The Black Dog



During his confinement in Nazi work camps, psychiatrist Victor Frankel knew inmates who developed fantasies of being released on a given day. They would maintain optimism until that day came and went, at which point they would either throw themselves into the electric fence, or simply weaken and die.

I expected to be mostly recovered from my knee replacement in six weeks based upon remarks that the surgeon made. I was wrong, but I took comfort in the fact that I had made a lot of progress. I also reminded myself that full recovery can take a year. I then recalled that recovery from my shoulder replacement took longer than that (these joint replacements amount to dreadful wounds). At seven weeks, I developed a Baker Cyst, which is fluid-filled sac at the back of the knee that develops in response to irritation within the knee. I was first bothered by it many years ago, and I had a unsuccessful debridement surgery in 2008. For unknown reasons, the cyst eventually got better on its own, but now it's back, and the more I'm on my feet, the worse it hurts. I can no longer walk without a limp, or do most of my physical therapy exercises. Indeed, it was the exercises that brought back the cyst. I figured out which ones were to blame, and asked the therapist for alternatives. When she insisted that I continue with what she had already assigned, I decided that further therapy was most likely a waste of time.

Peggy's mother suffered so grievously from depression that she was twice institutionalized. She also suffered from chronic pain due to scoliosis, and when her life ended at age 79, the pain and depression had caused her to lose touch with the outer world. Thankfully, Peggy took after her father who's invariably upbeat. She will occasionally reflect upon something sad, and feel down for a few minutes or hours but, as far as I can tell, her lows are higher than my averages.

John Fox Jr. (1863-1919)
Because of her mother's problems, Peggy grew up vowing that she would never marry anyone who was mentally ill, and it is true that, for most of our relationship, I did better than I'm doing now. I was often lonely and found it hard to overcome disappointments, but I'm now discovering that the older I get, the lower I go. While I could have done much worse in life, I don't look upon my life as a success, and I've lost hope that I will ever realize whatever potential I once thought I possessed. 

Because of my growing struggles with depression, I simply don't have it in me to deal with additional challenges and, combined with my back problems and arthritic shoulders, this Baker Cyst is proving to be a significant problem in that it's keeping me from getting good sleep and meaningful exercise, both of which are essential in combating depression. 

Peggy has gone away with friends for a few days, and while I miss her, at least I don't have to bear with the guilt of knowing that I'm a growing burden. If somewhere deep within, I contain an untapped reservoir of strength and resiliency, I'm sadly unaware of it. It seems to me that the world is filled with people who do much better with problems that are much worse, yet I know that the mere act of making this comparison is a symptom of depression.

It's so very true that the last thing a depressed person needs is to have someone advise them to count their blessings and to reflect upon how much worse things could be, as if they're too stupid to come up with glibly obvious ideas on their own. I have heard a few people maintain that a person with cancer can simply think away the disease, but such people are rare, whereas those who say it about depression are commonplace. This is because they assign depression to a purposeful and inexcusable cowardice toward life, a failure as a human being that exists at the core of the sufferer's soul, and that could just as easily be remedied with a little gumption. During World War II, the English referred to the failure to fulfill ones duties as coming from "a lack of moral fibre." The hell of depression is that the sufferer accepts this appraisal, and at worst loses all hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Anna's Hummingbird
Still, my life is not devoid of meaning. Although my track record is poor, I find meaning in trying to be a good husband. I look for ways to show kindness to others; and I trust that my three cats would pronounce me a success due to the joy, goodwill, and affection that I offer them. I don't know how much a thousand little pleasures are worth when it comes to assigning meaning to life, but I love the hummingbirds that frequent my feeder, one species of which (see photo) will remain with me all winter. I enjoy strong black coffee; watching Perry Mason in the evening with Peggy; the birders' class that I attended yesterday; a nightly bowl of ice cream; the yellow leaves on the ash outside my window; and the John Fox, Jr book that I am now reading. Despite the physical and emotional pain, there is still much to do and to enjoy, at least on the days that I am able to get out of my own way enough to do them and to enjoy them.

32 comments:

Snowbrush said...

A note to my Australian readers. Elephant's Child, you and others make your blogs beautiful by your colorful photos of local birds and plants. I especially envy you your birds. I don't know where you are, latitude-wise, but it's generally true that the further from the poles a person gets, the more dull the colors of various creatures become (most notably fish), and I'm halfway to the North Pole. Still, hummingbirds are immeasurably precious in terms of their beauty as well as their ability to fly straight up, straight down, straight sideways, and straight backwards.

Two weeks ago, we had a Cedar Waxing (not a hummer) fly into the same window twice. We went out with little expectation that he would be alive, but there he was, sitting erect with no appearance of anything being broken, so we left him alone until a cat approached, at which time we had no choice but to put him into a box with some food and water while he tracked our movements with his eyes. Hours later, he flew away. In the class I took yesterday, I learned that Cedar Waxwings are prone to flying into windows here in the month of October. The reason for this is that they greatly love the berries of the English Laurel, which grows in abundance here, and the berries of which ferment on the plant, causing the waxwings to get loaded and fly into things. My Southern USA readers might know of a tree down there--the Chinaberry--that has a similar effect on other bird species. Here's a photo of the Cedar Waxwing that I hope you'll be able to open: https://henryehooper.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/cedar-waxwings.jpg. If not, you might enjoy googling the bird because it's extraordinarily beautiful.

