The post that explores my latest extended period of low mood (what I call a “grey dog”) and what I hope to do about it.
Winston Churchill famously referred to his depression as a “black dog”. Some historians have disputed whether Churchill actually suffered from depression, but the metaphor has stuck.
I have a grey dog.
A grey dog doesn’t completely knock you for six like a black dog. It appears and then sits on your shoulders over a long period of time, gradually weighing you down.
It’s been with me on and off through life and has made a reappearance in last four to six months or so. I mentioned this briefly in my last post and thought I would attempt to elaborate. I’ve wanted to post something like this for a while to explain why I’ve not been posting of late but, rather aptly, the reason I haven’t been posting (the grey dog) is the reason why I haven’t posted to explain why I haven’t been posting.
My history with the grey dog
I’ve never really considered myself to suffer from depression. At least, not in the sense of having any underlying mental health issue. That is a completely non-medical diagnosis based on observing friends that have been diagnosed with depression. I’ve never found myself unable to get out of bed and go into work. Never cancelled plans with a friend because I couldn’t face it. Never felt the situation get so bad that I thought seeing a doctor would help.
What I have suffered from on and off is a relentless malaise or ennui.
NB: I’m well aware that some will be rolling their eyes. How very middle class. How very millennial. But I refuse to believe that people of all ages and backgrounds don’t feel this way sometimes. It’s the product of having a stupid, overdeveloped human brain. Once people have the necessities in life we move on to thinking about the meaning of life, which can be a bit of a headache. Are we living our “best lives”, as the fairly insufferable self-help phrase goes?
Others will no doubt say this is a form of mild depression. I don’t profess to know for sure. The reason I have never pinned it as clinical depression is because it has always occurred as a result of a particular life slump; getting restless and dissatisfied in my job or living situation.
Because the cause of my low mood was always situational I managed to change it by changing the situation. In each case I initiated a career change and, in some cases, a housing change, and it kept me content for a year or two until the next appearance of the grey dog. I basically “pulled myself up by my bootstraps”. And anyone who’s suffered from depression is rightly scathing of that being a way to cure a chronic medical condition.
The current slump
My current period under the unwelcome cloak of the grey dog has been going on a few months. Possibly even as long as eight months or so; it’s hard to pinpoint. It’s reached a peak in the last month or two, coinciding with when I took a break from blogging. The problem with such a relentless low-level low mood is that it can then morph into something more serious.
As with in the past, I’m not going to make any definitive statements about this from a medical diagnosis perspective. It is entirely possible that what I have has become a clinical depression. Whatever it is, I still feel as though it is situational rather than based on an underlying condition.
So what’s different this time that I can’t just rush headlong into a career or living situation change like before? After all, it’s unhappiness in my job and living situation that’s the problem.
I’m tethered by a mortgage: I purchased a flat back in February. I love the flat but it does result in certain restrictions. It’s much easier to make a career change (especially if it involves a pay cut) when you don’t have a mortgage to pay. Also, I have a new neighbour who’s quite loud. As I find peace and quiet the best tonic, this really hasn’t helped my mood.
I have no other ideas about what to do career-wise: In the past I always had an idea of what alternative career I wanted to jump into. Not this time. Firstly, I need to stop pissing around with ill thought out career changes. Secondly, I can’t imagine an alternative career I’d prefer to the law. I’m dissatisfied with how my current job is panning out but I have no grand ideas for what I’d want to do instead.
London is wearing me down: With my past living situation changes, simply moving to a new part of London has helped. The problem now is, being in London is grinding me down. It is such a relentless, over-busy city. I hasten to add I like the area of London where I live; I just hate having to commute into the centre every day. Jacking it in to move to another city (or country) doesn’t feel possible. Partly because of not wanting to sell up so quickly, but also because my whole life is here: my friends, an easy train connection to my family and the bulk of the jobs in my practice area.
My commitment to financial independence and saving: Living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t seem as palatable as it once was. I like having a good savings rate. I feel that any significant improvements to my happiness in my job would mean a salary cut; possibly quite a large one. And that is really not something I take lightly now that I’m in my 30s.
What are the options for shaking off the grey dog?
It goes without saying that something needs to be done about the grey dog. Whatever the hurdles I’ve identified above I need to sort it out.
The problem at the moment is that things are so up in the air with my job. I won’t go into more detail for fear of revealing too much about who I am, save to say that other people at my work need to make some decisions before I know what options I have available to me. There’s a variety of ways it could play out and until I know what’s going to happen I can’t really make any plans.
Cause for optimism?
In the last week I have felt a slight lifting of the grey dog. I’m not sure if it will last but I think the reason for it is because this infuriating uncertainty can only last so much longer. I should have some answers by Christmas. And with Christmas approaching (a time of year I love), I hope there’s an end in sight to this latest encounter with the grey dog.
I will finish by reassuring people who, in relation to my last post, responded that I shouldn’t be afraid to seek help, that I will certainly do so if it turns out that this latest bout of malaise won’t simply just be rectified by a job change.