden retriever rests on the porch.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This is the last bit of cute until tomorrow.

The Blog Post That Took Four Years To Write

I have a depression story.

And it involve dogs.

I’ve thought about writing it several times. I’ve even sat down and started typing.

But I was afraid.

Afraid of upsetting people. Afraid of upsetting myself. Afraid of reading comments by nasty trolls who mysteriously appear when people try to be honest and vulnerable online.

Mostly I’m afraid of giving up, in a really public way, a secret I’ve held for decades:

I get depressed.

Snot-running-down-my-face-oh-god-I’m-going-to-die depressed.

In all the years I’ve suffered from depression, I’ve had dogs.

No, they don’t cure depression. At least not for me.

But they did save my life.

Fog rolls over the lake.

Feeling Suicidal As A Sign of Improvement

Did you know it’s possible to be too depressed to kill yourself?

I remember being racked with sobs as my body got away from me. I had no control.

Finally I was too exhausted to continue. Lying in bed, I listened to everyone in the house snoring while I felt an eerie calm. I knew I wasn’t going to wake up.

I’ll never forget the intense certainty of that moment. It wasn’t possible for a body to endure such pain. My heart was going to burst and I’d be done.

I don’t remember if I woke up the next morning feeling disappointed I was still there.

I probably didn’t feel anything. I certainly couldn’t do anything. Thinking, planning, acting were all beyond me.

Sometimes the inability to act is the only thing keeping us alive.

Slowly I climbed out of that trough. And I’ve never experienced that certainty that I would die again. I hope I never do.

But depression is like a river. It’s constantly changing.

For some reason, I recovered my ability to move and think. I went through the motions of leading a regular life.

You Can’t Always Tell

I was raised by someone whose depression stopped everything.

Depression was a physical presence in the house. You could not ignore it. It transformed everything that happened. Or didn’t happen.

My response was rebellion.

I wish I could have rebelled by being happy. But instead, I rebelled by wearing the appearance of an upbeat and cheerful person.

My husband will tell you I couldn’t keep up the facade every moment of the day. He certainly didn’t get the same picture of me that people I worked with did (and yes, I rarely missed work due to depression; perhaps 3 times in the course of my life).

My internal monologue imagined the shock and horror my friends and co-workers would express when they found I was dead. “She seemed so happy.”

It was a bizarre double life.

I remember one terrible day when every step felt like I had fifty pound weights tied to each foot.

As the subway barreled into the station, I threw my arms around the pillar on the platform to fight the overwhelming urge to jump. Because I had worked in a trauma hospital, I knew that being hit by a train at that speed would mess a person up real bad with no real certainly of killing them. Luckily, nothing frightens me more than thoughts of being in the hospital.

I managed to drag my body up the stairs to street level. But by the time I got there, every other person who gotten off at that stop had left the station. Including the old man walking with a cane.

I willed myself to move. But I’d go a few steps and then I’d stop and lean against the wall. Trying to keep myself going forward.

It took me 45 minutes to walk 5 blocks.

I had a story ready about my trolley getting caught behind a double-parked truck in my neighborhood and no one thought anything of my being late.

I remember the bizarre feeling of watching myself go through my day. At times there were three of me.

While listening to my co-worker tell me about his weekend, the physical me stood by nodding and smiling in all the right places. Some other weird manifestation of me knelt on the floor banging my head into the marble tiles over and over as blood spattered the walls. And the third me stood back dispassionately and watched the other two.

But the people in my office only saw the extrovert chit-chatting with a friend.

I’ll just put a note here that few depression memoirs talk about weird and violent images. But on my worst days, they were my constant companion.

I will not tell you what I saw in my mind every time I pushed a restroom door or watched an elevator slide open. But if you’re depressed and seeing weird things, don’t worry (more than you’re already worried). For some of us it’s a normal part of the abnormality of this illness.

But you don’t want to read this. You want to know about the dogs.

You’re hoping this is going to get better.

This is your last warning to stop reading. For a while, it’s actually going to get worse.

My dogs, Agatha and Christie, post in the garden.

Yes, my dogs saved my life but it isn’t a happy story. Go back now if you don’t think it’s good for you to read it.

The Unhappy Way My Dogs Kept Me From Killing Myself

I don’t remember why I was home alone with the dogs.

Although I had thought many times of killing myself, today I was really going to do it.

I just had to work out all the issues.

  • How would I keep Mike from being the one to discover my body?
  • Was it fair to pass that burden onto a stranger?
  • Was there some way I could prepare them in advance to make their role less traumatic?

And then my mind raised the big question—what would I do with the dogs?

You see, I was working everything out. I didn’t want my death to cause problems for anyone else.

And our dogs, Agatha and Christie, were a handful. They were noisy, destructive, and they fought with each other.

We only had dogs because I wanted them. I couldn’t see Mike managing them himself. So what should I do?

The only answer was to kill them too.

How should I do it?

I settled on slitting their throats with a very sharp knife. It would be nearly painless and fairly quick.

And then my brain flashed. I got an image of Agatha and Christie’s lifeless bodies lying in a pool of blood.

This was the absolutely most horrifying idea I’d ever had. What kind of person could even imagine killing an innocent dog for no reason?

I woke up.

In that instant, I recognized that everything I thought I knew was wrong.

I couldn’t trust my own mind. It was trying to kill me.

What I thought were kind and loving acts, like removing my miserable self from the planet and keeping my husband from being saddled with taking care of two neurotic dogs were actually horrible.

Sorry. I don’t have a nice story about how my loving dogs sensed my despair and comforted me until I could find hope.

All I have is my realization that if I was willing to think about harming my dogs that my mind really was warped. And I had to learn to ignore my thoughts until I could find better ones.

Dogs Don’t Cure Depression

Except for some people, maybe they do.

