This Black Dog metaphor doesn’t cut it. It’s a little too tidy, a nice shorthand, because dogs, yeah, they might follow you, lie on your bed, they nose through your garbage, they crap on your lawn, but basically, they love you. Probably the poo on your deck is an act of love, because, ‘hey,’ your black dog says, ‘I can go poo on somebody else’s deck if that’s what you want. Not. There’s nobody but you.’ Arguably there’s no one more loving than a dog.
And half the time nobody knows of which Black Dog you speak. Not everybody knows the secret handshake.
‘It’s a metaphor’ you whisper, not wanting to wake your black dog, ‘for depression. You know, the capital D word. Depression. How dogs are relentless in their dark pursuit of you? Big, big, big, dogs, scary ones, with teeth and appetites.’
‘What’s a metaphor?’
‘Really? A metaphor is a euphemism without the wolf whistle.’
‘So we’re talking about wolves now? What happened to the dog?’
A black dog is a slim wink and nod at something much more sinister. I don’t love being euphemistic when it comes to telling the truth.
And nobody gets ‘a touch of the black dog’ the contact is not that slight; it’s more a slap, or a headlock, maybe it’s a cage fight. Yeah, it’s a cage fight. They do say, ‘Battle with Depression’ and that’s an expression I can believe in. I decided yesterday, once and for all, that this living with Depression caper is a fucken, bloody, steady, Battle.
Let’s not be nice about it.
Depression is a war inside your head. Some days you hardly need your armor, you feel okay, you cross items off your To Do list, you communicate with people, share a joke. But other days you pull up your drawbridge and tape a ‘Gone to Lunch’ sign on the door. Back in an hour. Or never. You lie in your bed and can’t figure out why friends don’t know if you’re not using proper punctuation in your text messages that you’re actually asking for help. Why don’t they know that?!
Then some distant voice talks you back from your mental ledge, ‘Darling, that what you did then, is paranoia. It suits you. Here, eat some chocolate.’
Depression shows up no matter how well things are going. It doesn’t care if you’ve got a roof over your head, it’s doesn’t give a rats about goals and ideas and dreams and accomplishment and it thinks your lovely sons and brilliant partner are overrated.
‘Why can’t I just be fucken happy?’ I wailed down the phone at my sister.
Erin, wiser than me, taller, less fat, said, ‘Babe, you’re not unhappy, you’re depressed.’
Sitting in my car, in the garage, the engine off because this wasn’t an attempt, it was simply parking, I knew she was right. Small breakthrough.
Depression brings inertia and nothingness, it sucks away hope and energy and PERSPECTIVE, it leaves you with loathing and shame. Depression can you make you hate yourself so hard that you want to rip your face off. Last night I concluded, that if you hated yourself from head to foot like I did, then it was perfectly fine to kill yourself. There’s nothing worse than hating yourself like that, after all, I’m stuck with me. Emotion wanted me dead but intellect won the day.
On Saturday morning I knew I was doing not so great in the Battle when I crossed a busy road using the pedestrian crossing and thought to myself, ‘Why did you cross at the lights? Now everybody can see you.’
Yes, they can see me. Not they’d notice me because they have their own lives, they’re thinking about themselves like I’m thinking about me, well, hopefully, not like that, because I hate the idea of anyone battling Depression. But my perspective is shot and crossing the road in broad daylight is something I’m thinking twice about. I’m thinking about everything twice. Way too much thinking. And I’m especially thinking about shame and depression and how black dogs are as nice as brown dogs or white dogs and how if only Depression was a broken leg, some cool sports injury and not an invisible illness inside your head that makes you feel guilty about being unable to stick with the joy in your life.
Because life is a joy, you only have to live it to know that. Today I had the joy of going back on medication. I amazed myself at the doctor and didn’t even cry, and then I outdid myself at the psychologist and cried into the blue and grey striped sock I’d brought with me for the occasion.
Depression is not unhappiness, being sad is a piece of piss in comparison to depression, but depression is not me. It can’t be. I’ll take my medicine and aim for joy.
Joy in a small face and a grubby school shirt. Joy in being understood, loved, supported by my partner. Joy in possibility.
Joy is just beyond the drawbridge.