Part 13 - The Growler

What a crazy-busy time it’s been over these past few weeks! This time of year is always particularly chaotic in Australia. Everyone is in a state of frenzy, consumed with the big push towards the end of the financial year. June 30th is heavily circled on everyone’s work calendars – so much work has to be completed on time, invoices raised, last minute adjustments to next year’s budgets finalised, t’s crossed, j’s dotted and so on and so on. There is no allowance for slippage past this date.

In amongst all the usual year-end madness, I found myself having to produce a mountain of other unrelated reports and deliverables for my customers. Many of these deliverables even relied on me further relying on the input of others. Others, that is, who were equally crazy-busy staring down the barrel of June 30th themselves. Some of them were even relying back on me to complete their own work too! I felt like a bit of a dog myself – though unsure whether to chase my own tail or that of another.

Even though I started working longer hours than normal, things still piled up. I began to slip behind, and I found more than your average number of albeit minor mistakes and oversights creeping into my work.

I also started waking up regularly at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. I would lay in bed, restless, with my thoughts always turning towards my to-do list for the imminent working day, as well as any mistakes I’d made the day before. I daren’t get out of bed for fear of a creaky floorboard stirring the kids, or worse, our two wee yappy white dogs.

Fortunately, I’d learned enough from the black dog battles of my past that getting enough sleep is as crucial as exercise when it comes to keeping her muffled and chained in the corner. So even though we would never have the kids in bed before 8 o’clock, I would often be off to bed myself by as early as 9 o’clock – workload permitting of course. This meant that even if I did wake up in the middle of the night, I’d still have had a decent enough sleep.

On several occasions as I lay there, with my thoughts racing through all my minor mistakes, there was a degree of proverbial dog-like growling going on for sure. There were a few mountains being made out of molehills, exercise balls out of golf balls. My worries certainly weren’t pleasant, they were at times even slightly overwhelming, and I did experience a degree of anxiety. But unlike in my previous dance-offs with the black dog, on these recent run-ins, I now had that all-important good sleep in the bank.

No doubt with the hindsight and experience of a seasoned dog handler, I could also now hear the voice of rationality calling out in the background, making sure she continued to be heard alongside the growling. This meant I did not have my old nemesis, that all-consuming bitch of a black dog, sitting on my chest, pinning me to the bed, growling loudly right in my face and playing uncontrollable, irrational havoc with my thoughts.

As day would break in these recent weeks, and once I did finally get out of bed, my mind would start to get distracted by the realities of life – kids, wee white dogs, getting ready for work and the like – and my worries would dissipate. I was almost always able to regain my mental composure and confidence by the time I was munching on my cornflakes, and most importantly, before I had even popped my daily paroxetine.

On one or two occasions, it did take me a bit longer to snap out of it. Just like a computer, my mind would feel like it was hung, with some dodgy programming stuck in my memory. But after what literally felt like a self-reboot, my outlook for the day would suddenly be so much brighter. I would wonder what all the worrying had been about – even though none of the circumstances of my day ahead had changed. Sometimes even just a cup of coffee or a big glass of water would be all it took to force the reboot. I just had to find it in myself to have the faith that I would indeed come good.

On a related side-note, when it comes to exercise, I don’t normally like to have more than a two-day gap at most between runs. Regular running, as you may recall from some of my earlier posts, is one of the ways I manage to this day to keep the black dog well and truly at bay.

But in order to do my utmost to keep on top of the recent build-up of work, I even felt the need to temporarily stretch out the number of days between runs. To make matters worse, a recurring neck strain I’ve experienced on and off for over a year now began to resurface after a hiatus of several months. So even when I did have an opening to go for a run, my niggling neck pain often prevented me from doing so.

On more than one occasion over roughly a four-week period, I found myself with a four, even five day gap in between runs; the word “tetchy” leaps most clearly to mind. Naturally, this did not exactly help my year-end-induced morning mental predicaments.

Since my victory over the black dog, I have, as you may also recall, lived by the motto that all you can do in a day is the best you can do in a day, and that the best you can do in a day is all you can do in a day. On my usually busy-looking daily to-do list, I like to highlight no more than three top things that must be done on any given day, and all else is bonus.

On one particularly busy day about two weeks ago, however, it seemed that there was so much more that had to be done than I could feasibly fit into a single albeit elongated working day. My thoughts were racing faster than normal from task to task, made all the harder to accomplish because I was relying on those equally-busy others. I was initially concerned when my anxiety levels heightened and those long-lost niggling fears of losing my job for dropping one of those medicine balls that were really golf balls started to creep back into my racing thoughts for the first time in nearly two years.

More mild growling continued to linger throughout the entire day as I pushed ahead with my work – though even on this particularly busy day I never experienced anything even close to the levels of anxiety I have experienced in my past darker days.

As the evening drew to a close, however, I looked back over the day and lo and behold, I had accomplished more or less everything I absolutely had to. It was more clear to me than ever before that those heightened levels of anxiety had simply served their natural purpose. They had driven me to work as hard as I had to, stretching me right up to but not past my limits. I learned the hard way two years ago what happens when you do fly past your limits, so I was pleased to see that even when I was on auto-pilot, deep down I now knew my limits.

As always, I made sure that I had at least some brief down time before heading off to bed. Even though I hadn’t gone for a run that night as I had hoped, I still managed to ask myself what I had been so worried about. And unlike in the days of my previous battles with the black dog, I even managed now to reason that if I were ever for some irrational reason to lose my job, it would not be the End Of Days, but merely the end of another day.