If you’re one of those people, I’m truly happy for you. Dogs have never been a cure for me.

But I do believe my dogs saved my life.

No matter how bizarre my thoughts, nothing convinced me that I wasn’t perfectly rational. Until I started thinking of harming my dogs.

A sunset silhouette

What Would I Give To Be Normal

Even after I decided I would not take my own life, I continued for many years to wish I had never been born.

Now I think about things differently. And I ask myself if I could take away all the terrible days and nights I’ve suffered, would I?

It’s tempting.

Just remembering these things has been painful. With the potential for even worse to come when I press “publish.”

But now I try to focus on the lessons depression has brought me. They may be lessons I didn’t ask for. But I would be arrogant to refuse them.

Should I share them?

What helps someone else won’t necessarily help you; try not to lose hope

I resisted medical treatment for my depression for many years.

I felt ashamed that I couldn’t make myself feel better. I didn’t think anyone who saw how relatively well I functioned would think I was suffering. And I continue to have negative interactions with nearly every therapist I’ve met.

But I was desperate. A bi-polar friend referred me to her psychiatrist for medication.

I didn’t help.

In fact, it made me worse.

I don’t necessarily believe the drug interactions did it.

But they didn’t help. Not even after a few months. Not even after increasing the dosage several times. And not even after adding extra meds to the mixture.

What made me feel worse was realizing that after stripping myself bare to ask for help, the meds weren’t working. And after a year of taking pills I began to lose hope.

If drugs don’t work, do I have any chance of ever feeling better?

I had to stop taking medication because I couldn’t handle the despair of not being helped by something many people found useful.

Which led me to appreciate something else.

What doesn’t help other people just might help you

Dog people will appreciate that recent studies find that behavioral conditioning helps many people suffering from depression.

Pay attention to your negative thoughts. When you hear one in your brain, snap that rubber band on your wrist to break the pattern.

It’s sort of like anti-clicker training.

Old-fashioned talk therapy is out.

In fact, some studies claim that the act of thinking things over too much, ruminating, makes depression worse.

I know from personal experience that is true. And I know how effective it is to break bad patterns, like the behaviorists tell us to.

But I’ve also gained a lot from thinking productively about my mind and how it works.

I’ve written books trying to understand myself.

C’mon. Don’t tell me you’ve read this blog and not realized I’m the kind of person who thinks, writes, and talks things out.

I use meditation, exercise, and diet to maintain a healthy mood. But I don’t believe my good efforts to gain mental equilibrium would have worked so well without intense philosophical and intellectual work.

In fact, one of my most healing acts was to choose to no longer believe in god. Nope, I wouldn’t recommend it to other people. It’s certainly counter intuitive.

But it has worked for me.

If you suspect something is making you depressed, it probably is

This one is tough.

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t make big decisions while you’re depressed.

You could find yourself irreparably damaging your life when your mind isn’t working well.

But sometimes things make us feel bad and we don’t understand why. We have to act on faith that moving away from something we suspect is making us feel bad is a good idea.

I find that I’m very susceptible to feeling bad when I do pointless work. Some people can work for decades doing things others find purposeless. For me, that’s deadly.

If I can’t find meaning in what I’m doing, I go downhill fast.

I’ve left jobs and distanced myself from particular tasks when, after months of not knowing why I was feeling bad, I finally realized how crappy my work was making me feel.

On the other hand, making a change hoping you’ll suddenly feel better is risky too.

It’s tempting to make a big change hoping that things will improve.

But we must always keep in mind that no matter where we take our body, our mind follows along. And it can be just as awful in a new job, home, or relationship as it was in the old one.

Get comfortable with ambiguity

Be gentle with yourself when you’re depressed. But don’t take it so easy that you continue to decline.

Helping other people will improve your mood. But confronting other people’s suffering can also bring you down.

Getting your heart rate up will make you feel better. But if you’re so low that it takes you fifteen minutes to sit up on the couch, you’ll just feel worse if you add the guilt for not running to your already low state.

Reading about the happy times your Facebook friends are having will make you feel worse. But sharing a silly online joke with a friend might pick up your spirits.

It’s a hard balancing act.

I believe with all my heart it’s good to force yourself to do something, anything, when you’re in the depths of depression. I also know that there is nothing more cruel than to tell a depressed person to get up and do something.

Remember when I said depression is like a river that way it ebbs and flows? Well it’s also like a river because sometimes it threatens to sweep you away and other times you can cross those slippery rocks to the far shore by moving very carefully. Just know that you’ll probably get pretty wet.

You have to learn to accept living with opposite truths at the same time. Because if you fight against it, the depression will just drown you.

Depression looks different in every person

And you need to recognize how it looks in you, before it sweeps you under.

Reading memoirs of articulate people who have suffered from depression is mind-opening. Depression is such a solitary disease. The act of reading that someone else has felt the same way feels miraculous.

And yet depression is different for everyone.

Back when I had a car, I’d hit a stage in my depression where I knew I needed to force myself out of the house to interact with the world. But everything felt too hard.

Driving myself wasn’t an option. It’s a terrible feeling to resist that urge to swerve into oncoming traffic.

But I’d ask my husband to take me out for a bad meal at McDonald’s. And then maybe we could walk around the mall a bit.

I hate cars. I hate recreational shopping. And I rarely eat fast food.

So when I start craving that trifecta, it’s a sign that things had already gone pretty far down without me realizing it. Now I recognize the signs of my depression earlier so I’m not driven to the extremes of the mall or Mickey D’s.

I sometimes wonder how something that is a sign of a worsening depression for me is normal life for the typical American. Are most Americans depressed without knowing it?

Or am I such an oddball that a typical day for my neighbor is an awful day for me?

Sometimes dogs do cure depression

Yep, I named this post to be attention-catching although I’m not sure I want any attention for it.

