BLACK DOGYesterday, I slipped into an old kind of exhaustion and crawled into bed. It felt so physical that I didn’t know it was depression. What’s wrong with me?! Am I sick? No! I’m just a mess. I hate myself! In a self-punishing mood I made no attempt to consciously go into my feelings. It didn’t even occur to me to Get Present or phone a friend for help. I even read a book about world history that was so disturbing it plunged me deeper into darkness. Pulling the covers over my head, I tried to hide from what Winston Churchill called The Black Dog.

I had fallen into an old childhood pattern of dealing harshly with my feelings. In the years after my father died when I was 5 1/2 years old (and had mistakenly decided that I had somehow caused his death) I often suffered from depression. My mother didn’t know what to do with me or it, so she would get mad, shake me by the shoulders and yell, “Oh, snap out of it! What’s wrong with you?” So I learned that sadness and depression meant I was severely flawed. Even more upsetting she once said, “Despair is the one unforgivable sin!” Well, that clearly meant that I was doomed to hell.

Years later, Mother confessed that she always hated it when her own mother got the “blues.” Perhaps it scared her as a child. At any rate, she had little tolerance for depression.

This morning, however, I managed to call my “Action Partner” at our appointed time. We connect daily to help one another stay focused on our goals. Ashamed, I said that I had done nothing productive yesterday and had spent the day in bed. “Oh, that’s okay,” she responded. “So you spent a day in bed reading. Big deal.” Her lack of judgment opened me up. I began to cry. I had not shed a tear yesterday. I had shut down without knowing why.

Now I knew why. Yesterday morning I had met with my realtor, lowered the price of my house, and set the date for another open house. After pursuing every possible way to keep my home, I had to accept that it wasn’t financially possible. I must sell it. I thought I was peacefully resigned, but not long after the realtor left, I found myself in bed. I hadn’t even seen the connection.

“Oh, no wonder you’re sad,” my friend said. “You’ve been there for almost 35 years. Your home has been a genuine sanctuary: a place for the Creative Explosion workshops and acting classes.”

She was right. This house has been a shelter for beloved stray animals and people. I have healed so much of myself and written books and plays here. I designed and helped renovate the house itself, carrying wallboard, learning to spackle holes, and paint. I have sewn curtains and furniture covers and loved and cared for my home all these years. Of course I’m sad. Who wouldn’t be?

Then, I remembered years ago going back to Indianapolis to help my 90 year-old mother pack up to move to her lovely retirement home. She sat in her room and didn’t participate. When I asked her about this thing or that, she would wave her hand dismissively, “Pack whatever you want.”

When we left her home of 25 years for the final time, she walked out to the car rigid, erect, silent, and did not look back. She never expressed a word or a feeling about leaving her home. Two weeks later she died suddenly.

It has taken me years to be able to allow myself to be sad. Sometimes, like yesterday, I slip into that old shut-down mode and need someone else to give me the permission to feel. Thanks to my friend’s non-judgment, it took only a moment for me to come back to life and have, as they say, a good cry. The depression caused by judgment and suppression was relieved, and I felt so much better. It is true that to feel is to heal. I was alive again. “Thanks,” I said to my friend. “I’m feelin’ a lot better about feelin’ bad.”

She said, “Hey, that’s a good title for a country western song.” I laughed through my tears. Then, I was able to get up, get dressed, and start stripping the house of even more of my personality and history. The crystals got packed away. Pictures of my animals, the Dalai Lama, and Hathor got take off the walls. Power shields, magic wands, and dream catchers landed in a closet.

Later I Got Present on the phone with a friend. I was okay. I felt many subtle and different kinds of sensations all over. “It’s like a symphony in my body,” I commented. And then I saw myself sitting in an auditorium watching and listening to an orchestra playing a kind of adagio movement. It was beautiful and sad—very nostalgic. Tears came to my eyes. My Higher Power appeared in the seat on my right. He took my hand and held it in his. There was such love and compassion radiating from it. “You see,” he whispered. “Sadness is nothing to condemn or try to get rid of. It is connected to the heart and to love, and can be very beautiful. It is part of the Symphony of Life.”

Ah yes, a much better way to look at grief. That poor Black Dog needs a lot of love and compassion.