PhilipH said...

Your 'black dog' is growling at you once again, Snowy. I am very sorry to know this. It's a dangerous situation. You're perfectly correct to say that these periods of depression get worse as one ages.

It doesn't take much to trigger this dark spell. A few minor events can make life intolerable. Persistent pain often makes life seem pointless; why carry on when unending torture is the future?

Not helping much am I? No, absolutely not. But I really do feel for you, my dear friend. Sorry that I have no way of helping.

Many notable people suffer the "black dog" days, weeks, months. Winston Churchill, of course, was one; he took to painting and building brick walls. Stephen Fry, one of my favourite personalities, is bipolar and has survived some harsh times in his 'down' spells. Of course, there are millions worldwide; and most of us get through.

I send you my very best wishes for recovery from your current pain and sufferings. Love, Philip.

Elephant's Child said...

I wrestle with the concrete cloud (I like dogs so chose another term for depression). And the feeling of uselessness/inadequacy. I am sorry to hear that your recovery has had a set back and that your body/mind are suffering.
I am alone at the moment too, and do understand the relief from 'being a burden'.
I love your hummer and would happily watch them for hours. We too have had birds crash into the windows and fly away. And a couple which didn't.
My cities co-ordinates are 35.2809° S, 149.1300° E. Not near the equator, but endlessly grateful for our birds.

kylie said...

My dearest Snow,
You have suffered physical and mental pain for all the years I have known you and still you move forward, loving your wife and your pets and your friends. You continue to get out of bed and do yard work or bake or go to appointments. You blog a little and buy books. Your reservoir of strength and resilience is tapped every day!
I dont feel my life is a success, I have made one terrible short sighted mistake after another but I suspect that most of us are disappointed with our lives and hindsight is always the best kind.
I send you my very best wishes, healing vibes, love and light, anything that floats your boat really.

Emma Springfield said...

I am normally a happy person. I also have a son who has suffered from depression since he was very young. It is often a hormonal thing and can be helped with medication. Even though I see what his depression can do to him it is hard for me to relate. I have practically no experience of my own to compare. If we could each walk a bit in another's mocassins we might be more compassionate. I know someone who has diabetes. He was told in a very haughty way that if he did not eat so many sweets he would not have a problem (He eats no sweets._ Then the father of that person developed diabetes. Amazingly enough the father is fighting a good fight and no one can understand why he has a problem with his sugar. Go figure.

Charles Gramlich said...

Last week my evening mantra was, Let me go to sleep and just not wake up. But this week I'm feeling better and looking forward to the days, at least sometimes.

Snowbrush said...

"Not helping much am I? No, absolutely not."

Judgment doesn't help, and advice doesn't help. You help by caring, and I can tell that you know whereof I speak. I just found the following admirable "confession" on the part of one of your nation's prominent citizens:

"The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted to encounters with the 'black dog' of depression in an interview with Alastair Campbell for GQ. Asked if he ever got depressed, he replied: 'I think if you had asked me a year ago I'd have said no, and ten years ago I would have said absolutely not. But what was that phrase Churchill used? "Black dog". 'There is an element of that. I think as I am getting older I am realising it does come from time to time. I have those moments - you would know this - when objectively everything is fine, but you think you are, beyond description, hopeless.' Campbell, who has been an increasingly vocal advocate on mental health awareness, said: 'I've had all this hopeless stuff. My sister says if I had God it wouldn't happen.'"

I greatly admire Welby for admitting to his depression, because it will be used by people like Campbell's sister to suggest that, if he were a "real Christian," he wouldn't suffer from depression, and that he therefore is unfit to be archbishop. Obviously, such thinking keeps depressed believers from admitting to the problem, much less getting help for it. I really don't know if deep religious conviction makes a person less depressed. I do know that people in the most religious parts of America--and the world--are more depressed than are those in the least religious parts (the Northeast and the Northwest, United States, and Scandanavia), but this doesn't prove that religion is to blame. It makes sense to me that that if a person truly believes that God is guiding and protecting him or her, then that person will have an inner security that those who lack this belief don't have, and it is for this reason that I very much wish I had religious faith (though not the kind of destructive religious faith that I criticize in this blog).

"I wrestle with the concrete cloud (I like dogs so chose another term for depression)."

Is "concrete cloud" a term that you invented? As you know, I like dogs too, and, if anything, dogs actually relieve human depression. When I think about dogs and depression, I wonder if some of them--as well as other animals--suffer from it as we do. I know that if a dog experiences a severe abusive situation, then that dog will certainly suffer from lasting psychological illness, but I'm not referring to depression caused by abuse but rather to endogenous depression.