But I support any treatment or cure for depression that works for you.

If living in a rain forest with a band of flying monkeys heals you, I say go for it. If medication makes you feel better, don’t miss a dose. If a helpful therapist improves your functioning, hooray.

And if you tell me your dogs cure your depression, I believe you with all my heart.

But if you feel bad because you thought your dog would help you feel better, or your spouse, or your god, or anything else and it didn’t, don’t despair. There’s still hope that something will help you.

As long as you’re alive, there’s hope

If you’re feeling so bad that the only thing you can manage is clinging to life, That’s enough.

As long as you’re alive, there’s a chance that someday you might feel better.

Do We Have To Worry About You, Pam

Have you made it all the way to the end? Past my warning? Past my second warning? Past my horrible stories?

Good for you.

Hopefully it’s not because you’re a horrible troll who can hardly wait to leave a nasty comment that will make me feel like crap.

I’m going to trust the universe that you kept reading because you saw some truth here. Or maybe you are looking for hope for yourself or someone else you love.

And maybe you read all the way to the end because you’re worried about me.

Don’t be. I’m better than ever.

I’m still incredibly sensitive to bad feelings. I’m scared that my changing hormones or even the seasons will send me back into a very dark place.

But I have many more good days than bad. And I have a self-care regimen that people suffering from a chronic illness (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.) would recognize as part of living.

That may include staying away from this post for a few days. Or asking someone who loves me to read the comments first.

But I’ll be back tomorrow, writing about dogs and the people who love them.

Because who knows? Maybe I’ll find that dogs cure depression after all.

 

Helpful Depression Resources

If you need help right now, reach out to someone. If no one you know is near, try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For a colorful and amusing while still very sad explanation of what depression can feel like, check out Allie Brosh’s Adventures in Depression at Hyperbole and a Half, part 1 and part 2.

And for a brilliantly written depression memoir, William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness is a classic. You can probably find it in your local library.

Easy to follow and found to be clinically effective in treating mild depression is Dr. David Burns’ introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy,Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. This book is highly regarded and probably also available in your library.

I’ve also found mindfulness meditation particularly helpful in dealing with middle-of-the-night anxiety that can accompany depression. I like Mark Williams’ The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. I did find it in my local library.

 

Disclosures: First you should know that book links will take you to Amazon. If you buy something after following the link, your item won’t cost you more but I will earn a few cents. Thanks for supporting Something Wagging.

And secondly you should know that I worried about the possibility of earning a dime or two from depression resources. But I decided that it’s not shameful to try to support yourself so I kept the affiliate links in. And I’ll probably feel guilty about it for the rest of the month.

 

 
photo credit: (fog on the lake)‘Ajnagraphy’ via photopin cc. (sunset) photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc. Click on the images to learn more about the photographers.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Wow! what a story..glad you found what works for you. Honey is an adorable dog, I’m sure in an indirect way she has helped you. I’m not depressed, sure good and bad days, but my dog makes me a better person. She’s shy, sensitive, so I’ve learned to be calmer and more positive and patience to help her be a more positive dog. Enjoy your comments.
    Happy Thursday!

    • I agree with you that our relationship with out dogs can make us better people. They have much to teach us. If we’re willing to listen.

      Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Thank you for this wonderfully honest post. My own depression is relatively mild, mild enough so that my prescription pills usually help, mild enough that I know there are days when I can’t get much done but that those days will pass and I’ll be able to function well again. So I very much appreciate your major point: Depression — like writing! — is different for everyone. Taking care of Frankie at the end often made me feel worse; adopting a new dog is very worrying. Madeleine will cheer me up the same way writing a good sentence cheers me up — when I’m ready to be cheered, sometimes despite myself. But I know better than to depend on external circumstances for a “cure.” That’s a set up that just makes me feel worse. So thank you again for opening yourself up; I’ll wager others have similar stories. I hope you’ll find this is a no-troll zone.

    • Thank you for sharing such wisdom. You are so right that when we are ready, the thing that will cheer us is waiting for us.

      But if we expect something outside us to improve things, we’ll end up feeling worse.

      Where were you 20 years ago when I needed someone to teach me that lesson? :)

  3. Pamela, I can never know what people who suffer from depression go through. But this post has really given me more of an understanding, and i hope it helps you, and others out there. Good for you for writing this!

    • I hope no one close to you goes through this. But thank you for telling me this post helped you understand depression more.

  4. It is very brave of you to write about this, I hope getting it out there helps you in some way. So many people suffer from depression but are too scared to talk about it, or are afraid to share their stories. I hope your post shows them they are not alone and they find a place to share their feelings too.

    • I’m not sure why I felt such a strong need to write this. But keeping secrets give those secret things more power.

      If nothing else, it’s nice to know that I can admit to being a hot mess without the world coming to an end. :)

  5. I’ve suffered from depression, off and on, for 40 years. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the subject, especially it’s contradictory nature. Brave & wonderful. Thanks.

  6. Thank you for having the courage to write such an open and honest post. I’m happy that you’re doing well and have found what works for managing your depression. Most of us hope that we can help others through our writing and this article may very well save someone’s life one day.

    • Thank you for bringing your kindness to the comments. This was very hard for me to write and I’m very thankful for your support.

  7. Thank you for sharing this piece. Depression is hard to understand for those on the outside, and everyone’s experience is different. I don’t usually comment (although I always read your blog!) but wanted to express my gratitude that you were willing to share your story.

    • Thank you, Steph, for stepping out of the shadows to encourage me. I really appreciate your kind comment as well as your regular reading of the blog.

  8. Julie Blackwelder says:

    You should celebrate your courage and your ability to clearly describe where you have been. I have been to many of the places you have been.

