The Cold Wet Nose Of The Little Black Dog – How To Use The Rolled Up Newspaper Of Experience To Keep Depression At Bay
Winston Churchill famously suffered from depression. Even more famously, he called his depression the “Black Dog” on his back. In my mind, this has always conjured up the image of a massive, black hellhound with slavering jaws and glowing red eyes. Evocative as this image is, it is far removed from my own experience of depression.
When my Black Dog pounces, it doesn’t pounce like the Hound of the Baskervilles taking down a gentleman who is rather foolishly taking a post prandial stroll across 19th Century Dartmoor. In fact, for me, the Black Dog doesn’t pounce at all. It insinuates. It encroaches gently. In short, it just outwits me.
When the process of depression starts, it’s like I’m sitting on a metaphorical sofa watching my favourite television program on my metaphorical television. Relaxed, comfortable, safe. Metaphorically speaking. Now, my sofa backs onto a wall, as many people’s sofas do. Therefore the Black Dog can’t jump me from behind because even hellhounds can’t make it through brick walls. The Black Dog employs a far more stealthy method of attack.
At first, I barely notice the Black Dog as its cold wet nose gently nudges the back of my hand. This is because my Black Dog is not a great big “Beast of the Moors” type of dog. He’s more a little, cute “Eddie Off Frasier” kind of dog. Except that he’s black, obviously.
After I’ve noticed him nudging the back of my hand, he looks up at me with his sad, imploring eyes. Eyes that say: “Please let me up on the sofa.” I try to ignore him, of course. Inevitably though, I eventually pat one of the cushions and say: “Oh, go on then. Just this once.” And then that’s me well and truly fucked.
Me and the Black Dog curl up on the sofa and he nuzzles up to my neck and we get on with the comfortable business of me falling apart. I say comfortable, because the depths of a major depression can be an oddly comforting place. The line between what behaviour is caused by the illness and what is caused by you just being a bit of a dick becomes very blurry. As a result, you feel very little sense of personal responsibility.
Also, you feel so bad that nothing that happens to you can possibly make you feel any worse. It’s like wearing a virtually impregnable suit of armour. I have barely even noticed events when I was depressed that would have had me crying and tearing my hair out when I was feeling well.
So, on my oddly comfortable metaphorical sofa, me and the Black Dog watch all the good things drop away from my life. We go “ooh” and “aah” when these things drop, like they’re just so much springtime cherry blossom falling to the ground. (Yes, he’s a talking dog but only in the limited fashion of the dog that said “sausages” in Esther Rantzen’s “That’s Life” program). We sit and watch daytime television and the Black Dog licks my face as the joy is vacuumed out of my life speck by speck until there aren’t any specks left.
Whether your Black Dog is a snarling hellhound or a guilt tripping Eddie lookalike, you know what you need to do. Get the rolled up newspaper of your experience and smack him on the nose with it. You know what the early symptoms of your depression are. You ignore them because they terrify you and you hope they’ll just go away, but you definitely know them. (If you want to know what mine are, see The Seven Habits Of Highly Reflective People : http://tinyurl.com/n4zpkxe).
As soon as these symptoms rear their heads, do some pouncing of your own by seeing a doctor, pronto. It’s a difficult thing to do, but it’s not as hard as allowing yourself to slide down the razor blade of mental illness. You should really only snuggle up on your sofa with your beau or lady love. Or your actual dog if you happen to have one.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014