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Russell Miles - My Black Dog Tale

January 14, 2020


“My car. Where is it?” I said to myself.


Then I remembered I had parked it in the next street when I arrived for work that morning. 


“What else I may have forgotten during the day?”


The problem with forgetting is you have no idea what you may have forgotten. I started to create an itemised list of what I had been doing over the day.  


“Yelp!” My black dog barks as I walk past my car. 


“Keys?” I fumble though pockets, work bag, back though pockets and then back to work bag. They are in the outside zipped pocket.  “Obviously.”


I open the door and my dog slips into the passenger seat. I am occupied with placing my bag, starting car, looking over shoulder, pulling out.


Dog sits up, stretches and sits down again as I ease into the flow of traffic and familiar streets. Tiny thoughts emerge in my head; issues at work, unpaid bill, children spending too much time on computer, difficulty with partner, failed investment, petrol prices, etc. It doesn’t seem to matter what I think. I certainly can’t do anything about them while driving the car. Black dog starts growling; regurgitating thoughts takes further hold.


Stop light! Indicator of car in front of me is flashing. Dog rest jowl on paws, settles. I’m   fully occupied with driving.


 I wonder why it is that my head space starts churning as soon as I get to the car. My work day is usually hectic. I take telephone reports about child abuse. The phone rings, I talk, write notes, consult supervisor, follow up contacts. I use to do field work. I liked getting out of the office. But I found it harder to balance responsibilities as sole parent of two school age children. 


“4 calls in queue. Anyone go on line?” the manger calls out. I put aside notes to be typed up later and take another call. Hang up, phone rings straight away. More discussion, writing and looking up addresses of support services. 


My colleagues regularly bemoan the pace that we worked at, silly procedures and copious forms to be completed. I never let on that I like it that work fully occupies my head space.  I’ve little time to feel down.  My black dog sits at my feet during the day; tired but settled.  


Traffic lights turn red. I stop. “If I pay part of son’s orthotic bill this month I won’t be short for rent.” Dog growls. Incessant thoughts have remerged. I pull on the collar to get dog back on seat / tug rubber band around my wrist. This is supposed to snap back my stuck thought patterns. 


Traffic starts moving. I’m again thinking about work.  I can’t keep up the pace consistently. I have my limits. My black dog tugs at me when I get tired. I often skive off for a quiet coffee or to sit alone. Between calls I stroll over to chat with work mates, gossip, tell jokes, and grip about the procedural changes. There are various ways to hide my dog amongst the daily turmoil.


“We need these family violence reports registered today,” a supervisor interrupts as they pass me some ruffled pieces of paper.


“I’ll add them to my pile,” I obliquely answered. I don’t want argue about my workload. I’ve found that depression has a habit of turning assertiveness into defensiveness. I need to pick my battles.


Traffic lights change. I cross the intersection, pick up speed. Sometimes I get stuck in traffic for ages. I occasionally cycle to work. Bike takes a little longer. But exercise helps manage depression. At least the brain has less oxygen with which to fuel mindless thoughts. My dog pants along behind.


I’m approaching a rail crossing, traffic building up, cars creeping forward. Black dog is getting excited, sits up, pokes head out window. My father committed suicide at a rail crossing. My grandfather was manic; aunt domineering and younger sister often has inexplicable illnesses. 


“I’ve been born into the ‘House of Usher!’”


I pull on collar again. Traffic starts moving. I watch other car merging. Wave to driver as they pull in. They nod back.


As I pull onto the freeway, I look across at my dog whose dark eyes looking up at me. “You’re bad at communication,” I hear myself say. I shift into 5th gear, cruising along.


“Couldn’t talk with late wife, children, indifferent siblings, shop-assistants.” My head insets various characters in my life. With the flow of traffic, my head has scope to create imagined conversations. The same form of words repeating over and over again.


“This is silly!” I grimace at dog. Snap at rubber band. 


“What five things would I most like to do?” A mental game I play to divert my thinking. I get to three; curling up with my partner in bed. The cars in front slow up. I ease up on accelerator.


I had phoned a mother with two infant children; son and daughter. A relative had alleged she was neglecting her children. I asked her about her children and family circumstances. Standard questions include any significant events; bereavement, moving home, ill-health, hospitalisation and so forth.


“I have Bipolar Disorder,” answers the mother.


“Child Protection is not particularly concerned about someone’s mental health than if they have a broken leg,” I advise. “It is only if someone doesn’t seek their leg splinted. Same with mental health problems.” 


We talk at length. She is very open. Not annoyed that I have called. Tells me her doctor’s name.  I hang up. I need to be mindful not to project my personal feelings onto assessments. I’m tired. I had come into work late after another sleepless night. I look at my notes; the words blurred and don’t made sense. I pick up another file, skimmed the pages but take in nothing. I feel frustrated. Sometimes I make excuse to leave early (eg, child’s doctor appointment).


Turn off for home is coming up. Dog is asleep on seat.


“I need to catch up with manager tomorrow,” I remind myself. My application to work part-time has not been confirmed. I started working part time some years ago so I could have time to attend to children; dental appointment, parent teacher interviews, picking up prescription, cleaning home.  I also use it to pace myself.  I can prepare meals without haste, exercise at gym, read, muddle about house.


“Sometimes I’m too slack to bother being depressed!” 


Side street, close to home. What have I planned for dinner? Do I need to shop? There is left-over tortellini. Need to organise more balanced meals. Had we finished milk at breakfast? Son had wanted to make butter chicken. Is other son at cricket training? I find planning such things difficult. Rather, I’m inconsistent with planning. I can arrange complex child protection investigations.  I once prepared a five course meal for sixteen. But thinking about meals for than a day or two, remembering which flowers my partner likes or if I’ve paid gas bill. This eludes me.


I pull in the drive way, stop. Dog sits up.  Children come out front door; to help with any shopping.

I open door. Dog leaps out and slips through front door and canters off to my bed. He’ll be there when I seek sleep later in the evening. I drop work bag, check mail, pick up things.


“What was the best thing today,” I ask my sons. As much an affirmation to myself as to them.  

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