    With or without medication didn’t seem to make much difference but occasionally I still have to rely on meds for a short period of time. The biggest difference was finding someone with a sharp intellect who I could trust to help me talk through all of the issues, triggers, causes, and finally solutions and resolutions, and make me laugh when the tears got to be too much.

    I’m 68 years old, still surviving, and enjoying life most of the time. When I’m not, I keep reminding myself, this too shall pass.

    I’ve tried to explain to some that there are times that people are too depressed to commit suicide and they though I was silly or ignorant. Thanks for the description and I will be saving this.

    I wish I could say so much more but there are many reason why I can’t, which makes me value your courage even more.

    • Oh Julie, I’m so sorry that you could relate to aspects of my story. But having someone you can trust is so healing. Especially when we’re fragile and other people’s bad behavior can be so damaging.

      Thank you so much for adding your story to mine. And sharing your support. It really means a lot to me.

  9. I’m hoping you know that I’m just one of a large community of pet peeps who love you and your work on many levels. I’m also hoping that your decisions to finally write this post and then click publish turn out to be a positive part of your self-care regimen.

    One thing I’m pretty sure of is that some of your story and the insights you’ve drawn from your battles will help others.

    I was especially struck by your advice to “Get comfortable with ambiguity.” It could have come from a post I shared yesterday from the Buffer blog, called Happiness Hacks: The 10 Most Unexpected Ways to Be Happy, Backed By Science, because the #1 tip is: “Embrace opposing feelings, at the same time.” http://open.bufferapp.com/happiness-hacks-unexpected-ways-to-be-happy/

    It quotes from studies finding that folks who learn to accept and feel both positive and negative emotions about their lives end up feeling better, psychologically AND physically.

    The blogger wraps up that thought with scientific support for your mindfulness and meditation tools, writing: “This process was even highlighted in a 2012 study by psychologist Shannon Sauer-Zavala of Boston University who found that mindfulness helped participants overcome anxiety disorders by accepting their wide-range of feelings and working toward improvement.”

    Several more of the tips seem congruent with your self-care toolset, but I think your main message that everyone is different means we shouldn’t expect the same mix to help in someone else’s life. Just learning about and trying out more possibilities seems worthwhile, to me.

    Oh, and I also hope you’ll ignore any trolls that may creep out from their own dark places. In the past when we’ve experienced that sort of thing, it has always amazed me how much more effective (and heartwarming) it can be when your readers deal with them! (The big reason I decided to start this comment was to subscribe to this thread; once I started, other things took over and, hopefully, it’s turned out to be useful.) ;-D

    • Thanks, Tom, for stopping by to share your support and the post you shared earlier. I’ll go check it out.

      As for the “large community of pet peeps who love you and your work on many levels,” I’m not sure it’s a large community. But it’s certainly a thoughtful and encouraging one.

      Luckily, no trolls have crept out from under the bridge. But I’ll take your advice to let the S’Waggers deal with it if they do. :)

  10. I can relate. I have spent much of my life an actor too… pretending to fit into that round hole I though we all were supposed to fit into if only we’d act right and live right….. except I’m a square peg and I never have and never will fit in that round hole. It’s only been in recent years that I decided to give up trying and finally be myself. It’s a process. For instance, I’ve decided I’m tired of putting on make-up every day, but I haven’t quite yet convinced myself to give up that last vestige of facade.

    And no, an animal never cured me either. But it sure helped knowing there was at least one creature on this earth that knew what I was truly like, warts and all, and loved me anyway.

    • One of the things I’ve found most amazing about you is how you’re a square peg in a round hole. There is no one else out there writing the things you’re writing. You challenge people to think.

      I’m so thankful you’ve embraced your “squareness.” It brings an important voice to blogville that I truly value.

  11. What a powerful post, Pam. It was a huge help in my understanding of depression and how it affects everyone differently. I agree, dogs don’t cure depression, but just knowing their everlasting love is always there is a blessing.

    • There’s no way dogs are not a blessing. But one of the worst things about depression is that it can make it impossible for us to appreciate the blessing all around us.

      I’m glad my post helped you understand depression more. I hope no one close to you ever gives you a reason to use that understanding.

  12. You’ve awed me (once again) with your courage, Pamela. You’ve shared thinks about yourself that must have been terrifying to write. I want you to know that it only makes me love you more. It break my heart to think of you suffering like that, and if there is ever ANYTHING I can do to help you get through a down day, I hope you’ll remember that you have a friend who would be happy to trade jokes with you. Thank you so much for what you’ve written here – you’re one of the bravest people I know.

    • Thanks, Amy. Your love and support means so much to me now. I’ll hold it in my heart.

      Unfortunately, once we start sinking it’s hard to appreciate the wonderful people who care about us. In fact, I’ve spent many hours feeling ashamed for being depressed when I’m so lucky to have a wonderful life and people who love me.

      Sometimes the only thing you can do when you’re friends with someone who is depressed is to recognize that sometimes they’ll just be assholes. And being willing to still be their friend when they resurface.

      • Depression is not something you can logic your way out of, so please don’t feel ashamed for being depressed. I have never known you to be an asshole, and if you exhibit some assholish behavior as some point in our friendship, I will never be offended. I will hold in my heart the person that I know you really are and wait for her to come back around.

  13. Wow Pam, so much here that resonates. The habitual way of thinking is that there is a solution to everything, and if herbs don’t work then there’s a med that will and if not, try yoga or meditation or talk therapy or hypnosis. But I really appreciate your observation that none of these will work for everyone, and a solution may be complex, elusive, and highly individual.

    I can’t believe anyone would persecute you for voicing something so vulnerable, honest, and in line with what many of us have experienced. I for one am glad you wrote this, and so glad to know you!

    • I’ve found the idea that there’s a “fix” for everything to be terribly detrimental to my spirit. It’s so American to assume that if you don’t fix something, you’re just not working hard enough.

