The Black Dog

“A light seen suddenly in the storm, snow
Coming from all sides, like flakes
Of sleep, and myself
On the road to the dark barn,
Halfway there, a black dog near me.”


– Robert Bly, from “Melancholia” in The Light Around the Body (1967)

Winston Churchill is credited with coining the term Black Dog as a metaphor for Depression.  When is appears it sits on your lap and follows you wherever you go.  Ain’t that the truth.

I’m visited by the Black Dog a couple of times a year.  It’s starts like the far off fire engine siren.  Faint at first. Gradually louder.  It hits the top of the crescendo as it passes by.  Then it just as gradually fades into the distance.

The Black Dog appeared last week.  I can put on a game face at the beginning and the end.   But during its apex I prefer to simply stay home.  I was a no-show for a medical test, the annual meeting of a the Michigan Opera Theater’s Board of Directors and choir practice.   I also cancelled a party I was hosting with fellow filmmakers to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the only know political zombie film, The Cemetery Precincts.  Give it a look.  It’s only 9.5 minutes long and even has a Hillary Clinton joke.

In composing the party’s cancelation notice I tried to come up with a credible excuse.  Then it occured to me if I didn’t tell them the truth I would be joining those who stigmatize depression and all mental health challenges.  And now I’m telling you.

What does depression feel like?  Google it and you will see that people experience depression in a lot of different ways.  For me it’s a consuming sadness.  The phrase “Oh what’s the use” or something similar is on a repetitive loop in my head.  I’m fortunate that the Black Dog rarely stays for more than a week.

One of my favorite podcasters is “Waking Up” author Sam Harris.  Last week’s episode was titled “Addiction, Depression, and a Meaningful Life“.  It was a welcome listen while I was behind closed door.  One takeaway is that being with other people engaged in meaningful activities is as effective in fighting the symptoms of depression as any available drugs.

The holidays can be a difficult time for people prone to depression.  If you find yourself getting depressed don’t hide it or deny it.  Seek out friends or family members.  You are not weak or crazy.  Professional help is available if it won’t go away.

Likewise, let’s be conscious of and available to people in our life with depression.  Don’t tell them to “snap out of it” or the “man up”.  Sometimes misguided attempts to be helpful can make a person feel bad about feeling bad.  Be sympathetic and assuring.  Invite them to join you and others for dinner, a trip to the movies or some other social activity.  Here’s a nifty cartoon called I Had a Black Dog, His Name Was Depression

I try and make an effort to practice gratitude everyday.  I guess that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.  I appreciate everyone’s understanding and wish you all a very happy holiday.