The Little Black Yippy Dog: A Post on Anxiety Disorder

A common metaphor for depression is a black dog, a constant, menacing presence, lurking wherever you go. I don’t have depression, but anxiety, which I do have, is often thought of as a different side of the same coin. I think anxiety is a black dog too, but definitely a different breed. It’s more of a tiny, nervous black dog who’s scared of everything, constantly running around your ankles barking his head off. If you’ve ever had, or lived next door to, a dog who Must. Bark. At. Everything., you can appreciate this.

Having anxiety is kind of like having that little black yippy dog living in your brain, barking his head off at every stress or worry or task. Trying to actually work productively on those tasks is especially tricky, because whatever you’re paying attention to, the little dog wants to bark about something else, or about what happens if you don’t do the thing right, or about the next thing you have to do. It’s not just, “I have to email people about a potential problem.” It’s “Oh my gosh, what if they blame me? YIPYIPYIP! What if I say the wrong thing or they take it wrong? YIPYIPYIP! What else do I need to do about this problem? Should I call this person, or find out X fact before I even send this email? YIPYIPYIP! Oh,and after I write this, I need to do the dishes and probably clean off the table and fold the laundry piled on my bed, oh, crap why is there too much stuff to do?! YIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIP!!!”

Everything feels like your fault, or your problem, because Yippy will make it your problem. It doesn’t matter if the bad thing actually happened, or is likely to happen, or might maybe happen if six other bad things happen first. No matter how likely it is, Yippy’s going to bark about it. And the barking makes it harder to just do the thing you need to do in the first place, and that worries Yippy, so he barks *more*.

He’s a lot easier to deal with than the big black dog of depression. For one thing, he really is trying to help, not actively trying to kill you, much like a real life barky dog is sincerely trying to help by warning you that that shady mailman is back again, and the neighbors’ kids playing in the yard are almost certainly up to no good. Yippy is also usually a lot easier to put in a crate or on a leash than the black dog of depression is (the containment tools being meds and therapy in this extended metaphor). He can’t be reasoned with, but he can at least be soothed. But the incessant barking gets old, and it can be hard to try to go anywhere without him underfoot tripping you up. Also, when you constantly have “YIPYIPYIP! The sky is falling! YIPYIPYIP!” running through your head, It’s easy to believe that the sky really is falling, and that everything is a major catastrophe that I have to somehow fix *now.* And that urgent sense of “gotta fix everything or the world will fall apart” is unhelpful, to say the least.

A couple really good posts about what’s actually helpful for people with depression have been making the rounds lately: one a Facebook note and one on Captain Awkward. I’m definitely guilty of “helping” friends badly in the ways that are mentioned here. Of trying to cheer the person up, or remind them of happy shiny things. I realized recently that part of that is my own issues interacting with theirs in a very unhelpful way. There’s this desperation to fix them, to push them into being okay, which I’m pretty sure is the little black yippy dog tugging at my pants leg, barking and whining for me to *do something* and that I have to *fix this NOW (YIPYIPYIP!). So I need to step back and remind myself that no matter what Yippy thinks, not everything is my responsibility, or within my power, to fix. I can’t make someone else (or myself) happy through sheer force of will, and I will make things worse if I try. Also, that incessant optimism that depressed and cynical friends find so grating? Pretty sure it’s a defense mechanism to convince Yippy that, no, the sky really isn’t falling.

This isn’t to make someone else’s problems about my problems, because how self-centered is that? It’s more, wow, here’s something that makes it harder for me to be a good friend; let me work on that. So, if I show up at your house when you’re going through a rough patch, I will probably have little Yippy with me. (If only I could put him in a crate for 8-9 hours with a peanut butter Kong like I can with my actual dogs.) But I promise to bring his crate, and his treats, and when he starts barking, I will plant his fuzzy butt in the farthest corner of the house, pay more attention to you than him, and not do any of the unhelpful things that come to mind just to get him to stop barking at me.