      Coming to accept that sometimes I’ll feel bad and can’t do a thing about it surprisingly made me feel better.

      I’m saddened to know that parts of my post resonated with you. But I wish you a peaceful spirit.

  14. I was lucky to be born with an optimistic brain. Even so, I had a wrestling bout with depression in my late thirties that lasted for many weeks. By the time I got to a therapist it was lifting. I just sat in her office and spilled my guts. I think crushing my foot at a new job and being in the helpless thrall of our two teenage daughters because I couldn’t walk, being unable to do my job at home or at work, sent me to that place I call Flat-Line Country. Nothing. Meant.Anything. There were no highs, no lows, just a grinding Nothing leaving me like a robot going thru the motions. No one at work nor my family saw anything wrong, until one day my step-Dad came thru town to visit, and asked me what was wrong. He saw it.

    I told the therapist I didn’t know what happened, but I never wanted to feel that way again. She said it may have been a seasonal depression, something that colluded with my circumstances to change the chemistry in my brain. People who have that depressed brain chemistry as a default setting have my undying sympathy. My husband is one of them. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Our organs feel their own kind of pain…muscle pain, heart pain, brain pain. Each is exquisite and unique.

    I think knowing it was my brain, not my Mind, that was the source of my depression was a relief to me. The Mind is the overseer of the organic brain, and while they do interact, chemicals in the brain call the shots sometimes, and all you can do is cope with it like you would a maimed foot or a disease. But it is not who you are. No more than a cripple is defined by his palsied limbs. But the coping……that’s a tough fight, and sometimes it’s just too long a fight. But all life is a fight, a struggle, and we all have different battles, some worse than others. I don’t believe people die until they are tired of the fight. I’m glad you’re not tired too tired. I love your blog, and your wisdom, empathy and insights that only a human being who is living, and fighting the good fight, can possibly draw from and share.

    • Wow, Ann, I’m so sorry that you had to suffer so much. I’m glad to hear you were able to come out of it fairly quickly. And that you were wise enough to seek help.

      Your experience probably taught you empathy that will benefit others who do battle with depression throughout their lives.

      It’s also good for you to recognize that your brain is normally wired to be optimistic. And that it’s no shame when the wiring gets wacked.

  15. I echo what everyone else here has said. I’m in awe of your bravery and eloquence – I’m sure this was an extremely hard post to write as well as publish. Sending you hugs & support – and a thank you for putting this out there. I know it gave me a deeper insight into the various ways that depression lies to a person & what some people I love are going through. I’m sure it will help many.

    • The crazy thing is that everyone’s brain lies to them. One reason happy people are happy is because their brains are telling them they’re better people than they actually are. Depressed people’s brains are telling them they’re worse people than they actually are.

      Probably only the Dalai Lama’s brain is telling him the truth.

      Here’s to happy lies instead of horrible ones.

      And to distant friends sharing encouragement and support. :)

  16. Such a honest post. It saddens me you have/had it this worse. Many in my family and close friend circle have depression too, and like you said there is no “one solution” and it is different for each person. It also maddens me I can’t do anything about it, and it seems there is not much I can do to help. Big hattip to Mike too, for being there for you.

    • Sometimes the only thing you can do is wait quietly beside someone and welcome them back when they start feeling more human. And if you can do that for the people you love, you’re doing enough.

      And yes, Mike is a gem.

  17. Thank you so much for being open Nx honest. You’re right, sometimes it’s hard to put yourself in that vulnerable position particularly on the Internet where trolls hide behind their screens and take advantage. But I believe what you have done will help more people than it will hinder. And I think it will ring true with more people than you know. Most people know someone who has been touched by depression and the worst part about it is the feeling of being alone. Thank you for being brave and doing this – it takes a good person to admit to those thoughts. Xxx

    • I don’t know if it takes a good person. But it might take a desperate person.

      Thanks so much for your kind words and support, Sian.

  18. Edie Chase says:

    I can’t express what I’m feeling right now, but thanks for sharing. As for the affiliate links, if it makes it easier for one person to locate a book, I don’t see anything wrong with making a few cents.

  19. Thank you for your honesty and eloquence of writing. You were able to use words to describe how I felt many years ago. That three person scenario is one I also know about. It is hard for people to understand that for some suicide is not about giving up; it is about wanting to end the unbearable pain. My thoughts are much better now, but depression is something I am aware of and like many, have to work to keep depression in the past. Having three dogs have helped to keep me grounded. Thank you for writing such an honest and timely post.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. It does help to feel less alone. And you’re the first person who has told me they can relate to the “out of body” experience of watching yourself from outside yourself. It’s a creepy feeling.

      And yet I’m also sorry when someone tells me how well they understand. It’s a condition I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  20. Wow… Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. So well written & from the hea. I truly admire your bravery in posing this & I related to alot of what you talked about.

  21. Thank you, Pamela, for providing an eloquent insider’s description of what daily life, thoughts, and feelings can be like for one who is severely depressed. There is no doubt you’ve touched upon a chronic wound many suffer from, and your words here might provide some degree of comfort in knowing they do not suffer alone. It helps me.

    It’s comforting to read that you’ve found a regimen that helps relieve some of the pain and keep you balanced. But I know it’s a continuous struggle, one that doesn’t simply resolve. I wish you peace of mind, healed heart, positive spirit , and sunny days as you valiantly step forward in your peregrination toward a better life.

    • Thank you, Kim, for your thoughtful and supportive words. I’m glad you found some comfort here.

      And I no longer think it’s a bad thing (most days) to be involved in a constant regimen to have a healthy mind. There are worse things we could spend our time working on, right?

      But I’m most thankful that you used the word peregrination in your comments. You win the grand prize. :)

  22. Thank you for taking the time to share this part of your story. Vulnerability like this is such a powerful thing and I know you have and will help many people with your words today. Maybe they will go on to share their stories and help more people, maybe they will choose to cling one more day.