By the way, the term "black dog, was used by Victorian nannies to describe their charges. To say "you have a black dog on your back" was the same as saying "you got out of bed on the wrong side." Because of this, Churchill's use of the term to describe his depression was imprecise. "Concrete cloud" certainly sounds worse on the face of it.

"My cities co-ordinates are 35.2809° S, 149.1300° E."

Could you narrow it down more, so I can put on my jet pack and land on your roof? I'm just south of the 45th parallel, which is itself midway between the equator and the North Pole. The town in Mississippi that I was from is on the 31st parallel, and thus its climate was subtropical rather than temperate. I wouldn't move another inch away from the equator if you beat me because the days here are way, way too short in winter to suit me. Fortunately, the winter temps aren't that low because of the air off the ocean (sixty miles away), which is why that one species of hummingbird can survive here year round.

Snowbrush said...


"I dont feel my life is a success, I have made one terrible short sighted mistake after another"

Me too, but I've fortunately had enough luck and prudence overall that I've made but few mistakes that I was unable to back away from. For example, I spent two horrible years in Minnesota, but I rectified that mistake by leaving. As for mistakes that I couldn't rectify, having broken my back is the first that comes to mind because the accident was preventable, and I'll always suffer from the consequences. Yet, I can look back at things I did that were so foolish that luck alone saved me from getting killed. This is partly a young man's plague because we men are wired to take risks, and when we're young and strong, we're unable to understand just how horrific and lasting the consequences of a bad choice can be.

"I also have a son who has suffered from depression since he was very young. It is often a hormonal thing and can be helped with medication."

I'm glad for him, and for you because he's being treated, and because you don't suffer from depression. When a person is happy by nature, it's impossible to understand how anyone can be depressed (in the absence of a severe outward problem such as the California fires that destroyed entire neighborhoods), but when a person is depressed by nature, it's impossible to understand how anyone can be happy. I would assume that all endogenous depression is chemically caused and, in theory, can be chemically treated, but I haven't had much luck in treating mine. I'm debating whether to go to my internist yet again for yet another kind of anti-depressant. I hesitate because I have the strong sense that he's at loose ends. I might have better luck with a psychiatrist, but I don't want to go for two reasons. One is that I am coming to resent how much of my life is spent in doctors' waiting rooms. The second is that after taking so many anti-depressants over so many years, I'm not hopeful of finding help.

"Last week my evening mantra was, Let me go to sleep and just not wake up. But this week I'm feeling better and looking forward to the days, at least sometimes."

I've long known that you were on the depressive end of the normalcy scale, and have often wondered what your thoughts were about it. I find that part of the reason that the problem feels worse for me is that I no longer expect prolonged up cycles. In other words, I expect two prevailing moods, low and lower, with occasional glimpses of real joy. If I were to ever find myself completely unable to find those occasional glimpses of joy, that's when I would be in real trouble because in the absence of hope, what are we? Talking about hope reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson. I think that it and Frost's poem, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" are surely Peggy's favorites.

Hope is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

rhymeswithplague said...

Most of my blog-reading of late takes place on my iphone because it is portable, but for some strange reason I can no longer leave comments on a blog from my phone and have to wait until I can get back home and use our desktop computer.

I am so sorry to learn of your current physical and mental/emotional difficulties. There is little one can do to help, especially at a distance, except to let you know that we care and are hoping your situation will get better sooner rather than later. I think that good music and good poetry (thank you, Emily!) might possibly be the best medicine available.

We both have miles to go before we sleep.

Beth Brown said...

Snowbrush - For me, depression is a pile of wet, rotting leaves slowly smothering me. I can only hope that the sun comes out to dry them so that I can pop back into the light. Currently the pile is only slightly damp.
Old Goat

E. Rosewater said...

my heart goes out to poor old peggy, she's been dealt and tough hand in life.

i think you should sit in the sun as much as possible before the dank of winter kicks in. maybe read wilde's de profundis whilst basking in the autumn sun. old oscar goes from the depths of despair to contentment with the help of christ and gives an excellent portrayal of christ. the concept of christ has been hijacked and monetized by organized religion so please don't take this as a recommendation that you take up religion or consider christ to be a higher power, just one of many tools to combat self-doubt.

DDD said...

Snowbush - I can relate to your feelings. my illness, and physical pain.
I often feel “Let me go to sleep and just not wake up.”

You are probably much more knowledgeable than me about cannabis.
I read as time goes by blog recent post cannabis and chemo.

It summarizes the benefits as follows
Reduce joint pain
Doubles sleep time
For pain
Aches and pains recede
Got me off opioids
Reduces lower back pain
Works for sleep

The CBD did help me sleep last night and perked my mood.

Snowbrush said...

PART OF LAST NIGHT'S LETTER TO MY INTERNIST.

