This episode of depression is just a gray dog

I’ve heard a few times that Winston Churchill experienced depression and referred to it as his “black dog.” It may or may not be completely accurate, but it has become one of those anecdotes that’s oft repeated. I’ve had some black dog times throughout my life, where the giant mutt mistakes me for a dog bed and nearly suffocates me. But I’ve also faced a gray dog often enough, who is mostly content to sit next to me and put his big head on my shoulder.

I am working on trying to pull out of a current visit, shooing away this stray dog who isn’t welcome but manages to barge inside my house and settle in for a while now and then.

This dog just about captures my idea of the size and style of dog I imagine. Courtesy of Bark Post

I feel sure many people have experienced gray dog times, whereas not everyone has faced the big black dog. I’ve struggled with mental health for decades and am what I consider to be in mostly good shape at this point. I’ve got it managed with good medication and a good psychiatrist and therapist. But I think that means I’m a bit more susceptible to a down time that might not bother others so much if they don’t have a predisposition to depression or other mental health challenges.

So when I lost my job a couple of months ago, it just sent me into the fog. I knew it would be a danger and I knew I had to face head-on the grief of losing something I really enjoyed and I was very good at. But I’ve still had to push on, moving through what feels like mud many days just to keep up with all my responsibilities. I still have three children at home, who are busy and keep me going, and who depend on me emotionally and for taxi-ing and providing nourishing sustenance, among many other things. So I’ve kept on getting up and getting moving, pulling myself to the grocery store, to the errands, taking the girls to their events and practices and so on. Providing a listening ear, an embrace, love.

A very unwelcome side effect of my gray dog visits is that I tend to eat more (gotta eat for me and for a huge furry animal, after all!). I have struggled with emotional eating my whole life, and I have yet to get past it, despite much awareness and much investigation into ideas of ways to combat it. I lost 44 pounds last year and now after the past few months, I’ve regained a lot of it (not all, yet, though!). That, of course, just makes me feel worse. One horrific complicating factor, unfortunately, is that the society we live in does not look kindly on fat, on weight gain (though we cheer others on whenever they lose weight, for any reason; heck, I enjoyed all the compliments when I lost weight), on what is supposedly an outward manifestation of personal weakness. I feel weak, and now I feel others judge me as weak, but in a negative way, not a compassionate way. And I feel doubly bad that I look so weak because society at large is wicked on this count.

But here’s the kicker — as much as I’ve said to those close to me I’d love to have a sign that warns people I come in contact with (and who likely are needing something, expecting something, from me) that I’m not my usual kick-butt, get-stuff-done-with-a-vengeance, talented, skilled, intuitive, amazing woman, and to just give me a little leeway, breathing room; to lower their expectations, to not ask for that favor or expect me to do what they need me to do; I almost DO have one. That weight gain is a pretty good bet I’m eating emotionally, and that means I’ve got a lot going on in my heart and head, and I need some gentleness, some TLC, some hugs, some quiet time, some understanding. And to not ask anything but “would you like to go to a spa?” or “let’s get you a pretty new dress that fits just right and looks awesome” or something similar.

But pretty much no one knows, or believes it, maybe, because I pull off really well that appearance of having it together. Because I don’t have a lot of choice otherwise. And I try to quietly tell people when it’s appropriate that I’m not my best and I’m working on getting back to my better self, because I do want some understanding and I want to be honest. I do know I’ll feel better; it’s just a matter of time, and I can reassure others of this. But I do want to share, in the meantime. I do want to be open.

But I CAN’T FORCE IT, force being better, being at the end of that rough road and back onto a smoother one. And neither can anyone. I have such compassion and empathy for those who are struggling with any of these unwelcome dogs, darkest of midnight black or a paler dove gray. Because anyone who is outside doesn’t get that you can’t do the simplest of things. You cannot say, “But can you just do ____?” Because any of those “just” things are somehow far too hard to do when you’re in fog.

I’ve not been going to the gym for two months. I got sick twice (that did NOT help this whole matter) and didn’t feel well enough. I always enjoy my workouts. But now I’m out of the habit, in small part, but I’m also stuck in the mode of “I can’t get GOING” on many “extra” things that aren’t absolutely necessary every day. I am denying myself something I enjoy and that helps my health and my weight and even would help improve the depressive symptoms. ! But I can’t make myself do it. My brain is stuck.