    I am so sorry for all of the bad days you experienced and am so glad you managed to find a way to get through. You have made my life so much better and I haven’t even met you. I am incredibly grateful you were born.

    It does help – immensely – to know you aren’t alone. Even though everyone’s experiences are different and everyone is in a different place in the struggle, it is a relief to hear your words echoed by someone else. Thank you for the recommendations and for the clarity.

    Much love, Kristine.

    • It means so much to read your kind words, Kristine. You’re someone I admire very much. And although we’ve never met IRL, I think of of you as a kindred spirit in many ways.

      Even if you did decide to move inland just as I was getting the sailing skills to visit you someday. Damn introverts. You’ll do anything to get out of socializing. :)

  23. Thank you for sharing and being spot on with feelings that those of us who aren’t great writers can’t figure out how to say. It does help to know I’m not alone and that leaving the dogs with my husband is NOT an option.

    • Nope, Becky, leaving the dogs with your husband is absolutely NEVER an option. You’ll just have to keep struggling to figure things out. Because we all know husbands would just ruin the dogs.

      I hope you find a path that brings you contentment and peace.

  24. Holy cow, this is one loaded post! We don’t think dogs cure depression, but dogs help depressed people feel like they need to keep on going. Sometimes Mom gets really lonely and just a bit depressed, but she sees our faces and knows how much we depend on her and who would ever give us the life we have with her. We need to walk and go for a run, and eat, so she has to keep going for us because often she loves us more than herself. So, no, dogs don’t cure depression, but we sure can help depressed people. We are glad you are managing depression and hope you never have to go to that dark place again.

    • “So, no, dogs don’t cure depression, but we sure can help depressed people.”

      Very well said, Emma. You sure are one smart dog.

  25. I read all the way to the end because I consider you a friend, and yes I was worried. You poured your heart out and there better not be any trolls finding fault with it. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced depression – sure bad days, but nothing like what you describe. I feel lucky that I haven’t. Who knows how that roulette wheel spins. I’m so glad to read that you’ve developed coping skills and that you know yourself well enough to know how to make yourself feel if not good, at least better. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m sure it will touch someone who needs to hear it and help them. As I’ve said before (relative to the boating, but still true) you are a brave woman!

    • Thank you for taking this rough ride with me. It wasn’t fun to live through. And I know it’s not comfortable to read.

      But you are a true friend for being willing to stick it through and lend your support.

  26. What a brave and powerful post. I’m sure it will help folks who have experienced similar feelings and wondered/worried “why isn’t XYZ working for me, when it seems to work for everyone else.” It’s good that you have been able to come to know and understand what works for you. I’ve never suffered from depression – just “the blues” now and then, which I usually snap myself out of by reminding myself I really have no good reason to be unhappy – and I must confess I did used to think others could just snap themselves out of their sad moods too. That was years ago though when depression and mental illness were still rather hush-hush and not really talked about much. Hopefully the one good thing that will come from Robin Williams’ suicide is that more folks will be open about their struggles and the stigma will continue to wear away as people come to understand this is an illness – like you said, much like managing heart disease or any other ailment. There is still SO much to be done there though. (Just yesterday, my mom said a friend of hers who obviously suffers from clinical depression was told by her psychologist to “just decide to get better.” Geez Louise. Her psychologist?!) Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done, but thanks for doing your part to help with that work. You rock.

    • Even people suffering from depression think we should be able to snap out of it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made myself felt even worse because I had no reason to feel depressed. Only people who have felt it can understand how much shame and guilt we can feel for feeling bad.

      But I’m thankful for your compassion in coming to learn that while we can develop good practices and coping skills, we can’t make ourselves be un-depressed at will.

      I certainly hope your mom’s friend got help from a qualified psychologist. Someone who says such a thing to a vulnerable person is guilty of malpractice in my opinion.

  27. I know you are right Pamela, dogs can not cure depression. I was in that spot not only a week ago. And I couldn’t leave the dogs with my husband either. Brut would be rampage without me there, but I still felt that I was the worse dog mom that existed because I didn’t want to live anymore.

    I’ve been there girl, I’m still there, in and out of it. You are welcome to email me if you wish. There isn’t much I haven’t been through. Take care Pamela. Will be thinking of you.

    • The depth of your feelings causes you so much pain. But it keeps you awake to your dogs’ needs. Depression truly is a curse.

      But as someone who has been touched by what you write, your sensitivity and depth of feeling open you to things many people never experience. And I’m so thankful for what you share.

      Blessings to you, my friend. I hope you find peace.

  28. Pamela, brave post…wondering why we connected with our dogs….Been there done almost all that..Hang in there…..MY saving was a dog named Beethoven by my kids….After he passed It was 12 + yrs and I searched for a new dog just like him a newfi /lab. LUCKY ME , I found sisters newfi/lab 6 yr old their breeder mom needed to rehome..I got double double blessing…JOY…..+ 2x the black hair…….I’m surviving……..so are you……

  29. I love your honesty in this post. I waited until tonight to read it so that I could really think it over some as I replied. Depression has been something I’ve battled throughout my life, too. I’ve never taken medication and while I can write my feelings pretty concisely, I don’t articulate them as well when I talk to people.

    At my worst point, when I could have done about anything to ease the pain I felt, I couldn’t do it because I was afraid that no one would take care of my sister and my dog. While I was thinking about this post, I also realized that part of my determination to get in better shape is part of a commitment I made to just be kind to myself. And it’s funny, I can often tell others to be kind to themselves, but it’s much harder to take my own advice.