"Kirk, I called Slocum [my orthopedic clinic] about a troubling increase in knee pain, a popping sensation in the joint that occurs with every step, and a Baker Cyst (my TKR was on 08/17). These symptoms started two to three weeks ago after a previously successful recovery. I stopped PT soon after the problems appeared in the hope that they would quiet down, but they have instead gotten appreciably worse. The lady who called back from Slocum said that Brian Jewett [my surgeon] wants to see me next week about a possible arthroscopic scar tissue removal. Along with my other sources of pain, this increased knee pain is making it hard to get things done during the day and very hard to sleep at night. Would you consider an increased dose of oxycodone and Ambien?"

I got a call from Kirk's nurse this a.m. saying she will get back to me as soon as she hears from him. I'll let you know.

"There is little one can do to help, especially at a distance"

When I'm in pain and/or depressed, I anticipate disappointing people, so unless I need physical help, friends at a distance are often preferable. It's also true that I communicate with more freedom from a distance.

"For me, depression is a pile of wet, rotting leaves slowly smothering me."

Someone else in this comment chain called it a "concrete cloud." I don't think of it metaphorically, but I needed a title for the post, and "black dog" was a recognizable metaphor that's associated with someone who did an awful lot in life despite bouts of depression.

Snowbrush said...

"maybe read wilde's de profundis whilst basking in the autumn sun. old oscar goes from the depths of despair to contentment with the help of christ..."

I have missed you. I don't know if you regard yourself as a Christian, but in any event, allow me to say that I enjoy having Christian readers. One reason is that differences are more interesting to me than are similarities. Another is that there are many Christians, especially in parts of America, who don't know anyone who is openly critical of the source of their religion (by which I mean the Bible), and while I don't know how much I have to teach such people in the interest of promoting understanding (as opposed to a desire to make them agree with me), I can hopefully succeed to some small extent in putting a human face upon the most hated and mistrusted group (in America anyway), that is nonbelievers. A third is that having Christian friends in my life makes it impossible for me to lump all Christians into the same basket. A fourth is that, because I know that Christian friends will be reading what I write, I reign in my excesses. This doesn't mean that I'm mild in my criticisms, but that I go to greater pains to say what I really mean rather than simply giving way to my nasty mood of the moment.

All I know about Oscar Wilde is that he was a flamboyantly dressed English writer who was imprisoned for being gay, and was so harmed by the ordeal that he died young. While I know that there are gay Christians (with one church being devoted to them), given that gay people were stoned under Old Testament law, and that Christ was quoted as having said, "I didn't come to destroy the law..." being both gay and Christian seems like a stretch to me. All that aside, because you recommended his letter, and because I'm sure you're right about Wilde not being a status quo kind of Christian, I looked up "de profundis," saw that it was longer than I wanted to read on a computer screen, and requested that the library hold a hard copy for me.

"the concept of christ has been hijacked and monetized by organized religion"

Yes. It's also true that if the Bible was inspired by God, God could have done a better job with it. For example, he could have taken out the parts that are contradictory and/or couldn't possibly have been put in there by a loving deity--the part about stoning gays, for example.

"You are probably much more knowledgeable than me about cannabis."

Thank you for the suggestion. I don't consider myself greatly knowledgeable about pot. I used to be registered as a medical marijuana user, and I baked pot cookies (with marijuana butter that I also made) that I ate daily. I finally had to give up pot because it got to where it would send me straight into utter despair and keep me there for about a day. When this happened for a third straight time, I lost all desire for marijuana. I know that there are supposed to be a lot of strains anymore that can be narrowly focused for specific complaints, but I also understand that there's no way to get the product in a reliable strength and with reliable characteristics, and that is true even if the name of what you're buying remains the same. Here in Oregon, pot is legal, and my town (Eugene) has numerous pot stores, billboards, and even commercials. I actually find it all a bit much because I can remember the seventies when using pot implied a quest for enlightenment rather than just another substance to get wasted on. I don't know that I'll ever use pot again because of the horrible experiences I was having. Also, I'm on a pain contract, which means that if my doctor's narcotics nurse calls me in for a urine screen, and I test positive for pot, I won't be able to get narcotics. It didn't used to be this way (this same doctor was even helpful in me getting a medical marijuana card), but anything having to do with narcotics has become like a trip down the rabbit hole in terms of weirdness.

joared said...

Maybe to send the black dog on the run there’s more value in your expressing whatever words come to your mind as you do here. Hope you’re able to get whatever services will help you with all pain. Had a hummingbird repeatedly try several times to fly through my living room window one afternoon before finally giving up and flying away. I was concerned the bird would injure itself but it didn’t come full force I guess.

Strayer said...

Your cats think you're terrific. Sounds like a successful life to me. I once pointed out to my younger brother most successful people are quickly forgotten after death same as those society judges unsuccessful. He likes thinking about that, says it takes the pressure off. A maintenance guy at OSU once told me "quit trying so hard to make something of yourself, we're all fuck ups, embrace it!" I like looking at the stars at night. The vastness of the universe is reassuring. We're nothing, less than that even, in this vastness. Takes the pressure off. I have a Bakers cyst too behind my bad knee. I feel like drawing out the fluid with an 18 gauge needle or trying but I probably won't. Seems like that would help. I don't know what to say. I like ice cream at night too. I like it a lot!

