That black dog sure can bark!!

Jackie the wonder dog
Jackie the wonder dog

It’s a little curious from where I stand that the modern avalanche of depressive based illnesses takes its popular name as “The Black Dog.” This is not totally dissimilar to my parents era whenever they spoke of a disease called cancer; they wouldn’t say the name but rather they would refer to it as “the big C”. Now, let the record show. I have a black dog. She is very cute and loyal, highly intelligent and is great company. She is playful, scared of the broom and the vacuum cleaner and is a very polite eater when you feed her, i.e. she never snatches food from your hands. She is also territorial and has a fearsome bark from behind the safety of our fence that she lets rip whenever she feels her territory being encroached upon. More about her later.

I would bet that most people reading this, know more than one person who is struggling with depression. I have a growing list of family and close friends for whom dealing with depression is a very real daily struggle. These are family and friends for whom my heart breaks on an almost daily basis as I witness their battle in one way or another. It manifests in so many ways. I would bet that if we were to sit in a circle together to discuss this, most of us wouldn’t have much of an idea as to how we could make a real difference to the life of anyone who struggles with depression. I have a good friend with whom my wife & I would share many a meal and in the discourse around the dinner table as her tales would spill out I would offer what amounted to a little less than euphemisms about how she could improve her lot and plow through the traumas that she was facing. This person gently taught me how to listen and not startle the black dog into attack mode. She’s a good egg that one. (Curiously in hindsight, I feel chuffed that she felt comfortable enough to share these details with us)

I have another dear friend with whom I’ve worked hard to find parameters that they are comfortable with, that allow me to enter into that space, find out the facts and maintain a posture that doesn’t threaten the dog. Sit boy!! I have other friends with whom every conversation is difficult and any precious time with them is physically draining. But you choose to do it because you love them. And so the stories could go on.

I’m not a trained counselor; I offer no advice professional or otherwise. I am just at the point in my day/life/week where I need to write this down for posterity, get it off my chest, make some sort of a public stand. I’m so tired of seeing this Dog have it’s way. If the analogy of the dog rings true, there has to be a way to tame it or at least, diminish its influence. Medication? Yes possibly. Societal awareness? Indeed. Informed friends that know how to make a difference? Absolutely. There is no cure all though is there?

But wait, there’s more. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have any issues of my own with the black dog. I’ve always struggled with that pendulum that swings between “I’m just a bit sad” to “I always seem to be down (especially when I’m on my own). It’s when the “down” feeling starts to permeate every corner of my being and thinking, that I have to acknowledge that “this isn’t right.” A couple of weeks ago I was challenged at a very personal level by a close friend. I absolutely trust that this friend had my best interest at heart, but all they succeeded in doing was to startle the black dog. For the last two weeks, that dog has been barking almost non stop. In my mind, if I was to strip back everything that was said, I was basically being told that I need to cheer up coz I wasn’t the person that they were used to being with. Any of you who understand depressive illness will no doubt be cringing at this. The black dog was being cornered by the broom which it is so afraid of!!

I honestly don’t know if I suffer from what could be described as clinical depression. I know that I have long bouts of not feeling right at that level. I have good people around me who are quite prepared to tell me that I am ok, and this makes a world of difference to me. I know that I would be unwilling to take any medication unless things got worse. I seem to be able to work through where I am on most occasions and come out the other side a little battered and bruised, but largely intact.

My friend will probably read this and come unglued. I’m sorry mate. This is not my intention; You are a good person & I love that you care enough about me to challenge me in the way that you did. We’ve just advanced on the learning curve of friendship. I am writing this for the catharsis that it offers me and for the insights that it may offer others.

So, getting back to my actual black dog; she is a good soul. She has some doggy character flaws though which we have tried to work on over the years with limited success. She is not to be feared and if approached gently, even when she is barking vigorously, she can be made to sit and become recalcitrant. If only it was that easy with depression

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