    In the past few years, I’ve seen the pain that loss brings to those left behind. I’ve seen loss of people from cancer and disease, and also from suicide. A few years ago, there was a girl who committed suicide not far from our house by stepping in front of a semi on a rural road. They had to shovel her off the road, and the poor man who was driving the truck has never truly recovered. I made up my mind that I would never put my loved ones through that kind of pain and loss. Someday, it will be my time to go, but I just can’t see leaving my loved ones wondering with the thousands of painful questions that come with suicide or the horrible image of finding me. I know that isn’t the same experience or thought process that others go through, but that has been how it is for me.

    I hope that all the things you have coming up to look forward to in the next year will help you to find and keep your emotional balance!

    • You’re so right that suicide only ends one person’s pain. And creates it for so many other people.

      When you’re in pain, it’s not very comforting to realize you have to continue in pain so others don’t suffer. But it’s very, very brave.

      As for the advice to take care of ourselves, when our minds aren’t working well, it’s hard to know what good self-care means. Sometimes things we do to take care of ourselves end up making us feel worse. And forcing ourselves to struggle through something makes us feel better. But it’s hard to know. So all we can do sometimes is muddle through and try to figure things out as we go along.

      I’m glad you’ve continued to muddle through. I feel very blessed to know you. And to enjoy the art you share with us each day.

  30. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t read this post because I knew it would be a trigger for me. I’m surprised, but oddly comforted by the amount of people that are going through the same thing as me. I’m slowly learning that talking to people and building a community around myself is the best chance I have at getting past this. I hope we can both make that happen :)

    • I’m so glad to hear you decided not to read the post based on my warnings. I really felt like I was being melodramatic. But I knew it wasn’t a place everyone should go.

      If someone else wrote it, I’m not sure I would have read it.

      I have considered writing about this many times over 4 years and just couldn’t. I am finding it comforting to realize that I can admit to feeling awful and having had horrible thoughts and the world not ending.

      So yes, being honest and sharing with a community of trustworthy and gentle people (or even just one or two) can be very helpful.

      I hope you will continue to figure out what makes you feel good and that your spirit will find peace and contentment.

  31. Bravo Pamela. I’ve been ‘black hole’ depressed once in my life and thankfully it only lasted a month, so I’ve had a taste of what you’re living with. Enough of a taste to know I hope it never happens again. And to feel some empathy with people who suffer with chronic depression, certainly lots of sympathy.

    Take care, stay strong and please feel the love that we all have for you!

    • Thank you, Sue.

      The thing about depression, as opposed to other mental illnesses like schizophrenia or associative disorders, is that it can affect a healthy person–often in the form of grief.

      I’m sorry you had to experience such horrible feelings. But it’s always helpful to get support from someone who understands.

  32. Thank you Pam for your honesty and insight. I’ve not been as deep down as you, but I can relate and right now I just want to give you a big hug. (((hug)))

    • I’m so sorry to hear you can relate to some of my feelings. But I hope you’re feeling relief now and enjoying good days.

      Thanks, Shannon, for your support.

  33. I so agree with the ‘is everyone just handling their shit better than me’ thought process as I often go through that myself. I worry that what everyone is feeling is worse, harder and down play my own problems and struggles! I often joke that the only reason I am still alive is because I’m too much of a coward to kill myself – there is more truth in that joke than I dare admit.

    Pamela, your post is amazing as are you and I’m struggling for words to explain how much it means that you have shared this. Knowing that other people go through similar thoughts as me is reassuring, knowing that not everyone has their ‘shit’ together while I’m gradually falling apart helps.

    Thank you for being amazing, lovely, articulate and just awesome. Sending a massive hug. xx

    • Funny. Because as someone who is usually presumed to have her shit together while in reality being a hot mess, I assume everyone else is teetering on the edge of insanity and I wonder what they’re hiding.

      It was actually helpful to me to read that there are some people who have no first hand experience with depression at all.

      Somewhere between the two of us, truth lies, Lauranne. :)

      Thanks for your support. And I hope you don’t mind that now that I’ve bared my soul, I’ll continue to try to get my shit together. Knowing that you know what I’ve really been like.

  34. I am so glad you write about this Pamela. As I can already see by the comments, you are helping, educating and inspiring by sharing that which you held close to your vest. reading the part about killing your dogs because you did not want to inconvenience Mike made me think back to that piece that Hilary shared about the 6 steps to suicide. One of the sections talked about real suicide notes. It said that what most peopel don’t realize is that suicide notes tend to be more focused on taking care of something or someone after the person is gone. It makes me sad that you were that close to going through with it, but also relieved that you recognized that it was disturbing enough to be concerned.
    I respect you so much for sharing this. I went through my own mild depression and could relate so much to what Allie wrote – that not feeling anything moment was so accurate for me. I could also relate to your description of feeling like your body is so heavy that you can hardly move. Depression is not fun nor is it something we should ignore. Those who say someone should just “get over it” haven’t a clue what it is like. Thanks for writing so honestly about it. I am hoping no internet trolls came your way in any form. This is a great piece.

    • Allie Brosh was so articulate with her short words and colorful pictures, wasn’t she?

      I’m sorry that you have that knowledge of depression. But as horrible as it was to go through, it’s part of what makes you the compassionate, thoughtful, and kind person you are.

      A friend recently told me about an elderly man who decided to commit suicide after his wife died. He paid for and arranged his funeral. He shot himself outside in a place that would be easy to clean up. He called the police and told them what to expect so no one in his family would discover the body.

      He did everything he could to make things easy on his family. Except staying alive.

      And yet I entirely understand what he was thinking. I’m just sorry his family will never understand how his brain was telling him he was doing the right thing.

      Thanks for your support and friendship. I can only think the trolls didn’t happen by because I was circled by S’Waggers dancing in unicorn dust. :)

  35. I warned you. It’s a novel:

    I’m so thankful for your post. I’m always thankful when people who suffer from depression or other mental illness come out of the “closet” to talk about their experience. More and more of my favorite writers and bloggers have been doing that, and I’m so thankful it’s happening.