Snowbrush said...

"I have a Bakers cyst too behind my bad knee. I feel like drawing out the fluid with an 18 gauge needle or trying but I probably won't. Seems like that would help."

I had one surgeon recommended doing that at home, followed by two surgeons who were aghast, saying that the cyst contains synovial fluid, that synovial fluid is a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, and that once you get an infection in a joint, you'll never be able to have a prosthesis installed in that joint, whereas if you get an infection in a joint that already contains a prosthesis, the prosthesis will have to come out. As for whether draining the cyst helps, it only helped me for a few hours meaning that it would have needed to be drained two or three times a day.

More later to you, Strayer and to Joared...

Snowbrush said...

I'm back. I wrote my previous short comment, Strayer, in the hope of discouraging you from draining that cyst. Peggy would remove 30 or more cc at a time from mine, and it would come back so fast that I could darn near watch it grow. You would also need to be more limber than I to get back there with both hands--the fluid doesn't squirt out when you puncture the cyst, rather you have to draw it out.

"Maybe to send the black dog on the run there’s more value in your expressing whatever words come to your mind as you do here."

I feel less isolated for it.

"Had a hummingbird repeatedly try several times to fly through my living room window one afternoon before finally giving up and flying away."

You might enjoy reading my very first comment at the top about the cedar waxwing that flew into my window twice, possibly while drunk. I had heard my father talk about birds getting drunk, and I didn't know whether to believe him or not, but it seems that alcohol affects them the same way it does us.

Snowbrush said...

"Sounds like a successful life to me."

Which is problematic in that, if I have what I need for a good life, why don't I feel good? I think of you as someone who thrives on little. It's not that you never get down (due to your poverty, your lack of face-to-face relationships, the lack of respect that people show for you and for your rescue work with cats, and, possibly, other problems that I don't know about) but that you so quickly bounce back up. What accounts for the fact that some people do well with little more than the bare necessities while other people throw themselves off bridges despite the appearance of having everything? I recall the suicides of Ernest and Muriel Hemingway, people who did well career-wise, yet Ernest was so desperate to end his life that he tried to throw himself into an airplane propeller, and when others stopped him, he blew his head off with a shotgun in the predawn hours of an Idaho morning. Why? Well, for one thing, suicide sometimes runs in families. Another predisposer are depressed parents (my mother lived with depression, and there were times when I heard my father curse his (deceased) mother for having giving him birth and thus being responsible for his misery. I'm confident that I have it in me to commit suicide, yet, thankfully, I'm not suicidal, and part of the reason is what you alluded to in that that I do have so much in life that brings me comfort.

"A maintenance guy at OSU once told me "quit trying so hard to make something of yourself, we're all fuck ups, embrace it!" I like looking at the stars at night. The vastness of the universe is reassuring. We're nothing, less than that even, in this vastness. Takes the pressure off."

I hear what you're saying. As you know, I read unknown writers who were active from 80-150 years ago. Some are excellent writers, and all enjoyed a measure of fame, yet I shouldn't think that one person out of a thousand has heard of any of them. No matter how good a person is at whatever it is that her or she does, few of us have a lasting influence. Still, your life seems to me to exemplify the apocryphal story of a little boy who was throwing beached fish back into the sea. When a presumably jaded old man pointed out that it wasn't doing any good because the beach contained thousands upon thousands of beached fish, the little boy picked one up, threw it into the sea, and said, I did good for that one.

Snowbrush said...

About my letter (contained five up in this comment chain) to the internist, he upped my dosage of oxycodone. Ironically, this happened the day Trump declared a "war on opiates" (he did the same thing several weeks ago). As with the first time, there will be no money to finance the "war," rather it is a feel good kind of thing, and I cast a very jaundiced eye on anything the DEA says or does anyway. After all, they are the same people who do everything they can to prevent research into the medical benefits of marijuana and then claim that marijuana has NO medical benefits, the same people who still classify marijuana as no less dangerous than heroin. Peggy can remember the day when she couldn't get adequate pain control for terminal patients because doctors didn't want to "make addicts out of people." She then saw the pendulum go the other way when doctors finally entertained the idea that pain control is an important part of their job. Now, they're swinging back to the notion that narcotics are too dangerous to prescribe for more than three days, and so "other methods of pain control need to be utilized." Only those "other methods" don't always help, and people in chronic pain need narcotics everyday of the year instead of "a maximum of three days." I did hear last week about a supposedly effective medication alternative to narcotics, and how people who are scared to death of narcotics (thanks to the fear mongering of DEA) are supposedly opting for iit n large numbers despite the fact that it costs $300 a pill and insurance won't pay a penny. What is never talked about in regard to our current "narcotic epidemic" is why people's lives are so miserable that they're turning to one drug or another by the thousands. Ten years ago, it as meth, now it's Fentanyl, Oxycontin, and heroin. I've always maintained that if my choice came down to living a life made miserable by unrelieved pain and buying narcotics illegally, I would gladly opt for the latter.

