Running from the Black Dog

I don’t remember my dreams or even having dreams very often, never have. Maybe I just don’t dream much. There is one dream though, really more of a nightmare, from my childhood still hangs around in my memory. I remember waking up from it a couple times in the early to mid elementary years. I even remember being in the dream and starting to recognize the events that were unfolding, thinking “Not again. No! Not again.” in a dreamy panic but the details are fuzzy. There was a large black dog, clearly vicious, chasing me through an orchard full of gnarled apple trees. It was dark or getting dark and the snarling dog would chase me getting just a little closer as the chase ensued. The fear was visceral. I remember the running, the chasing, tripping and falling down. Knowing the black dog was about to reach me…and then I’d wake up in a sweat, heart pounding in my chest. Thump thump thump. That palpable fear; your body doesn’t care that it’s not real when your mind says it is.

The other day I stumbled across a blog post that talked about the come down after finishing a big race or event. It used the metaphor of the black dog. The author wrote about how the months of training change you, the intense focus it takes to succeed and the purpose that gives you, and the demons everyone who is doing these things are chasing. (Oh the demons!) We train and we chase; we pour ourselves intensely into this one goal, making not only our bodies but our whole selves stronger and more capable. And then the event we’ve been working towards arrives. And we do it. We push through, falling back on our training in the tougher moments, and we succeed. And it’s great. It’s so awesome…for about ten minutes. But then it’s over. And the Now What sets in. It lurks around the edges, like a black dog, hanging about and stalking. Waiting to give chase.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a funk. It is the time of year for that. At least for me it is. The dark days of February, not as dark as they were a few years ago, are still not the best. It’s not just that though. A couple weeks ago (actually, well over a month now) I got the official email informing me that I did not get into dental school. I hadn’t even gotten an interview. Throughout the process of applying I struggled with a fear of failure that I had never realized was present, let alone so deep seated. And here it was in one email, the fear now a reality, staring me down in a generic, formally worded email:

I’m sorry but we have thousands of qualified applicants and only a couple hundred spots. We have to crush someone’s hopes and dreams. This year it’s yours. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.


Dental School.

And that was it. Failure.

Any small shred of hope I had been hanging onto was gone. Obliterated. Smashed to bits in a few typed lines… I tried and I failed. I thought I was good enough, had done enough, but I wasn’t. And I didn’t.

All I could think was: Now what? What do I do?

And I did nothing. I didn’t quite wallow, it was more of a slumped. A passive sinking into the ground, somewhat less active than a full out wallow. I pretended I was okay with the rejection. After all I did see it coming. And on paper (hypothetical paper, not actually written down. That would be taking at least some action.) I had a plan. A regroup and recharge strategy in case this happened. Time was of the essence in this plan…but all I could do was…Nothing. I just floundered. I sunk into indecision, slumped, and I wavered.

The inclination to settle where I am started pulling like an anchor around my ankles. I questioned my goals and lost direction, not so sure anymore that this hard hard thing is right for me. There are a lot of reasons it might not be. Fresh upon this rejection they seemed pretty valid.

This past summer was consumed by an intense push to finish my dental school application. Cramming for the DAT, the pressure of getting a decent score with only a sad sorry month of studying under my belt, the hundred shadowing hours squeezed in between the demands of my constantly crazy life, the struggle to convey who I am and why I want to be a dentist in 4500 characters. It was a rush, there was a sense of urgency to reach the goal. And then I did, very early one morning  (late one night, really) in August. I submitted my dental school application and felt relief, the swell of victory that comes with accomplishing something challenging.

After that the waiting began. Sometimes it was itchy and uncomfortable but mostly life kept me distracted like it has a way of doing. September and October rolled around, interviews were scheduled. Still no word. November and then December. The chatter was that there were two more interview sessions in January after the initial wave of acceptances. There was still hope. And then January. The first week…then the second…no word. Chances were so, so slim now but the official email still brought a heavy sense of disappointment.

And the now what.

That black dog hanging around, lurking, stalking, waiting for its moment to take me over. It’s the same dog of my childhood nightmare. Appearing less aggressive but really it’s just a little wiser and more patient now.

I know what I should do. This situation calls for perseverance, pick yourself up and try again. Resilience. It’s a thing (a skill?) I’ve developed and honed. It should be fine tuned, sharp and ready, especially after the past five years of my life. But my instincts to grab onto and wield it are sluggish and I’ve stayed slumped. I let the black dog come in too close and thought that was it, the end. It’s not though. Slowly, oh so slowly, the regroup is starting. I put the plan on paper and started the slow, hard trudge of big test preparation..because, in the words of Chumbawumba, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” Sometimes it just takes a little longer than it should.

(And now some memes to drive the point home…or possibly water it down. Whichever.)

micheal jordan failure meme.jpghenry ford failure meem.jpghomer failure meme.jpgbatman failure meme.jpg

About nights7

A metamorphosis in progress...always.

8 thoughts on “Running from the Black Dog

  1. candidkay says:

    Ok. Different perspective on my end, as the actual owner of a black dog. One that appears scary but is sweet as pie to me. Sometimes, black dogs come along for a reason. To save us from ourselves. Some of my worst disappointments are now, in hindsight, my biggest reliefs. Wishing you the same!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nights7 says:

      Perspective is everything! I used to live and run in a small neighborhood that was home to a lot of dogs, two of them black. One of these black dogs looked ferocious, the other friendly. One day I was running and almost home when I saw a black dog coming towards me. I thought it was the one who always looked like it wanted to eat me…it wasn’t but I about pooped my pants when I thought it was. You’re right, not all black dogs are created equal…or should be treated equally.
      Thanks for the positive words. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes I wonder who makes those images that are all calligraphy swirls and nice typography about failure and how everything will be ok. It’s definitely not someone who’s feeling like they failed because seriously, I’m a designer and when i feel like crap I would *not* make pretty image like that!
    I’m sorry this has happened. I think candidKay (^ up there) is right though. And I know it’s exhausting to pick yourself up all the time, but with a bit of time it might well turn out to be the best thing. Keep running. Chuck the black dog a sugary biscuit, and see if his teeth fall out 😉


    • nights7 says:

      I’m with you on that. Usually those fancy, nice looking phrases about things like failure just anger me. Some of the actual sayings, allegedly from real people who have been through it and saw the other side, are nice enough though.
      I think in a year, or maybe anytime after May and I’ve retaken the DAT, I’ll be grateful for a little break before (hopefully) starting dental school. As my mom pointed out when I told her I for sure didn’t get in, “Maybe a year off school isn’t the worst thing.” I’m trying to keep a longer view while focusing on the short term push I need to retry for this goal. It’s a challenge…but, really, most things worth doing are.

      (BTW it’s nice to see you in the blog-o-sphere again. I always enjoy our interactions and seeing the little things you make.)


      • I think your mum is right (they usually are). Also you’ve had so much other stuff going on, a bit of extra time to prep for a retake, knowing more about what you’re getting in to is surely a good thing. It’s true that things always seem IMMENSE at the time and then a year or so down the line, it’ll just be a thing that happened, no big deal. You’re strong and determined. You’ll get there.

        (Also, thank you!)


  3. […] graduation and I didn’t have my shit together my co-blogger introduced to the concept of the Black Dog. Essentially I’d been having a really long “now what?” period in my […]


  4. […] custody crap, went back to school, ran a handful of half marathons, applied to dental school and got rejected, & delved into the world of online […]


  5. […] to happen. To be honest, I could have made things much easier on myself and taken a more direct route. But, like I said, I’m a master of self-sabotage. Now that I’ve made it, for all […]


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