The Raven, The Black Dog & The Hare

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I have three companions
The Raven, the black dog and the hare
Always they follow me
Plaguing my every step

The raven’s cry
Reminding me of what I’ve lost
The black dog
Waiting to pull me down

And the hare
With its twitching ears
And shifting eyes
Ready to run

The Raven

The Raven, as so aptly described by Poe, is to me the symbol of my grief.  Sometimes it sits quietly on my shoulder, sometimes it digs in its claws and screeches in my ear.  Other times it flies high above and behind my with only its shadow or its plaintive cry reminding me of it’s presence known in my life.  But the Raven is always there and I have no doubt that it always will be.

The Black Dog

The Black Dog has become a well-known symbol of depression.  I am no stranger to this companion, he has followed me throughout most of my life.  But again, he is not always growling and chomping at me, some days he walks quietly beside me, some days he lags behind.  He is always there, sometimes only at the edge of my vision, but always there.

The Hare

While the Raven and the Black Dog are recognised symbols, the Hare may not be.  For me the Hare symbolises anxiety.  The constant fidgeting, the flicking eyes and twitching ears, the preparedness to flee at the slightest provocation.  This is a constant state for me.  The nervous state is always just under the surface, like an itch beneath my skin.  The smallest, seemingly insignificant, things can bring it to the surface and like the Hare, I flee.

It seems like these days, although the Raven and the Black Dog are always there but sometimes less prominent, the Hare is constantly at my side.  It doesn’t fade into the background, its effects don’t ebb. The simple act of getting out of bed in the morning requires Herculean effort, the desire to bury my head under the covers and hide away from the day, almost overpowering.

Living with anxiety is often dismissed.  Just get over it, get some confidence, grow up, face your fears, grow a pair.  These flippant comments often do more hurt than good.  Anxiety is not something you can just ‘get over’, it is a serious mental health issue that can lead to further complications and conditions.

A lot of people don’t get how I feel, don’t understand why it is so hard to be face to face with another person.  The fear of walking out their front door is foreign to them.  It’s such an easy thing to do, you just open it and walk out.  But anxiety isn’t rational, it isn’t logical.

Anxiety bypasses the reasonable part of the brain and goes directly to the flight or fight mechanism.  Everything is perceived as a threat.  At the height of an anxiety attack, the brain and body is at DEFCON 5 and there is almost no way to talk it down.

Living with anxiety is like living with someone who has a twitchy trigger finger, and you are one sudden move away from setting off world war three.

I say all this to perhaps help others understand anxiety and the effects of it on a person and to maybe help someone who is suffering from anxiety to understand that they are not alone and they are not beyond help.  You can live a happy and healthy life with the Raven, the Black Dog and the Hare, but it takes understanding and management.  And being kind to yourself.

My plan this year is to write regularly about how I manage my life and my constant companions in the hopes that I can help someone else.  We need to know we are not alone in this.

Looking to the Future…2016

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Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. – Carl Bard

When I was in my twenties (I’m in my forties now) I had a revelation of the person I had become and I didn’t like it. I had allowed situations and circumstances to shape my character.  I allowed past hurts and disappointments to rule my emotions.  I was not happy with myself or the life I had created.  So I embarked on a year of intense personal growth and I like to think that my marriage was saved because of it.  Almost twenty years on, we are still going strong. That’s not to say that we haven’t had problems, but I can honestly say that I love him more today than I did when we married.  But we wouldn’t have the strong marriage we do today if I hadn’t chosen to change.

I’m a big believer in branding, and not just for corporations.  When big business develop a brand, every decision they make must serve the brand.  Anything that weakens the brand is tossed out and only things that build and strengthen the brand are allowed to survive.  I took this same approach with my personal life.  I sat down and looked hard at myself and decided who I wanted to be as a person and what I needed to do to become that person.  I worked really hard to ensure that my thoughts, actions, behaviours, responses and reactions worked together to help me build the person I wanted to be.

It wasn’t easy and sometimes I wanted to just give up.  People around me didn’t seem to be working on their behaviour, others felt that it was okay to be mean and rude and treat me like crap and sometimes I just wanted to forget everything and lash out at them.  But I wanted a better life and I knew that to achieve said better life, I needed to change.  For myself.  To make me happy.

I honestly believe that if I hadn’t made the changes to my life and my behaviour all those years ago, my marriage wouldn’t be where it is today.  In that year of personal growth I made firm decisions about who I wanted to be and the type of person I wanted to become.  It was one of the toughest years of my life as I wrestled with my demons, but I came out victorious.

Looking back over 2015 I realise that dealing with depression, anxiety and grief has caused me to regress somewhat. Not entirely, but enough to know that I am not happy with who I am right now.

Don’t get me wrong, my marriage isn’t in trouble and I’m not suddenly an awful person, but I have lost some hard fought for ground and I want it back. My therapist tells me that when our stress tanks are full, our brains revert to our ‘caveman’ or ‘toddler’ brain and for me that means that all those lessons I learned are no longer automatic for me.

It’s understandable with the year that my family and I have just come through.  I would have to say that it has been the single hardest year of my life. I have suffered more panic and anxiety attacks than ever before, I was diagnosed with depression and have been grieving the loss of a close family member.  On top of that I’ve had to come to terms with being diagnosed with a chronic illness which has impacted every area of my life.  So to sum it all up, yeah, 2015 was crap.

It is very easy to want to give up.  I am unashamedly an introvert and my instincts tell me to lock myself away and never venture out into the light of day, but that is not practical and it won’t solve anything.

The very first lesson I learnt in my year of self discovery was that I have a choice.  I get to choose my behaviour, I get to choose how I am going to react to any given situation.  It was quite an eye-opener when I finally understood that I don’t need to just let life happen to me, but that I can actively participate in it.  That I have choices and don’t need to sit around and wait for things to come to me.  I was practically giddy with the knowledge.

I lost sight of that this last year.  Having a panic attack tends to make you feel that you have no control, no choice.  One of my goals this year is to take back control and to once again give myself a choice.

I want my life back and I am determined to embark on that journey this year.  I know it won’t be easy, but I also know that when I look back I will be thankful for doing it.  I also hope that maybe some of the things I learn will help someone else.  As the quote above says, I can’t go back and start again, but I can start from today to ensure I have a brand new ending.

So let’s do this!  2016…come at me!