Strayer said...

I get what you are saying about people in pain need narcotics. Period. And terminal patients---give them anything they need or want, is my opinion. It's crazy when pain relief becomes political. It should be a medical thing alone, between you and your doctor. A doctor, unless he's pushing drugs to make money, can't control how a person uses them or if they are lying to him or her, to just get meds for an addiction. That's on the addict, not the doctor, nor should it rest on the shoulders of those in real pain.

I'm not going to drain my baker's cyst don't worry. I know its from irritation, and it would fill up again. I've done some really bad judgement self surgeries in the past that have almost ended up disasters (like losing a finger almost). So, maybe I have learned my lesson. I know depression is a chemical thing, not a moral thing or a lack of motivation thing and I know I am blessed with a sort of stupid blind optimism and partly my beautiful Miss Daisy taught me that. She was one, even to her last day, bless her beautiful soul. I lost her this last week, Snow, and that sure hurts.

Snowbrush said...

I'm so sorry about Miss Daisy. I will often be petting one of my cats and will have the sad thought that I had better appreciate this cat now, because the odds are he or she will die before I do. I had once believed that having cats would be easier than having dogs, partly because I would grieve less when they died (based, I suppose, on my belief that, since they need me less, I will need them less), but I no longer think that this is true. Once a creature is appreciated as a unique and irreplaceable individual, the pathway to grief opens wide. I also think about the fact that no amount of money could ever replace a single cat, yet they're put to death by the thousand because no one wants them. So much of life is horrifically unfair.

"A doctor, unless he's pushing drugs to make money, can't control how a person uses them or if they are lying to him or her, to just get meds for an addiction."

They're being forced to try. My doctor now has a "narcotics nurse," who I have to see four time a year, and who has the right to demand that I make myself available on 24-hours notice for a urine screen and a pill count. I think of this nurse as if she were a DEA agent, that is as someone to be feared and avoided rather than someone who is there to help me. I don't know what the answer to the "narcotic epidemic" is. I do know that banning alcohol failed, and banning pot failed, so why should making it humiliatingly hard for people in pain to get narcotics fair any better? I personally think that people should have the right to take any damn drug they please as long it doesn't in itself make them commit criminal acts (as with meth and angel dust), and they don't need to turn to crime to support their habit, which is what happens when drugs are illegal. What I've noticed with narcotics is that they're far less mind altering than alcohol, and that a person who is used to them can carry on a normal life. I'm unaware that anyone is ever aware that I'm on narcotics, and, unlike when I was young and foolish, would be mortified if I thought they did.

I heard an interview with a doctor who had terminal cancer, and who later ended his life under Oregon's "assisted suicide" law. He was especially interesting because he was one of the people who proposed the law and has remained its most vocal proponent. He told of starting a hospice back in the day when if a hospice patient even talked about ending his or her life, he was kicked out of hospice. Can you imagine the magnitude of that betrayal at the very point in a person's life when he needed help the most! This doctor also said that, when he first backed the suicide law, that he lost patients who regarded him as a murderer. While I completely support people's right to die in howling pain, I greatly resent anyone telling me that I don't have the right not to. By the way, did you know that the cost of the barbiturates used under assisted suicide laws have gone from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand dollars thanks to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry? http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/03/23/471595323/drug-company-jacks-up-cost-of-aid-in-dying-medication

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I hope the black dog showed up for only a brief visit. I thought William Styron came up with the metaphor.

I always thought Annas had red on top of their heads and were much bigger than the only hummingbird we get, the ruby throat. Alas, I saw the last of the hummingbirds 2 weeks ago. For color, we have lots of cardinals and purple finches. We have goldfinches too but they now have their drab winter coats on. In the spring, our serviceberry trees attract huge flocks of cedar waxwings. Colorful rose breasted grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles also show. As it gets even colder, the woodpeckers will return for our suet cakes.

The drabness of November gets me down as I know it will be even drabber and colder in the winter soon. To stay sane, I have some escapes planned.

I think we are between the 41 and 42 parallel here in SE Michigan.

I am so sorry you are in both physical and psychic pain. When I had cancer, nothing annoyed me more than it being hinted that my attitude will determine whether I survive or not even when told 'with your attitude, you will survive for sure'. I assume this is worse for depression as perhaps one could possibly control ones thoughts versus the mutation of cells.

What is success? From my viewpoint, you are. You have made people happy, particularly Peggy and have quite the online following.

Snowbrush said...

The drabness of November gets me down as I know it will be even drabber and colder in the winter soon. To stay sane, I have some escapes planned."

