Me and My Black Dog

I dislike referring to depression with its correct term. Depression is such an ugly word, it’s one that people are scared of despite some being quick to use it. I’ve suffered from depression or, as I prefer to call it, “the black dog” for years now (You can also add Anxiety disorder and OCD too). It was intensified to monumental proportions in 2007 when my three year old daughter passed away after a car accident. Things happen in life that test us, we all know that, but I never expected my life to take such a turn.

For me it was an ordinary day at work when a phone call came out of the blue to tell me my family had been in a car accident. The car was t-boned, my father in law was pronounced dead at the scene and my daughter was rushed to a local hospital with head injuries. Later that day she was sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital where she stayed for five days before we needed to turn off her life support after finding that 80% of her brain had died.

For a 24 year old couple (now 30), my wife and I were devastated and left reeling from something no parent could expect. Of course it didn’t take long for the black dog to arrive and it has stayed with me ever since. He comes and goes but predominantly he follows me through life making everyday actions awkward and difficult. I hit the bottom on a specific dark day of my life (the less said, the better) and now I find myself on the up.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, depression has appeared a lot in my Twitter timeline recently including mentions of suicide. Depression is such a secret illness and unless the sufferer speaks out most will never know until it is too late – Nobody wants to suffer a breakdown or find their solution at the end of a rope or razorblade.

I wanted to share my experience to say that there is no need to hide how you feel from the world. There is no shame in finding someone to talk to or going to the doctor and taking a pill to help with the everyday. Find a friend to tell, write it in a journal… Just get it out. One thing that helped me greatly was finding people to chat with through Twitter. Sometimes I’d find myself chatting endlessly and even found some others with their own black dogs in tow.

I generally fight with my black dog on a daily basis, most of the time I’m winning through support from various places. But, and the main reason I’m talking about this here, books are the thing that saved me. If it wasn’t for the ability to sit and immerse myself in different worlds, I’d constantly stew in my own. However it isn’t just escapism from my problems where books helped, some even helped to understand the illness and allowed me to realise I wasn’t alone. It was reading certain fiction titles that gave me the boost that I needed to face the lingering darkness. Most cleared my vision and let me see myself how others saw me.

Books that have helped me have ranged from fiction such as ‘Mr Chartwell’ or ‘Archipelago’ to Self help books like ‘I had a Black Dog’ which is a picture book for adults dealing with depression. They all helped in various ways and even though I still suffer, reading books is a very rewarding exercise.

Take The Bell Jar as an example. Sylvia Plath will always be known for her semi autobiographical novel about a young cosmopolitan woman who is suddenly struck with depression. Plath’s depictions are realistic to the point of terror and yet it can help the depressed person immensely. One of the biggest issues regarding mental health is the stigma that is often attached to it. Books such as Plath’s allows sufferers to know that there are people out there just like them. Depression is such an isolating disorder and many sufferers don’t want to reach out to others, sometimes in fear of embarrassment or sometimes because they don’t want to be judged.

Rebecca Hunt’s take on depression is one of the more approachable. In her novel, Mr Chartwell, she tells the story of Winston Churchill’s notorious fight with the disorder. She uses an actual black dog to depict the depression that weighs down an individual. In one scene we see Churchill sitting in his study as the black dog crunches on rocks, slobbers on the rug and badmouths Churchill. While the scene itself is relatively surreal and outlandish the actual act of frustration and the feeling of being downtrodden by something external is awfully similar to how many feel on a “bad day”.

I also wanted to write this to explain why the blog is rather sporadic at times. Sometimes it takes a lot of strength just to get out of bed, let alone get my brain in gear to write about books. It feels great to have written this. Over the last five years I’ve suffered so much in life, depression knocked my confidence for six and I never wanted to be around people or talk to anyone. Now, that is changing. Feel free to suggest other books or your own stories of depression in the comments.

NOTE: I’m not writing this to say “this is the best way to cure depression” or “that will help most” – I just wanted to tell my story. I know of people who found help in exercise, some who get by with baking and of course there are plenty of people writing. Books do it for me, as did finding help from friends and family. One day I hope to find that my black dog has run away from home.

The best website I ever found to help with my problems was Dancing With The Black Dog.

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20 thoughts on “Me and My Black Dog

  1. notesoflifeuk

    It’s not often a blog post has me in tears by the end of the second paragraph. Words can’t describe what you both must have been through (and are going through), but deep down I believe you both are so strong (despite that black dog).

    I can’t really say I’ve ever been really depressed, but I’ve had dark days, especially this year with having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (it frustrates me somewhat that I can’t do everything I want to do because I’m so tired all that time). I’ve seen what depression can do to people (my dad had a breakdown when I was a kid, a friend has attempted suicide on more than 1 occassion and there are 3 suicides in my family tree – 2 of which are direct ancestors), so I firmly believe it talking about how you feel or even just writing about it if you don’t feel you can talk.