22 thoughts on “THE BLACK DOG

  1. Thank you so much for this Katherine. This is the time of year Jim went into the hospital and then transitioned. I wish you could keep your home there.

  2. Bless you Katherine. I’ve had a lot of sadness/grief come up too lately (spent most of the day yesterday crying.) ‘Tis the season [in Chinese medicine]–the fall is associated with the lungs whose corresponding emotion is–you guessed it: grief. Here’s to cleansing, healing tears. ;) I am sad you can’t keep your house too. Have always been so sad at the thought of you going.

  3. Just now, as I was walking home, I thought of you, wondering if you were managing to keep your beautiful home, if you were already on your way to Florida and remembering how I loved your post about worrying (brilliant!) and never responded to it. So I open my email and there you are.
    It’s amazing what happens when we give ourselves permission to feel grief, sadness, lethargy, anger, frustration, any “negative” feeling. “I’m feelin’ a lot better about feelin’ bad” is a great title for a country song, or a story or a play or just a little something to remember going through life. If you weren’t a writer I would steal that phrase.
    I was just sick, nothing serious, a bad cold and I stayed in bed for a day and a half using up 3 boxes of tissues and generally being miserable. One of my roommates kept trying to offer remedies, which was very sweet but not particularly helpful. I caught a virus, I had a cold and I simply had to ride it through. And I did. I hope to live long enough to be sick and sad and depressed many times again and ride it through and feel OK about feeling bad for a while.
    I’m sorry you can’t keep your house. That sucks and of course you’re sad. That said, all that is truly Katherine will accompany you on all your journeys. Well, you know that. It’s still hard to lose some of the tangible things that hold all those memories and your energy.

    • You are so good. Loved your reply. Yes, and I hope you will be around for all the ups and downs of life for a long time to come. Not to mention the wonderful, unexpected surprises and adventures!

  4. Just this morning I was reading about a program offered by the library here in town. It is called: “Constructive Wallowing”(How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them) with Psychotherapist and author Tina Gilbertson.
    It’s an ‘interactive’ class and maybe I will go check it out because although despite physically having some sort of a virus plus hip pain for the last few weeks I still seem to be in good spirits.
    I am so sorry that at the moment keeping your house doesn’t seem like an option because I know how much love you have put into your home. Sending prayers & love. Marilyn

    • Love the title of that workshop. I do believe it is in fighting depression that it gets worse. I get in my submarine and shout Dive! Dive! Much better. Quicker. Hope your hip pain improves soon! much love, K

  5. Thank you for sharing, Katherine. Linda and I were talking about you just the other day. Your blog is lovely and it comes at a good time for me…hope you come to WP for a visit soon…please come stay with us!

  6. you are the best Katherine.–be gentle with yourself and realize the Mercury Retrograde truly took you. Things will get lighter, more playful and easier from here….xox, James

  7. Katherine, like everyone who has ever had the good luck to share the wonderful energy of your beautiful house, I’m sorry you won’t be able to keep it. I felt a ping of sorrow with each object you took down from the walls as you named them. Thanks for the brave example of meeting grief head on. Warm embraces….

  8. Beautifully expressed. Self compassion is always the hardest for me. So glad to witness the shift. Thanks to you “I’m feeling better about feeling bad”
    sending light and love xo

  9. Thank you for sharing your “black dog” day. I am reminded of dropping a pebble into a pond and the ripples keep vibrating out forever. Your posting is a healing posting and many lost in the shadows will have your rippling words of insight for guidance. You are truly a gift and your true home will be wherever you are. . . xoxo

  10. I find these types of occurrences especially hard – it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to work; then it does; and then the plan, as keeping the house, doesn’t prove viable after all. What helped me, as when I let go of acting as my primary creative expression, was to recognize Kubler Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. These are our friends and companions for very many years – our homes, careers, etc. – and I found I was assuredly in a grieving process when some of these things began floating away even if there were situations ahead to feel hopeful about. And I hear your story because I’m not comfortable either with being still and sitting with sadness – all that ‘just get on with it’ I’ve adapted over the years when I felt there wasn’t time to honor such states. Try to be comforting to yourself as you walk through this.

  11. Katherine, so beautifully expressed. I sold my house last year. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done, both physically and emotionally. Thanks for sharing your journey. Love you.

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