Chased By The Black Dog ...
Updated: Jul 22
This post is not specific to corporate gaslighting, but deals with an issue that is often caused by it. The purpose of posting it, is to simply help readers be aware they are not alone if they feel this way, and there are ways to manage it, even when you feel there aren't.
So as the final post of the week, I’m going to leave you with something serious.
Just to be clear, I’m good. But something happened recently that reminded me of a time when I wasn’t.
A couple of weeks ago I was driving home pretty late when the song Nights In White Satin came on the radio.
Within seconds, I was transported back 37 years.
At my desk.
In my bedroom.
In my family home.
With the reading lamp to my right hand side, shining brightly against the yellow curtains that were closed against the dark night sky.
With that song in the background.
Deciding if I was going to kill myself.
I don’t mean that in the dramatic fashion of a 15 year old kid who is having a bad day. I mean it exactly as it is written.
I had never told a soul about this – no one – until I showed my wife two days ago.
In some ways, I’d kind-of forgotten about it – or I’d convinced myself I had – except the moment I heard that song, it all came back. Tumbling out of me like an uncontrollable mass of messy feelings, memories and emotions.
Where every detail was so clear, I could almost smell it, let alone touch it.
The thing is, it was not even a particularly hard time in my life. I was to experience much more challenging stuff in the next 5 years, and yet I never considered ending my life then.
I distinctly remember thinking how Mum and Dad would feel if they found my dead body.
Wondering if they’d understand it was nothing to do with them. Hoping they wouldn’t blame themselves.
Then wondering how I’d get on with doing it.
My Mum and Dad were downstairs in the lounge. Literally beneath my feet so I knew I had to choose a method that wouldn’t attract their attention.
Obviously I didn’t go through with it.
In fact I didn’t go further than gently running the edge of the blade up and down my arm.
But hearing that song reminded me how focused I was about it. How much I was considering it. How much I wondered if it would set me free me from the pain I was in.
And yet no one knew or would know how I was feeling.
To most people, I was happy and full of life. And I was … but there were times where I felt darkness would just turn up to fuck with me.
An all-consuming blackness that would envelop me in the blink of an eye. Set off by the smallest of triggers. Sometimes so small, I didn’t even realise it.
Then gone just as fast.
Something I’d put down to ‘getting out of bed the wrong side’ … when it was most likely depression.
Never diagnosed, but probably that.
It’s why the recent CALM campaign – where they showed the last photo of people who then chose to die by suicide – is so powerful.
None of the people look like they’re in pain.
None look like they’re struggling.
And maybe at that second they weren’t. Or maybe they were but had found a way to compartmentalise it. Or maybe they just didn’t want the people they were with to suspect – for reasons of compassion or to ensure nothing could stop their plan. I don’t know. Everyone is different. But whatever the reason, I think I get it … which is why this campaign is so powerful and so important.
The thing I don’t really understand is why some situations lead you to the absolute edge and some don’t. Why some cross that line and some don’t. Or can’t. I’m sure there’s professionals who can explain the reason, but all I know is I’ve faced a number of moments in my life that were of incredible pain and sadness and yet none of them came close to how I felt that day when I was a kid at home. Except once. Where I found myself in the same place. Wanting to rub myself out. Literally rub myself out. Like a stain. Over and over again. Believing – and hoping – that was the only way the pain could stop. Except in that case, I knew what had caused it and was able to talk to people before the idea took on a greater life of its own.
Fortunately those are the only occasions in my 52 years of life where I have gone to the edge. Where my thoughts were about how I’d do it rather than if I would. And while I still don’t really know what interrupted the path I was going down, I’ve learnt to not just recognise the signs when things may be going dark, but how openness and communication always lets in the light.
At least for me.
I have no problem saying I sought out professional help.
And there have been other occasions where I’ve gone for advice on things I’m trying to work out or seem to have a disproportionate hold on me.
I distinctly remember the first time I told my parents I’d been to see a councillor and they were shocked.
Shocked I felt I needed it. Shocked I hadn’t gone to them first. Shocked they hadn’t recognised where my head was at.
But it was good because it opened a conversation we would never have had. One that opened up understanding and support. And when I say understanding and support … I mean it in the sense they realised there were occasions when I felt talking to an outsider would be better for me than an insider. Not because they’d done anything wrong – because frankly, my parents gave me a level of love and encouragement that was breath-taking and unconditional – but it just was better for me.
A chance to talk to someone I didn’t care about.
No history. No worry of upsetting. No need to choose my words carefully.
I know my parents probably felt some sort of pain, sadness and guilt about me not turning to them … but they were also incredibly supportive knowing it was helping me … which is why I was able to talk to them openly about it afterwards.
And while I’ve never been in as dark a place as those two occasions – even when my parents passed – I know the circumstances for its emergence can be wide and varied.
Which is why I get very frustrated when people minimise the reality of mental health. That it’s a symbol of weakness. That it’s ‘woke’ attitude. I also get upset when it is narrowed down to being ignited by a particular set of behaviours or situations.
Sure there are likely some common factors, but in my experience the trigger and the effect is personal not universal. To suggest otherwise not only minimises the impact but ignores the individual.
I was blessed to be born into a family that encouraged showing and sharing their emotions.
Maybe if that wasn’t the case I may have ended up in a worse place. But it’s also why we place great importance on creating an environment for Otis that normalises it.
That doesn’t tell him, “boys don’t cry” or pushes him to play sport when he doesn’t want to play sport or discounts his feelings simply because he’s 7.
I’m not saying this will stop him having mental health issues in the future … but hopefully it will help him feel it’s normal. And let him know that with help – whether that is talking about it or getting professional help for it – he can better manage it.
And you can.
That said, I appreciate the privilege I have being able to talk openly about this. I am an old white man and so the ramifications on me being open about what I’ve gone through is far less than if I was a woman, a person of colour, non-binary, a member of the LGBTQ+ community or just younger in age.
And that’s kind-of why I am, because that’s fucked. Mental health can affect everyone … and while the triggers may be varied, the devastation of its impact can be the same.
To have people feel they can’t acknowledge or discuss their situation doesn’t make it go away. It makes it worse. Much, much worse. And for all the supposed claims from companies saying they are compassionate to those experiencing mental health challenges, many have found it’s either true until the company needs something from them or they just can’t risk any possible financial implications
[Which sounds awfully similar to how companies manage the redundancy process doesn’t it?]
Which is why if anyone out there feels they’re in a situation where they don’t know how or who to talk to … drop me a line. I am not qualified to help. But I would be happy to listen.