My ‘White Cat’ is the flip side of ‘My Black Dog’. It seems only fair to explore what drives being with depression and not just how I move through it. One reader shared last week that whilst depression can be a crippling illness her literal ‘black dog’ is one of the most ‘happy, friendly, loveable and entertaining beings on the planet’, and it was only natural that she couldn’t see how the two terms could be related, and I agreed; dogs, and all animals for that matter, are precious loveable beings.
Many believe Sir Winston Churchill coined the expression “black dog” himself, but apparently this expression is actually much older. Churchill made frequent references to his depression, which he called his “black dog” and the term is still used. My thoughts are, I think it represents how the 'dog' never seems to leave our side, and the 'black' refers (for me) how colourless life is in that moment. Now I’ve decided to coin the term ‘white cat’ that for me represents the anxiety that builds up before the fall into depression; my reading and experiences have shown they are closely related.
My ‘white cat’ is when I turn up as nervous, high strung, agitated, with fast thoughts that jump everywhere, excessive worry, disproportionate reactiveness, on alert at all times, ready to pounce and protect, – it’s like living constantly in the adrenal function of fight or flight, and it can be truly exhausting. One therapist years ago said to me “Robbi you know your symptoms of depression so well and can articulate it brilliantly, what about your anxiety?” I said “what anxiety?’… she said, ‘Clearly we need a few more appointments’!
Often when something is constantly felt, with it comes the perception that it is ‘normal’ (perhaps being tested for stress ulcers when I was 5yo should have indicated that I had high level anxiety from a very early age). So I’ve always had an undercurrent of constant anxiety and it seemingly rises and falls like the tide to varying degrees.
I’ve discovered that if we develop our awareness of our personal behavioural signs and symptoms, and register when things are building up, then perhaps we can plug in to the ‘well-being toolkit’ and administer some extreme self-care; this in fact would soothe the ‘White Cat of Anxiety’ and maybe even prevent or shorten a visit with the ‘Black Dog of Depression’ – that’s my working theory, for me anyway.
Managing stress levels, commitments, as well as challenging out-dated and unhelpful belief systems, contribute to managing our mental and emotional well-being. Some people don’t seem to have to work as hard at this than others; perhaps they are naturally more ‘teflon-coated’ as it was once described to me. I’ve accepted my empathic nature that makes me ‘skinless’ (not even ‘thin-skinned’ and definitely not ‘thick-skinned’). My nature of sensitivity and my complex chemistry means I need to work more consciously and consistently on my mental and emotional health. Perhaps like with my last blog, others may relate. I doubt I am alone; perhaps I now dare to simply admit it.
For me the White Cat and Black Dog are intrinsically bonded and perhaps befriending them both and loving ourselves more when they appear is a way ‘through’ the experience as opposed to fighting to ‘get rid of’ it.
Our greatest struggles are our greatest teachers and I plan once again to get the gift in this experience.
Here’s my mantra reminder from last blog…
“I can handle all things that come my way. This too shall pass”.