The Black Dog

I can tell when he’s about to visit. I get away from daily meditating, writing, and working out with a sense of discipline. I always seem to falter and recede into a sadder, darker, and cynical place.

What’s different this time is that I’m not staying in this place–the bottom of the well–for as long before recognition alerts me where I am, and I begin to gather up my things, wipe off the dirt and the shit, and slowly climb out.

Have you ever met someone who was truly happy? Not “Seems Pretty Happy Most of the Time”, but someone who, in spite of Life taking a well-leveled punch at them from time to time, they remain firmly committed to happiness as their set-point? I suppose I have. I have evidence these people exist. I have evidence that it’s possible to be one of those people. What I’m learning to ask in honesty is not so much “Can I become someone who is genuinely happy and content?” but, “Do I really want to?”

When I’m honest with myself, sometimes I actually like being sad, down, and with moments of lean, hardened, cynical negativity.  I think it fuels me, even though it’s heavy, slow to burn off, and smells rotten, like sulfur. These moments balance me. They are reminders of who I was a lot of the time before I became awake and aware, and reminders of who I do not want to be again. They stop me, and warn me that I need to check myself before I wreck myself. Eventually, I become so disgusted by my inertia that I start writing, meditating, and working out again because I’ve become thoroughly disgusted with myself.

I think it’s time I come out of this final closet. The Depression Closet…or, as I mentioned, more like a deep well with a cushion and a fire pit at its bottom. Oh–and a rope ladder, somewhere. I always remember where I stashed the ladder…eventually. My depression has been my shameful secret lover since I was a teenager. It’s lead me to make some choices that have had some fucked up consequences, and it has helped me produce some of my finest writing, creativity, and original thoughts. Depression has made me a kinder person, a more discerning person, and I can speak its complex language with others and their dialects, though their experiences with it are as vastly different as snowflakes.

My depression is a Black Dog, old, with a gray muzzle, red-rimmed eyes, and wet fur. He shows up at my doorstep a couple of times a year, comes inside, and lies down at my feet–or on them. He follows me everywhere. Though he is usually quiet, he demands food and water. His food is my motivation, my creativity, and my giving a fuck, and if he’s really hungry, his favorite meal is my self-worth. He takes my tears for water, so I cannot cry, cannot have that sweet, wet release that helps me let go and let God. He parches me and keeps me from it. He is my familiar, my loyal companion, and he has never let me down.

In the past, when I would feel him approaching (I always know he’s on his way days before his arrival) I would bar the door and windows, ignore his presence, do anything possible–alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, sex, food, porn, television, cigarettes, and more sex–to defend against him. It always made it worse. He wasn’t quiet during those days. He would snarl and bark, hurling himself at the door, knocking it in with a huff and a puff, climb on top of my chest, and pin me to the bed with all of his weight until I acknowledged him. Then he would bite my heart and feed on me with a vengeance.

The Black Dog has helped me learn that my enemy is my greatest teacher; that not accepting “what is” only leads to greater, and sometimes chronic, suffering. The Black Dog has taught me that my fear of him makes him stronger, wild and vicious, and my curiosity to know him better makes him tamer.

Perhaps the Black Dog was sent to help me, not hurt me. Perhaps he shows me how I might bring this openness and this perspective to another person who is fighting a losing battle with their own form of depression. I stopped resisting mine. I opened my door. “Oh. You again,” I said, and with a sigh, “Come on in.” Only this time I added, “You can stay. Just not as long, okay? I’ve got some shit to do.” He grumbled a little but he acquiesced. I think the Black Dog respects me now, and I’ve learned to respect him, too.

5 Replies to “The Black Dog”

  1. This is one of the best descriptions of intermittent depression I’ve ever read. I know that inertia and the frustration of being in that hole. I like thinking of depression as an old black dog who visits occasionally but who will leave when it’s acknowledged and petted a bit. I can do that. I can make peace with that old dog and not fight and resist to the point of exhaustion.
    Thank you, Kevin.

    1. You’re welcome! I found it helpful to make my depression into something tangible, and something I could identify with, rather than have it be this hard to pin down “force”…using narrative was useful in the healing process… And the awareness that it’s all good, all useful, if I allow it to pierce me fully… I am so glad the post resonated with you, and thank you for following me!

  2. I wish I could reach through this screen and give you a huge hug. And I wish that hug would be enough. I’ve been courting my own black dog for a while. Finally two weeks ago, I decided I had to acknowledge him and make some effort to live peacefully with him.

    Know you are not alone. You’re never alone, even when your black dog tries to convince you otherwise.

    1. Bless you for your sweet reply, Rick. There’s a Rumi quote that says something about, “Leave both doors open–the front door to welcome everyone and everything in, and the back door, too…so unwelcome guests will eventually leave.” I’m paraphrasing…but it does help. Everything is welcome. Every situation is this moment’s teacher. I wish you well, dear man, and hope to meet you one day.

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