“You are near again, your puppy breath hot in my face. You’re cute at first, small and cuddly, little needle teeth nipping but not really painful. I know though that you will grow.
I don’t know who feeds you, I certainly don’t, but sometimes I see you getting bigger and growing more frisky, puppy-legs and chest filling out and that playful silly grin becomes more sinister.
That time you grew and grew until I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, until I had to be taken to a safe place where they shone a torch in my face every hour on the hour through the night, to make sure you were not there sitting on my face suffocating me. In the daytime they kept me moving around from group sessions to craft sessions, to exercise sessions and meditation sessions, to trick you into staying away.
I know you as well as you know me. I tried to train you to heel! And sit! And lie down! Sometimes you obey and sometimes you don’t, and I swear you smirk at me then. Sometimes I know I have to give in and let you have your way for a day or two.
I love it most when you are sleeping, and I can watch you peacefully. A few moments of respite while the dreams flicker past the back of your eyelids, and your legs twitch as if you’re running. You’re probably dreaming of chasing me, closing the gap, almost upon me, ready to bring me down with a giant lomping leap.”
Above quote by Carol Riedt
(one of the incredible writers I had the privilege of meeting at the Stanford writing retreat in May)
Although not the first to coin the phrase, Winston Churchill referred to his depression as the “black dog.” Being a dog lover (let’s rephrase: dog obsessed), I don’t like giving this incredible animal a dark name. But, I do understand what Churchill meant when I play out the metaphor. I can picture a black wolf walking towards me in a misty forest. Beautiful, powerful, wild…with the potential to kill me. Yet, ironically, with the innate ability to be my greatest friend.
Like a dog, depression is always with us. Following our steps, waiting for us to wake up in the morning, crying for our attention. Some days it appears massive, filling the entire space we have to breathe. Other days it’s a cute puppy we love to have around – those are the days the creative perk of depression kicks in and we write and paint and innovate. Churchill himself was the best journalist of his time and wrote a number of books. He said he had to write 2000 words a day to keep the black dog happy.
Many years ago I adopted a rescue puppy named Javu. The cutest little thing! But my goodness, he had enough energy for 10 dogs. I remember how I used to get frustrated when he woke me up at 5am to play, whining and licking my face until I got up. Then we would throw the ball and fetch the ball (over and over again) until he appeared to be tired. I would try to work, but then a few hours later, back he would be, ball in his mouth.
What I learned from my little cuddly monster is that you can’t ignore him and you need to understand that he gets bored. That he needs the stimulation and love and company. So I would take him on long walks, throwing the ball as much as he wanted, and then when it was time for me to work he really was genuinely tired. He let me do my thing.
I think depression is much the same. It isn’t going anywhere. And some days it is going to ask incessantly for attention. But it isn’t for no reason. Very often depression is trying to alert us to something we aren’t aware of.
Maybe, just maybe, if we learnt to work with it instead of against it we would learn to befriend our life partner.
I have learnt that as soon as I allow myself to feel my emotions, and once I’m through them and on the other side, I feel a whole lot better. But if I ignore them or try to push them away or bury them, that is when they become bigger and stronger.
When I take my depression for a walk, or let it play ball with me, I see life in a different way. Thoughts and ideas flow naturally and some of my best work has been created when I was depressed, or most often, as I was coming out of it.
As I start to see things differently, I notice that my black wolf is sometimes a startling white. Beautiful. Magical. And, even when it’s as dark as the night sky, there is a power I have come to respect. Yes, it can kill me. Yes, it could maul me and make me feel battered after a month-long wrestle. But, as I wrote in a previous post, it can also save my life. And when I’m in danger, I want the strongest and most powerful warrior by my side.
I know that without this black wolf in my world I would be less of a person. Depression reminds me to be grateful for the good days, and it pushes me to create on the bad ones.
Why would I ever want to be rid of that?
If you would love to adopt a real-life black dog who will bring you TONS of joy, I would like to personally recommend Jett. You can meet him at www.tears.org.za
Jett is a fun-loving, playful and enthusiastic lad, who adores a game of rough-and-tumble with people and canine friends – he especially adores the companionship of children he can interact and play with. He has an effervescent, bubbly personality and athletic build; he’s the life of the party and would be a superb partner in adventure! A bit of a diamond in the rough, this gorgeous guy has a great heart and the best intentions, but is currently brushing up on his obedience and manners at Canine Finishing School. If you’d like to adopt this handsome hunk and help him learn all about the finer things in life, Jett’s willing to put his best paw forward. He can’t wait to meet you!