The Black Dog Returns

There are many different ways to describe a man’s mental health. A few years ago, when I first started noticing that I had symptoms of depression a friend asked me if the “black dog” had been chasing me.

For whatever reason, I’ve always liked that particular description because it represents two things I actually love. Black is one of my favorite colours (as it should be for any die hard All Blacks fan!) and dogs are in my top three of favorite animals.

Truth be told, I love the black dog. When he bites, it hurts, but what he represents is also core to my very being.

Let me expand on that a little.

I believe that we are put on this earth to overcome challenges. Many might look at me and think that the wheelchair they see me sitting in is that very challenge, but truth be told, it isn’t really.

The consequence of the life that was chosen for me is that I will never be able to go at it alone, in fact I can’t even make that attempt because I would need medical assistance within hours!

My success will never be just mine; my failures have a far wider reaching impact than just me, and the choices I make each day will typically rely on a third party to execute in some shape or form. From the moment I wake up until the last moments before I fall asleep, I will always need someone or something else to be my literal arms, legs, and breath.

That’s not why the black dog bites. These are actually realities I had to accept well over a decade ago now. If I hadn’t accepted them, I wouldn’t be able to function, nor write this blog.

2021 Has Been A Great Year

There are always challenges, but by and large, 2021 has been a great year so far. I feel like I’ve really taken my journalism to another level, and for one of the first times ever, I almost exclusively write for professional news outlets who actually pay me!

It has taken a long and hard slog to get to this point, I’m talking the better part of six years of doing it for free. These days, there wouldn’t be too many times when I would say yes to a story without the financial compensation that comes with it.

My writing has also focused largely on rugby, which has been my day job for nearly 18-months at this point, and I’m very much enjoying the challenges of meeting deadlines and learning the craft of finding new and fresh “angles” in my stories.

The truth is I really respect and admire the majority of the rugby men, be that coaches or players, that I get paid to write about. There is a definite level of responsibility that comes with the territory because we live in the age of click-bait and ever-growing tension between the players and the press, so it can be a taxing job at times to try and walk that fine line between me (the journalist/columnist) doing my job and treating those people with respect.

Respect, as I said in a tweet directed at one particular player recently, always has to be a mutual thing. All I can ever do as a journalist and as a man is to conduct myself in the best way possible.

Life, as we all know, should be a balance between work and play. Between the months of January and May (when my beloved Chiefs sadly couldn’t get the silverware) I pushed myself to be as “in the know” about the team I cover as possible. I wanted to be able to give as much information to the public, through my writing, as I possibly could.

I also didn’t shy aware from suggesting that the current Chiefs coach was far better value than the former, and believe me, it would have been easy to hide away from a media session or two after making that suggestion!

This business requires a lot of showing up, a lot of hand shaking, and a lot of building good relationships. My style of writing and interviewing has always had a deepness to it, and that’s been by design. I’m not there for soundbites; I actually want to know and understand what the hell is going on!

This is something that is far easier for me in the late summer/early springtime of year versus what it is in winter, due to my disability. After the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign ended, I took a bit of a break while still keeping up with weekly columns et cetera.

Why Is The Black Dog Back?

For me, two reasons why I feel the black dog has made a return. Firstly, balance is a big thing and if you get that bit wrong you become a little bit too self-aware. I was too aware of the wrong things, and not aware enough of what that was doing to my mental health.

Those wrong things won’t be a surprise. Social media, for all its advantages, can be a toxic tool to check first thing in the morning. You’re presented with what the competition is doing, what those who don’t know a thing about you think of your work, and just another news story that sets off a chase to find the “angle” and write about it.

I wasn’t that I was doing too much of this, I just wasn’t letting myself warm into the day first.

In other words, a lack of routine. That is something that is going to have to change, and change fast, if I am to pull myself out of the rut. You can’t simply wake up, scroll social media, talk to editors, go to interviews, and then write for the rest of the day.

I did a little bit of that at times this year, and then when I wasn’t, that’s when I started to sleep in until the middle of the morning and would spend the rest of the day trying to make up time.

My partner deserves better than that. I deserve better that that.

A Promise From Me To You

Here is a promise to you, the reader, and to those around me who have been patient and respectful enough to let me work it out for myself.

I’ve embraced the black dog, time and time again. I’m not about to let it beat me down this time. I owe it to myself, my partner, our cats, my support workers, my family, and my professional colleagues, to wake up tomorrow and keep going.

I’m incredibly lucky to be able to write to earn a little bit of a living at this point. I can take that in whichever direction I want to, but I know if I don’t make some changes, I’ll burn out within the next five years with nothing close to the potential that I know I have to show.

I still want to be doing this, not just in five years’ time, but in fifteen or twenty. I will do what’s necessary to put myself in the best position to achieve that.

That’s my promise to you, but I wonder if you could make one to me?

Please, just be kind. If you feel the need to, reach out and talk to somebody, put your arm around them and tell them it is going to be ok. My partner does this for me, and trust me, it helps. Be a friend to people, not just a colleague or a work partner.

Be a good man. The best man that you can be.

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