Eugene gets 155 days of sunshine a year. I don't know exactly where you are in Michigan, but Detroit is in your part of Michigan, and it gets 180. While I was looking these things up, I noted that Santa Fe gets 283. I would settle for less than that, but to live in place where it's cloudy over half the time, with all of those cloudy days coming one after the other (followed by nothing but sunshine, and only a trace of rain)! I don't think I would stay here if not for Peggy. I've found that, try as I might, I do fairly well until after Christmas, but when the holiday passes, my mood goes with it, and that a lot of other people feel the same judging by how glum they seem. One good thing about Eugene that you don't have is that daffodils and crocuses start appearing in late February, and even though the clouds will linger all day everyday for a couple of more months, there is at least SOME color in the world to atone for the overwhelming gray. I haven't read the book "Fifty Shades of Gray," but I assume from the title that it's about winter in the Pacific Northwest.

"When I had cancer, nothing annoyed me more than it being hinted that my attitude will determine whether I survive or no..."

I think it would be appropriate to have asked for sources for that belief, after which I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that the speaker wouldn't have any, and you would have been justified in slapping the shit out of him or her for saying something that would make you feel like a failure if you were unable to do it, and wouldn't have prolonged your survival if you were able to do it. I assume that people believe these things because they make them think that they are in control of not getting cancer or at least of surviving cancer. To bolster their belief, they point to cancer victims who had a positive attitude and survived cancer. Such anecdotal evidence is their only proof that a positive attitude enables one to survive cancer, and they cling to it by ignoring those who had a positive attitude yet died (the process is called selective distortion). The fact is that, so far as I can determine, there are NO studies that have found a correlation between attitude and cancer survival. Obviously, a good attitude will make having cancer easier to bear, but that is a very different from claiming that it allows one to overcome cancer. I don't take this to mean that a good attitude won't enable people to either avoid or recover quicker from other ailments and injuries. Here is what the National Institute of Health says about depression ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12450639: "There is an increased risk of mortality in depression. An important finding of this study is that the increased risk not only exists in major depression, but also in subclinical forms of depression. In many cases, depression should be considered as a life-threatening disorder." Talk about a study that will make a depressed person even more depressed! On the plus side, it makes me more willing to endure the risks of anti-depressants. I just wish I could find an anti-depressant that works for me, but I've tried five to ten of them by now with no results except with Zoloft, and when I went back on it after years of being off it, it no longer worked.

All Consuming said...

"Peggy has gone away with friends for a few days, and while I miss her, at least I don't have to bear with the guilt of knowing that I'm a growing burden." - Her deep love for you will transcend this sweetie. Even with it being a condition she swore to avoid. This kind of love works on a different level. It's still hard, but if it were the other way round I don't think you;d see Peggy as a burden. (Just another viewpoint from one who has spent over twenty years as a potential burden).

As others have mentioned, it is the 'Black Dog' that plagues you (I like dogs too much to think of it as a dog, it's always an abyss, a cliff edge to me), and it will pass, and come back and pass, so hold on in there my dear, you're still being as kind as you can to lighten your load and that's so wonderful, and a really great thing to still be able to do when feeling so incredibly low. And you are reaching out through writing - I have often said how lucky I feel to be able to do the same, as it in some small way does indeed feel like a release.

I'm catching up on my emails this evening, and you are at the top of my list my dear friend. Much love, Michelle Xxx

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

180 days of sunshine is still less than half. Where we live is a similar to Detroit but colder as it is the open country and further from big bodies of water. And it's the snow and ice that drive me crazy. I used to X-country ski until I broke my skis and the cancer treatment gave me balance issues which are slowly improving. One of our escapes is to Seattle (family reasons..up to me I would go to California or Arizona again)where it will be probably snow and ice free. Crocuses come in March here but late April for daffodils. I returned recently from a 6 day vacation to find most of my beautiful flowers killed by frost and the leaves off the trees.
I know lots of people who had sunny dispositions who died from cancer. They were more pleasant to be around but it didn't help their prognosis.

Snowbrush said...

"And it's the snow and ice that drive me crazy."

You probably know that I lived in Minneapolis for two years, and it was a long two years, partly because of the ice and snow. The cold was bad enough, but not so bad as knowing that I couldn't so much as take a walk without watching my feet to avoid slipping. Then there was the filth that quickly accumulated on the snow, and the salt damage to cars. Like Seattle, it rarely snows here in Eugene, but when it does, it brings everything to a halt. Although we live in the downtown area, for two out of the last three winters, we had power outages due to winter storms. The first one lasted for six days and the second for about three days. If we hadn't had a gas fireplace insert, we would have had no heat for us, the cats, and my many houseplants. Also, I have severe sleep apnea, so I had no power for my CPAP. Fortunately, the people across our backyard (whose house faces the next street south), had power, so I ran an extension cord to their house, and used it to power our refrigerator, a single light, the fan to our fireplace insert, and my CPAP. I hardly know these people despite being their neighbor for 27 years, but we're at least on friendly terms. It would be very strange indeed to be on such bad terms with a neighbor they wouldn't help one out in such a situation if only because it could be them who needed help the next time.

"I returned recently from a 6 day vacation to find most of my beautiful flowers killed by frost and the leaves off the trees."