    I’ve been suffering from depression since I was a teenager. Sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it’s ok. Things are OK now, but a year ago things were bad. There was a time where I would think about crashing my car into a tree. That was always my way of mentally ending it for some reason. I could see my car flip over as I suddenly jerked the wheel on the highway doing 80 mph. I’ve been medicated on and off since I was in my 20s for both depression and anxiety. I had anxiety so badly for a while that I was twitch. Imagin getting a chill and then that happening regularly for months until you finally started taking medication.

    I absolutely didn’t have the experience with depression that you did, but like you said, it was different for everyone. Despite it being different, I think we all understand. Even if we’ve never been to your dark place, we’ve been to our dark place.

    I hated being on medication. It caused a slew of other problems, namely weight gain which doesn’t help when your self esteem is already in the shitter. So, I took up yoga. Yoga helped me get off medication. Therapy helped me. Writing helped me. And like you, a belief in god was never needed to help me. In fact, I feel like if I was a “believer” having a god that seemingly abandoned me would probably make me more depressed. My pets probably didn’t cure my depression, but they keep me going. Their unconditional love helps. My husband loves me, I know that, but it’s easy for your mind to question those things when you’re depressed. There’s no way my brain can question how Bailey feels about me. She loves me and that helps me keep going. She makes me smile.

    A loved one was battling depression a while back and I told her how I’d been suffering from it for years. She looked absolutely shocked. “you always seem like you have it all together,” she said. I told her I fake it. I’m usually a mess in one way or another. It helped her knowing she wasn’t alone and that she wasn’t crazy and there was someone in her family that understood what she was going through.

    And that’s why I think it’s important that we talk about these things to whatever level we’re comfortable. Others need to know they aren’t alone. That’s why I’m always thankful when people talk about it. It reminds me that I’m not alone.

    • Thanks, Ariella, for encouraging me to be honest.

      I can’t say I really know for sure what caused the intense desire to tell this story. Or what made me push through this time.

      But I do want to be the same person on the inside as I am on the outside. And you can’t do that when you’re living a lie.

      You’re a very smart woman to figure out some coping tools. To know that you can’t trust your brain. And for continuing to work through.

      Thank you for sharing your story and for encouraging me.

  36. You make the world so much better, for so many people. I barely “know” you at all, but I know that. Hugs and peace to you, my friend.

  37. very moving post, it`s amazing how little we know about depression

  38. Pamela, I was out of town and away from my computer and just now read your post. You wrote a thoughtful and honest post and helpful to many people, and that is a gift. I know many many many women who suffer from depression and sometimes some things work for a while and then they don’t and then something else does. We all have our issues–I know I do!–and we have to keep trying to find what makes it worthwhile to stick around. Part of it is getting away from yourself by taking care of and caring for a pet. And, as you say, helping others. You do both of those things extraordinarily well. Lean on us when you need to. You are a friend and we are here for you. You are someone I admire greatly.

    • Thanks, Peggy. Sometimes it’s a good thing to remind ourselves that everyone has their issues. And that we’re all doing the best we can. Even when it doesn’t look like it.

      I’m very thankful for your kind heart and encouragement.

  39. Redeyedtreefr0g says:

    /hug

  40. It took me a few days away from this post and several hours but I’ve individually replied to each person’s comment.

    I want to thank everyone who read this post for sharing a pretty yucky journey. I hope you don’t understand what I wrote about first hand. But if you do, know you aren’t alone. And take encouragement from the positive experience I had sharing something really scary with my online friends. Please reach out to someone you trust to help you when you need it.

    Feel free to email me too and I’ll do my best just to be a sympathetic friend.

    And for those of you who are fortunate not to know what it feels like to be mentally ill, thanks for your compassion and understanding. I hope you continue to share it with others who need it.

    Finally, thank you to everyone who formed a supportive circle here and did not leave an opening for trolls who seek out sorrow and try to make it worse. I’m thankful for each of you.

  41. Thank you for being so brave and sharing this with us all. I have no first hand experience of depression, but reading your post made me feel as though I can better understand what it must feel like. I am so glad and grateful that you are still here to share your stories on the blog, putting smiles on peoples faces all over the world. Sending a big hug your way!

  42. After reading your post, and after reading all the comments, the only thing I can think to say that would be somewhat original, comes from my heart and that is: “I am so proud of you” for still being here, for writing, for sharing. So very proud of you…

  43. Hi Pam, I thank you for all the honest words about depression and suicide thoughts. It must have been very difficult for you to hit publish. The way you wrote the piece really helped me understand the thought pattern of someone who is depressed.
    When I was thirty eight my father in law committed suicide. My husband had a hard time processing how his father could kill himself. A year later my husband went to visit his fathers grave. With his service revolver. He had just turned forty. He left behind his teenage love and a wonderful supportive family. To this day (eighteen years ago) I still have not fully comprehended how he could kill himself.
    Have I ever been depressed? Yes. Thought about suicide? Yes. Suffered from clinical depression? I honestly do not know. My thoughts about committing suicide were that I would botch it up. Live to age ninety hooked up to machines with full mental capacity. That really scared me. Besides who would take care of the dogs? I knew the kids would be ok but no one would want my weird, unadoptable mutts. Think Agatha and Christie.
    So how do I survive? Instead of loosing my faith in God and all of humanity I embrace it. I did not become a church nut. I just try to be hopeful and keep myself sane with quite time and private daily prayers. Chocolate helps too.
    Take care of Yourself,Mike, and Honey. They love you very much.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Above all, someone in the throes of a serious depression might find the responsibility of caring for a dog to be burdensome. Another blogger friend, Pamela, wrote very movingly about that on Something Wagging This Way Comes: Dogs Don’t Cure Depression. […]