And at the end of that day, oddly enough, I looked up from the table I had been sitting at all day and found myself literally face to face with The Growler. The cunning beast had been watching over me all day from just a few feet away, but I had been too consumed with work and worrying to notice her. Or rather, I didn’t realise what she actually looked like.

The Growler I am talking about here really is called Growler! A few weeks earlier, Tess and I had a long-overdue child-free and dog-free night. We treated ourselves to dinner and stayed overnight in The Cullen, one of Melbourne’s Art Series hotels. I know diddly-squat about art, but Tess has a keen eye for both art and interior design, and had been keen to stay at The Cullen for some time.

Each of the Art Series hotels takes its design inspiration from one of a handful of great Australian artists, with the walls of each room, indeed the whole hotel, adorned with both prints and original artwork by each of the artists. In the case of The Cullen, we were sleeping under the inspirational art of the controversial Adam Cullen. On the wall of our room was a print of Cullen’s literally larger than life painting, Growler. As a memento of our stay, we bought an equally larger than life copy.

To see a picture of Growler, click here – ours is a copy of the orange one.

I’m sure you will agree that Growler is not exactly the prettiest-looking canine in the world. She even looks quite menacing at first glance. But once you square up against her and look her directly in her solitary eye, you start to see a different story. She is in fact quite comical and cheery-looking under that scary exterior. She even looks like she is more scared than she is scary, perhaps even timid and friendly under that initially savage-looking facade.

I also noted with no less than a hint of irony that Growler is not a black dog, nor is she a white dog like our own little real-life yappers. She is, as my psychologist once described when we analysed my irrational thoughts of extreme doom and gloom, more somewhere in the middle. She is a shade of grey – and a colourful shade of grey at that.

My overall recent glower with The Growler is perhaps best summed up in a message I received from one of the more avid supporters of my blog, a Sydneysider by the name of Adam Wells. I’ve never actually spoken to or met Adam before, but we stumbled across each other on Twitter as we share a common aim – the eradication of the stigma of mental ailments.

When I put a post on my Black Dog Facebook page at the time, describing my experience that day as a brief low-level fly-past from my long-time-no-see friend Mr. Anxiety, Adam sent me a note telling me that “the dog always revisits. The trick is to know this, and view it almost externally as if you’re looking from the outside in. I think the term here is ‘awareness’“

Well said, and thank you Adam – these past few weeks have indeed not been a relapse, but rather a reminder. And in putting a face to this curiously colourful new beast, I realise of course that the stress I put myself under that particularly arduous day had nothing to do with a copy of a painting of a big dog.

She did, however, remind me that fear often festers when you neither understand your nemesis nor know what they look like. In fully facing up to and staring out this particular nemesis, in seeing what she really looked like, I was not at all surprised to learn that the facts are never as scary as the feelings of fear.

As a constant reminder of this, I now have a third furry friend waiting to greet me as I arrive home each day. I made a conscious decision that I’m not going to wander around always looking over my shoulder, wondering if or when The Growler might surface again, and to what extent.  On the contrary, I want to know exactly where she is at all times. I now have her proverbially sitting obediently against the wall under my watchful eye.

And so, each and every day I can comfortably acknowledge that The Growler exists. I can look at her in the eye and smile, almost feel sorry for her, remind myself that the scary is often the most scared of all.

After all, I made a choice two years ago that when it comes to dancing with the black dog, I am the one who is going to take the lead. And anyone who has ever seen me dancing will vouch that The Growler truly is the one who should be scared.

 

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Footnote:

The above post is really more like Part 12.5 of my story. I started working on the original Part 13 well over a month ago, and I’ve nearly finished it. But for the reasons I’ve outlined above, I’ve nearly had it finished for about three weeks now. In other words, I haven’t written a single further word of it in about three weeks! It was only two days ago that I realised to what extent The Growler experience had been a blockage to me pushing ahead with it; when I sat down to write this post, it took me less than a day to complete, and as a result, to clear the blockage. I will be pushing ahead to complete what is now Part 14 over the next couple of weeks, but The Growler did also make me wonder how many other blockages we face in life that can so easily be cleared by just facing up to them.

I’m also pleased to say that I’ve had some more great media exposure in the past few weeks, with a few more to follow still. You can read the latest articles via the following links:

 

Thanks for reading, and Happy New (Financial) Year!

Leave a Comment

4 Comments

Claire d responded: 5 years, 5 months ago

Love your articles thank you, I am keeping in the present keeping a keen eye on my black dog, claire

Tracy responded: 5 years, 5 months ago

Hi Mark, I agree, it is always there. Just this morning I was saying (again) yes I have depression, anxiety and panic but it does not define me, it is simply a part of who I am. I must admit though, I still do watch out for it but on the flip side, at least when I see it coming I have some tricks to keep it at bay. Thanks for a great post Mark. Tracyx

Damon responded: 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm not depressed. I'm a miserable bastard, How do I know the difference? I'm not anxious, I deal with a high pressure job well but family wise,,, My dad was handy temper wise but nothing physical and I see me repeating the cycle. My kids will have the same lack of self worth. They are both lovely and I would hate to see that. I've had a lot to drink so maybe thats why the above passage is contradictory.

karen responded: 4 years, 10 months ago

I'd never heard of the term black dog.. until my brother said the black dog had bit him .... and its strange that I may come up with dancing with the blackdog.... while looking for pictures of the growler. I'm thinking of posting this wonderful note on to him ...... I find it witty, with a inside strength of a battalion, but I'm worried that I might find this so what would my brother think, would it unravel something that he can't deal with and I'm not there to help...... hmmmm