What IS The Black Dog of Depression?

Ah, metaphors. Without them, we’d be adrift in a landscape of cement without an actual tree or honest-to-goodness purple unicorn to disrupt our perspective. Sounds boring and harsh, doesn’t it?

The main problem with metaphor or simile or hyperbole is that other people may not have any clue what creative types are talking about.

If you have been hanging around people who describe Depression, you may have been feeling this very thing about The Black Dog. What is this dark canine? Where did he come from? Why a dog?

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The Black Dog is a description for Depression. He is the faithful animal that will not be trained, a dark and hulking shadow to our lives. Much betters writers than I have who have done better research than I say that associating negative feelings with a gloomy, unwanted creature has been happening for a very long time.

The most popular attribution is given to Winston Churchill. Annoyingly, writers say things like, “Churchill often cited ‘a black dog,'” or, “Churchill referenced ‘a black dog…'” In trying to pin down an actual quote, I found this snippet about a new German doctor Churchill had seen, from The Churchills, by Mary S. Lovell:

I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.

But The Black Dog has been around since long before Churchill. Think of stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or centuries of fireside folktales about hellhounds in British tradition. J. K. Rowling even used these to describe her characters’ fears of The Grim in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Black Dog has been around for a while, mostly in association with an omen of bad tidings.

One of the best methods of explaining the old rascal is in a video released by The World Health Organization:

I love so many things about the video, but a favorite line of mine is:

Depression is an equal-opportunity mongrel.

Some animal lovers out there may feel a big defensive on behalf of dogs. Most dogs are lovable, goofy idiots whose main goal in life is to get you to dote on them. Not like those cats…

Given the history of the metaphor’s use, the name makes sense. Man has long used dog as a companion, hunter, guard, and helper. In sensing a creature to be ever-present, even at the foot of our own beds, the idea of this foreboding creature being a dog is not so far-fetched.

The most important question to ask, however, is not one of the three I posed earlier concerning its history. It is How do I deal with my own black dog?

At the end of the video I included are a few very simple pieces of advice. Therapy is number one. Medication, exercise, sleep, journaling, and talking openly with friends are all mentioned.

Hmmm… those sound a lot like the tips we’ve discussed in my Cure for Depression series.

We can learn to live with Depression in a positive way. We can leash our shadow, diminish his presence, and even be rid of him altogether some days. As Matthew Johnstone says near the end of his video:

I learnt not to be afraid of the black dog, and I taught him a few new tricks of my own.

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Living with Depression is not easy, but it can be easier.

If you’re not certain whether you have depressive symptoms, The Black Dog Institute of Australia has a basic quiz online. Whether you fill it out or not, I recommend that anyone who wonders ought to get in to see a counselor.

Life has happy moments, too. Don’t let your black dog or purple unicorn stand in front of your view. And that’s something worth fighting for.

The Cure for Depression: Joy

I am not looking forward to this article.

Whoa –what?! Why wouldn’t I want to type about happy things? I’m the expert, dishing out advice. I should be ALL OVER this topic.

I’m not.

I am terrible at happiness. -Aaaannnddd that sentence just proved it.

Instead of the ol’ biblical casting of stones at me, however, I’d like to pipe up and suggest that we all might struggle a bit with the positive side of things. That’s kind of, sort of why we’re looking at solutions for depression, right?

So, with seeking counseling, improving our diet, getting outside, exercising a tad, and perhaps taking medication, let’s Do Something that Brings Us Real Joy.

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Lemme give you an analogy: Right now I am sitting at my computer typing you advice. I can smell something, and it’s not a pleasant sort of something. I am fairly certain this unpleasant odor is coming from the garbage can.

I live in a fancy house with a fancy pull-out garbage drawer thingie with two entire garbage bins so that I can procrastinate taking the mess outside for a really long time (like two days, since I have four children). We’ve been playing a game of smashing the mess down instead of removing it because we’re really good at procrastination.

The garbage needs to get taken out. Why the heck don’t I do it?

  1. I enjoy the stink of stinky things. They remind me that life is full of crap and I shouldn’t forget it.
  2. I’ve read about other people smelling garbage. I feel better knowing I’m not alone and leave comments about how I, too, can smell bad things all day.
  3. Thinking about refuse removal overwhelms me. What if the bags are too heavy? What if they tear when I pull them out? What if, what if, what if?
  4. It’s a really long couple hundred feet out my garage door to the outside cans/bins/etc. I just don’t think I can make it that far.

Didja get the point? Good! You get extra credit. Everyone else (myself included): just insert phrases like negative thoughtsdepressionhiding in the closetfeeling terrible every time I wrote about smelly waste.

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My story sounded silly when I was talking about garbage. I mean, OF COURSE I SHOULD JUST TAKE IT OUTSIDE. But why do we hang onto personal garbage?

Feeling terrible is simply not worth it.

I wrote about why I numb awhile back. Not doing happy things is an activity I participate in because I’m trying to self-protect. I think that not feeling happy will make it so I also don’t feel sad. Instead, I am constantly in a haze of nothingness and still feel sad.

Feeling happy is okay. In fact, it feels good.

Let’s small step out of our stinky, dark corner. First, I want you to think a happy thought. Seriously, Tinkerbell, DO IT. I recommend thinking about a time that you felt happy, even just a little bit. Or, think about an activity you love to do.

Got it firmly in your mind? Now, wave your wand and… Expecto Patronum!

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In the real world, we’re going to take that happy thought and write another one below it. We’re making what’s called a LIST. Yes, I want you to actually put pen or pencil on paper and list them out. Even in today’s technological world, listing helps our primal brains make connections.

Your list may read: eating, reading, me time, skiing, friends, chocolate, gardening, walks, booze, sex, sunlight streaming softly through slatted blinds, and whiskers on kittens. Dude; it’s your list. Make it catered to you and stop worrying that someone will judge you for it.

Now, small step numero dos is to pick one thing on there that you think you can do soon. It is your list, but pick one that gives you REAL JOY (sex and drugs don’t count, sorry). Decide to do it. Today would be ideal, but maybe you’re reading this article at 3 a.m. and water skiing with your friends might be a little lethal in the dark.

I don’t want you to just say you will do it, either. Put it in your phone. Send a text to a responsible person like your mother. Carve out the time that you will do it and then actually do it.

It’s just one thing, I promise.

After completing that thing, recuperate. Then, do something else from your list. Recover. Pick another one and do it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After you do that first thing, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to come back here and comment on this here blog post. Tell me what you did (unless it’s classified). You get extra internet credit if you tell the class how you felt afterwards.

Let’s find real joy, together.

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This has been part of our tips to help cure depression. Tune in next time, to read about service.

unsplash-logoBlaise Vonlanthen
Pixabay
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unsplash-logoSharon McCutcheon