    I’m glad you’ve found help in books, whether it’s escapism or actual self-help.

    Am I right in thinking you enjoy sketching/drawing etc? If so, I’ve just been sent a book to review called Fill In The Blank and I’m sure it would be quite theaputic and enjoyable for you. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you in the direction of the publishers (they’re a wonderful bunch and I’m sure they’d send you a copy!).

    Reply
    1. Dog Ear Post author

      Thanks for stopping by and reading. I’m sorry to hear of how depression has struck your family – it really is a damaging illness. One of my best friends killed herself some years back and it was a shock as nobody knew why she did it. I hate that it is such an insular problem.

      Yes, I do enjoy drawing, that sounds like a great book for me do let me know the details 🙂

      Reply
  2. Alex in Leeds

    Having previously loved and lived with someone who had his own, sometimes remarkably vicious, black dog, my heart goes out to you and your wife. Reading can definitely help those of us who are trying to understand the condition and provide better support too.

    Reply
  3. debbierodgers

    Thank you for sharing your story. My heart aches for you both.

    I, too, found Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar to be helpful during my darkest days, but I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for a wonderful psychiatrist – and medication that I will likely take for the rest of my life.

    As you said, each person finds his or her way to mastering the black dog and I join you in urging anyone struggling to KEEP looking, KEEP trying, KEEP talking, KEEP living. The solution is out there and the dog can be trained to leave us alone.

    Reply
    1. Dog Ear Post author

      Thank you for taking time to read my story.

      Yes, I didn’t mention medication and therapy that much but both have helped me no end. Without those, the basis of my suffering wouldn’t be explored.

      Reply
  4. Lindsay

    A brave and eloquent post Dan, thank you for writing this. I’m so sorry for what you have been through. I’ve had a cry reading this. You have expressed it all so well. I have suffered from depression for much of my life and it is a difficult, destructive illness that I have found very difficult to talk about. I have also found reading a help and am greateful for the periods of time when I am able to concentrate on a book.

    Reply
    1. Dog Ear Post author

      Thanks for reading Lindsay. Depression is a monster of an illness, it never really leaves you alone. Even on the good days, I’m sure like me, you just end up waiting for the downward dip. I hope that one day we can all just be honest and stand up to depression, tell it where to go and live a happier life.

      Reply
  5. Heather

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, Dan. I know something like this takes a lot of courage. Although I have had a few bouts of depression, it has never lasted for an extended period of time. I can only imagine how it would have affected so much of my life had it gone on longer in each instance.

    Reply
  6. Davsk (@hellodavsk)

    Dan, thanks for writing this. I came across it while searching specifically for the words Black Dog in Twitter. I’m currently going through a pretty dark patch and I find it helps to read/hear about the experiences of others, and how ultimately there is light (and life) at the end of the tunnel.

    As Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

    Reply
    1. Dog Ear Post author

      Churchill definitely said it best and he experienced hell with his black dog. I’m glad you stopped by to read and that it helped in some way. There is definitely light surrounding your dark patch, you’ll get there!

      Reply
  7. Pauline

    Thanks Dan
    I too have suffered from depression, which came from absolutely nowhere! It is not always the result of a devasting loss such as you and your family experienced. Nothing in my life had changed and yet I was suddenly consumed with guilt and anxiety. It was completely overwhelming. Sadly I couln’t even read, which as a writer had always been a huge part of my life. I suddenly snapped out of it after a few weeks but now realise I should have sought medical help as I came frighteningly close to suicide. The human mind is a very strange thing.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: On mental health, and reaching out. « failnaut

  9. Lizzi

    You are very brave for writing this and I must say I really admire that. I love hearing people’s determination to keep going and not to give in to those feelings. There is so much to live for and so many wonderful things in the world, and books are a huge part of that. I find their mere existence very encouraging! Thanks Dan 🙂

    Reply
  10. claireking9

    Hello Dan,
    I’ve been waiting to get back to my computer so I could leave you a proper reply to this. I see that others have already said pretty much what I wanted to say. Depression is a tremendously difficult challenge for a sufferer or those around that person to surmount, because of course unlike other challenges, depression knocks out the very thing that gives you the courage to face it.
    I hope you know that you have a lot of support around you (even virtually) from people who understand, and I’m glad you’ve found some respite in books.

    Reply
    1. Dog Ear Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Claire. If it wasn’t for the self built support network of family, friends (including the virtual kind) and books, I would be in total despair constantly. Thankfully they bring moments of peace to an otherwise busy mind.

      Reply

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