I’ve also not been using my CPAP machine. I only needed it once I’d gained a fair amount of weight after my daughter got married (my last real gray dog episode, a bit under 4 years ago), and it did help. But then last year I lost weight and I felt pretty good without it. I know now I need it again. Here is the exchange I have had in my brain a number of nights:

Me: Just put the thing on your head.

Brain: Nope. We are resting comfortably, and reaching over and getting the thing that’s two feet away on the nightstand would be too much effort and then we’d be too worked up to get to sleep.

Me: We need this. It’s so close.

Brain: No. Toooo tiiiired to reach for it. It won’t make a big difference anyway. Why bother?

Me: This is ridiculous. It’s right. there. Good grief, get it already!

Brain: No thanks. Just go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow.

Me: Ohhhhkay. Maybe tomorrow will work. Pfffttt.

So when my doctor tells me, “You need to use your CPAP,” I nod and agree and tell her I’ll do it soon, knowing the mental hassle it’s going to cause. She will NEVER get it. Oh, and don’t get me started on how I have to brace myself when she notices the weight I’ve gained…. grrrr. That’s nowhere NEAR as easy as putting on a CPAP mask. And that’s ridiculously difficult sometimes, as you just read. I (kind of) grin and bear it through any doctor visit.

As I said, when I know that this one tiny, tiny thing, which seems so easy and so obvious to outsiders, is that difficult to actually execute (and this is simply one example of a number of other things I know logically I need to do and that would be good for me), I know that depression, whether it’s gray or black, is NOT something people can just pull out of on their own. Don’t ever say to someone going through this, “If you just…” Because it’s far more difficult than you can possibly imagine if you’ve not been through it yourself.

I managed to actually put on my CPAP two nights this week, so I’m feeling like I’m actually pulling out of the fog. The dog is showing hints it’s going to be heading out for a while. That’s very good news. One or two things get the ball rolling. But it’s on the dog’s time, not mine or anyone else’s. I’ve come to terms with this. And I guess that’s a lesson learned and it’s OK. It’s OK if you’re in this spot, too. I’m with ya.


Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

7 thoughts on “This episode of depression is just a gray dog”

  1. Wow, even with the grey dog hanging on you, you’ve done a great job of perfectly explaining your experience. I’ve experienced all the issues you mention. I’ve had trouble adjusting to each of them. And, I tend to beat myself up when I can’t control them. My black dogs used to last a year. I don’t know if my current grey dog is physical (hyper parathyroid) or emotional (having to pack and move out of my apartment with a broken back), or something else. I’m eating less, sleeping more, except when I have insomnia, and gaining weight. I can really feel what you are going through. But, I don’t have a family to take care of. Sometimes, I think that would kick the grey dog out and make me keep going. But, if anything, I know it would just make me very cranky! I don’t know how you manage to do all that you do. If I were up to it both physically and financially, I would run over and pick you up and take you to a spa. Wouldn’t we both enjoy that? Or even run your errands and watch the kids at least one day a week. Those are the kind of things I like to do. But, I’m stuck too.
    I hear you about the sign. We both seem to have very outgoing personalities. And when we’re not up to “faking it” what do we do? Now that my rare migraine auras have become so bad and can come on suddenly, I’m vulnerable if I go anywhere alone or without someone who knows exactly what to do. For that I have been considering a sign of some sort. Maybe we could get some t-shirts made that say something like, “WATCH OUT!” “I’M NOT FEELING WELL TODAY!” and go about our business as well as we can. (lol). For me, I just stay within my apartment alone. But that’s not a good option for more than one day. And I feel for you that you don’t have that option.
    I love your conversation with your CPAP. I have the exact same one with mine! You illustrate it so well.
    Praying this dog leaves your company soon.

    1. Thanks, Jeani. I just hope that what I can write (I think I am good at it) can be useful to others somehow.
      I think on one hand it’s good that I have the girls and all they have going to keep me going, so I don’t just collapse into a lower state. But I would like a bit more of a break of a few days here and there where nothing is going on, rather than the part days or very scattered kind of whole days I get. And I’m just a go-getter, stay-busy kind of person. I like to feel productive. But I think I am pretty darn strong because I do manage to do a whole heck of a lot with this on me. I do what I can to tell myself 1) I’ve grown and learned a lot over the years and improved and understand more, 2) I am pretty amazing, and 3) the Lord knows me and is being gentle and understanding with me and I can be gentle and understanding with myself too.

