- Winston Churchill called it his ‘black dog’
- you can’t catch it from someone else
- and no one wants to talk about it
What is it?
It is commonly known as depression and if you have recurring depression you might hear it called ‘manic depression’ or the new name for it is ‘bi-polar’ disease.
I have had on going depression since my teens and it comes and goes. My doctors have called it reactive depression, which means it rears it’s head every time my life goes through a major change. I agree with Churchill’s phrase ‘black dog’ is has i see my depression, or before i knew the phrase it was a menacing something lurking in the corner of the room waiting to pounce.
Thankfully most of the time i have kicked that ‘black dog’ back under the table where it belongs. Out of sight out of mind, but with a multiple of on going changes in my life at this moment i feel like the black dog has eaten me whole. Even my doctor is not surprised that i can no longer cope but didn’t add anything helpful to that statement.
However today i own up and with the help of Grace my daughter i went to see a counsellor. It was only an initial visit but i am including it in my no comfort zone because today i had to say to a complete stranger ‘i can no longer cope and no one is listening, not even my doctor’. In my saner moments i know that that is not true, i do have people who are listening but even they cannot continue to carry me and i have to be brave and start and learn to stand on my own two feet again. I have kicked the black dog under the table before and i can do it again, even if i need some help to get started.
This is what depression looks like from someone who knows; long dark tunnels with no exits, big black growling dogs that make you too afraid to sleep and too afraid to get out of bed. No one else can free you from these feelings but they can set out sign posts to help you free yourself.
This is how to tell if your friend is fighting off the black dog;
- if they have been depressed before it becomes more difficult each time to fight it off and the more it recurs the more likely it is to come back
- they start to avoid you, in person, on the telephone, they may not even answer your texts or your emails
- their sleeping patterns changes, they either can’t sleep or they can’t stay awake
- their eating patterns change, they either don’t eat or they eat and eat and eat, usually all the wrong stuff
- they never seem happy
- they avoid being in crowds
- they get sick more, more likely to pick up colds and stomach bugs, etc
- their routine changes, their house is either manically clean or looks like the neighbourhood have just brought all their rubbish over
What should you do?
- don’t ask them if they are alright – if you asked me i would say ‘i’m fine’
- don’t say ‘what do you want to eat?’ – just make them some food
- if the house is a mess, don’t tut at it, clean it up
- take them out
- spend time with them, they may not need a counsellor they may just need someone to talk to
- if you are going to leave or end the friendship, do it early, don’t wait 6 weeks and then walk away, be aware that you are in it for the long haul.
Remember mental illness is an invisible disease. I do not have big boils on my face and in the words of my doctor ‘you look ok’, looking ok or not, is not part of the illness. Some people will have low grade depression for many months or even years and then something happens in their lives and their mind switches off and nothing makes sense. You try and tell yourself – the sun is shining and the flowers are all appearing and i should be happy but i am not. Don’t wait for them to do something drastic before you help them, just knowing someone is there maybe all it takes to help them kick the black dog back where it belongs.
“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.” - Winston Churchill (1874-1965)