I'm sorry to hear this. As for your desire to go to Arizona, Peggy and I went there from Minneapolis one winter, and once we got out of Phoenix's bad air, it was like having died and gone to heaven.


"...if it were the other way round I don't think you'd see Peggy as a burden."

I might very well see her as a burden (depending upon how one defines "burden"), but I shouldn't think I would leave her, or I would love her less, or that I wouldn't do all I could to make her life easier. It's also true that it does her good to go places, while I have lost all interest in travel. If we didn't have cats, I would be more open to going places, but if we're gone for more than a night, we have to make arrangements for them, plus I miss them, plus they miss me. Also, being in pain and unable to sleep well, can make travel a mixed blessing even when it's desirable travel. As for undesirable travel, I know that the day will come when one of Peggy's distant relatives will die (distant as in three plane changes), and I don't know what we'll do. I've tried to talk to her about making plans for that day, but she's resistant. I feel like I should be willing to go no matter what the personal cost, but because of the pain and sleeplessness, AND leaving the cats, AND because I have become just short of phobic of being packed into a crowded airplane with no leg room. I can well understand why people have started flipping out on airplanes, and while I can't imagine going that far, the flight alone would be a terrible ordeal for me. I have heard of worse though. Peggy and I once spent some time in the home of a psychiatrist and his wife, and the psychiatrist complained that, because his wife was phobic of hospitals, he knew she wouldn't be there for him if he were ever hospitalized. How hard it is when the needs of two people who sincerely want to be there for one another are in such contradiction that the one whom, it would seem, should be the one to say, "Yes, I will do this for you," ends up saying, "No, the price is too high for me to rise to the occasion."

Snowbrush said...



"I like dogs too much to think of it as a dog..."

Someone else said the same, but when I think of depression as a "black dog," I don't think of dogs but am simply falling into traditional usage and imagining Winston Churchill's bouts with depression. In other words, I in no way regard the metaphor as saying anything whatsoever about dogs or about my feelings for dogs. How absurd it would be to, in any meaningful way, truly picture depression as being, for example, a bouncy Black Lab.

"...you're still being as kind as you can to lighten your load and that's so wonderful, and a really great thing to still be able to do when feeling so incredibly low. And you are reaching out through writing..."

I also try to continue on with my work after getting way behind following my surgery. This week, I've cleaned the gutters, patched places in the roof that were threatening to leak, put zinc powder on the roof to kill the moss, raked the lawn (with a lot of help from Peggy), bought materials for new gutters for the patio, taken down the old patio cover and put up a new temporary cover, and done a lot of other things. Peggy gets really cross with me because I work beyond the point when the pain says I should stop, but I can't stop because the need to get the work done won't stop, and new work keeps getting added to it. Owning a home is like running on a hamster wheel, and sometimes I wonder how much longer I can keep going, yet I love the work in itself. For me, hard work is any work that isn't physical in nature.

robin andrea said...

I have no words of wisdom or platitudes to offer. I have experienced many bouts of depression over the years. I'm not the world's happiest of people on a good day. There is much suffering on so many levels. I hope your knee pain resolves and that you get to go outside and take a nice long walk. Take care in every way.

Snowbrush said...


"maybe read wilde's de profundis whilst basking in the autumn sun"

I picked up the copy that I had reserved at the local library on Saturday and was disappointed to find that it had been butchered in the name of editing for brevity. I'll now look into either ordering a hard copy online or finding a printable version and printing it.

"I'm not the world's happiest of people on a good day."

That's a good way of putting it. I have moments of supreme joy, and when I'm able to stay busy doing things I love, I'm even a happy person, but the older I get and the more infirm I get, the less I am able to live as I would choose. And then there's my growing isolation. Actually, to call it "growing" isn't quite accurate because, aside from leaving Peggy and living alone in the woods I've become so isolated that there's not much I could do to become more isolated even if I wanted to. I have her and the cats but I rarely see other people unless I need to see them to accomplish some end. This isn't a good way for me to live, and I keep telling myself that I'm going to put myself back out into the world again.

"I hope your knee pain resolves and that you get to go outside and take a nice long walk."

I started biking on Saturday for the first time in months. The first few turns of the pedals hurt, but the more I turned, the looser I got. It was just what I needed, so I did it again on Sunday.

E. Rosewater said...

wilde's writing is available free of charge at the guttenberg project. de profundis is a long letter/ short book.

Snowbrush said...

"wilde's writing is available free of charge at the guttenberg project."

Rosie, I simply don't like reading long manuscripts on a screen if I can avoid it, so I've ordered "De Profundis" off eBay. I take your recommendations seriously (there have been two so far that I can remember). I, too, sometimes recommend things to people but I always judiciously because that which we recommend reflects upon who we are and who we think our friend is. Sadly, I rarely know whether my friend even investigated whatever it was that I recommended. Since you so appreciated "De Profundis," you might enjoy seeing the original manuscript: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/manuscript-of-de-profundis-by-oscar-wilde