  2. Seventy years of this is annoying. Studying my daughter’s ADHD has enlightened me much!. These are ADD symptoms, depression is one, the inability to execute activities in our best efforts is a major element. I conquered the CPAP delemma easily. With my asthma and serious inability to breathe at this 4 to 5 thousand feet elevation I have hideous nightmares without the CPAP.
    No matter how I KNOW I need my meds which include antidepressants and two boosters, I manage to take them maybe two or three times a week. Not smart, even worse is no thyroid, and other serious meds!!
    I’ve written a long essay on repetition. I hate it, but it’s so necessary. Called routine, I’m incapable of maintaining even a sembalence. I remember as a girl I liked to make lists of routines, absolutely determined to establish a stable lifestyle. It’s never happened and I can’t help it.
    I’m buried under a cloud of self deprecation. My mom and dad abandoned me at two with a newborn brother. Raised by a mean aunt that took us in because her brother blamed her for their marriage. Horrible childhood, empty, lonely ,denied social contacts, raised inside her fence , I simply shut down . I didn’t need affection or encouragement as I was told “don’t fail”. I could do that. Offered a full ride to a private university, I wasn’t allowed to accept it.
    Fostered into a family at 16 during my junior year, I became the oldest of six kids suddenly. I’m loved but I’m always the adopted one. Right now I’m at the lowest because my little sister let me down when I needed her greatly. I can’t climb out of this chasm because no one else knows and as usual, I’m alone
    Sure I’m married. My husband loves his savings more than anything else. I’m a coward. He’s a loner and bullies me with rules. I’ve always been afraid. He really doesn’t like me me much anymore because I’m not like him. We get along as long as I keep quiet and obey .
    Four husbands and no love, support, acceptance. I’m weird. My ADD is progressive as I age. I’m not a bad, vindictive person. I’m determined to take the high road. I don’t pay anyone back. I just hurt and then move on.
    Honest to a fault, creative but can’t do quality work because I can’t control the ADD. Im loving , sacrifice anything I have including myself for anyone. Spiritual and worried that this mind is my challenge forever. Do we get our minds repaired as our bodies are made whole when we rise from this embodiment of torture?.
    So lonely. Sad, lost, careless, irresponsible, sleep everyother once in awhile, no energy of course. Can’t breathe, painful body. Joint replacement next week. Know what I’ll do? Hide in my recliner with Netflix and oxycodone. I will get better because Mr. Does everything correctly despenses my meds on a schedule.
    Then therapy begins and maybe it won’t snow so much next month. I do enjoy getting outside since the doors, drapes, and windows aren’t allowed to be open.
    I think “all’s (almost) well”. I have my meds, a house, clothes, food. I need nothing. So much more than in any of my previous marriages. Life improves with hills and valleys.
    Besides,. I promised my mom on her deathbed she no longer has to worry about me. I promised not to screw this one up.

    1. Oh, Samm, thanks for sharing all that. I believe that almost even more than our bodies being made perfect, our brains will be as well. Those brains are a big part of our bodies and all their physical imperfections will be made perfect. And wow what a difference having the right brain chemistry and connections will make to our “minds” and souls and how we can see things so clearly! I think that’s one reason that as much as I miss Dad, I’m so happy for him to be where he is because he is somewhere that the imperfections of his own mind are now cleared, and he is able to feel that wonderful blessing of being wholly and perfectly loved. What an amazing thing that must be for him.
      Bless you in what you are going through too.

  3. Pretty clear how we were the strongest of best friends for twenty years, huh?!
    So similar we could have been twins. His sudden leaving has been a hole in my life that awaits future episodes to share our good sides again.

  4. I truly believe we will get our right minds back also. It’s our soul that keeps us going. I can see the three of us have similar souls that have been put through some terrible tortures with our minds and bodies over the years. Oh, Samm, the ADD thing, after more than seventy years, I’m still dealing with that, big time. I have notes and lists all over my apartment and several alarms, but I still have to have a care provider to tell me it’s time to take my medicine! My ex used to ride me about that all the time. I’d forget my head if it wasn’t in my purse!

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