The black dog of depression lurks in the shadows. He waits to pounce. He’s opportunistic and clever. He’s loyal like any dog.
Other metaphors used to describe depression are ‘the blues’, ‘the dungeon’ and the ’windowless room’. But the black dog is most apt for those who go in and out of episodes of depression. Because he’s always there but sometimes sleeps and leaves you alone, but other times is right in your face, standing on your chest weighing you down. Because the black dog is a powerful dog. He’s not a toy poodle or a Shih tzu!
The Black Dog Feeds on your Life
But, fortunately, the black dog of depression won’t visit us all. If he did, society would grind to a halt because depression is immobilizing. It can transform a vital, active person to one who cannot even get out of bed. The black dog feeds on anxiety, sorrow, disappointment, and anger. All these and many more common human conditions open the door to the black dog.
About 20% of us will receive a visit from him. He may stay a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime. He’s a formidable foe, not the ‘man’s best friend’ type of canine. They only call him the black dog for his faithfulness, his insistence on following you around.
The Black Dog Can Visit Anyone
Anyone can get depression. Churchill had it, Abraham Lincoln and Isaac Newton had it. History abounds with individuals who have battled the black dog. In fact, it was the poet Horace who first coined the metaphor in 65BC.
Churchill later adopted it, and it became part of common language. Celebrities who are in the limelight are prone to depression because their lives are under public scrutiny. Footballers, rock stars and anyone famous like Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres, Johnny Depp to name a few. So, if you have it, you are not alone.
Less Stigma Now
The great news is that there is less stigma now about having a mental issue. They won’t put you in a straight jacket and lock you up in an institution anymore. People are talking about depression. Coming out just like they do now about sexuality.
But it seems there is a predisposition, a genetic factor involved. It often runs in families. Anxious, sensitive people are more prone as anxiety, and the inability to cope with life’s stresses can lead to depression. And depression can lead to suicide so you can’t let the black dog run unleashed forever.
Partners Can Help With The Black Dog
On a more serious note, you don’t want that black puppy visiting. It’s not a lot of fun, believe me. I have never had depression, but my husband battles it. The black dog lives in our bedroom sometimes for months at a time. I just pat him on the head and get up each morning to make a cup of tea for us. I don’t wallow in bed until 3pm. But my other half does when the black dog is in residence.
Setting my Maltese Shih Tzu on him does not work. Cheery ‘rise and shine’ commands do not work. Nor do comments like, ‘It’s a lovely day!’ ‘Get up lazybones!’ or more aggressive comments like ‘for …’s sake, get out of bed!’ No, don’t go there. Instead, be patient, make cups of tea, vegemite toast and run them a bath. It helps to be an upbeat person yourself if your partner has depression. It sort of cancels it out a bit.
Go about your own life whilst being supportive. I’ve written four books and lots of happy stories while my husband and the black dog do their thing. Partners need stuff to do so they leave Mr. Depressed alone. Don’t get angry, don’t argue with them or berate them for their ‘hopelessness’, their negativity.
They know all about that. They already feel negative and hopeless and worthless. You don’t need to rub it in. Depressed people are incapable of rational arguments and discussions when in the grip of the black dog. He has them and their brains in his vice -like clutch. One sufferer says his brain is in a bottle by the bed. Another wants to give his sofa an Oscar for best supporting role. Find real funny and sad conversations in the book Journeys with the Black Dog.
So be the support these individuals need. Don’t make their state worse because you are unhappy about them being in bed, not helping with the kids or housework. Leave them alone to emerge from their fog in their own time.
Of course, the person with depression needs to make some effort at helping himself, warding off the black dog. First up is seeking medical advice or counselling. Traditional or herbal medicines definitely help.
So, consult a doctor or naturopath. Once on medication, natural or traditional, give it about three weeks to kick in. But take it each day, not just whenever, and don’t swallow it down with half a bottle of Jack Daniels. Grog and pills never mix well.
This Too Shall Pass
The best mantra to adopt and staple to your forehead and the depressed person’s forehead is ‘This Too Shall Pass’ or ‘After Winter Comes Spring’. If not a forehead staple fan, write it on the mirror. Keeping a journal or jotting notes on a pad by the bedside can help the depressed partner.
Listening to music, drawing, watching re-runs on TV, they can all distract from the black dog because he likes to be the centre of attention like any dog. Don’t let him dominate. Fight back, just a little more each day, each week and one day he will skulk off and leave Mr. Depressed to enter life again and you, the partner, will be there.
These days there is so much help available. Beyond Blue, Lifeline and other free services through community centers. If one does not help, try another. Keep trying, keep helping yourself, especially if you live alone, apart from the dog, I mean.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
Check out some more posts at Whispering Encouragement