It was back in 2003 when I first heard the term “black dog”, Sir Winston Churchill’s famous description for his depression. That term immediately conjured up a powerful image of a mean and snarling black dog that was harassing a cornered sufferer – and from then on, whenever I thought of depression “black dog” would follow.
Four years later, I would learn that I suffer from depression myself. As a result, “black dog” became vivid and personal. If I was feeling down and someone asked me how I was, I would tell them something like “the black dog is biting” (if it felt particularly savage) or “gnawing” (if it was troubling).
Late last year, when a friend directed me to Graeme Cowan’s Back From The Brink, I discovered another intriguing description for depression, courtesy of Australian poet Les Murray – “black spinach”. Those words suggested a dense and ugly black mass that crowded a mind and filled it with despair.
Not long after adding “black spinach” to my lexicon, I came up with my own term for depression.
Late in 2009, I spent a week working on a demanding and difficult project at work. Fortunately, it would have a happy ending that included high praise from a manager – but until then, there were long days spent in a crowded and small windowless room as five or more of us raced against time to meet our deadline.
That environment led to a pressure building within my head that became so powerful it felt like a physical object. One morning during that week, I was walking to work through Hyde Park when my head felt heavy and I struggled for a moment to keep my chin up. That was very frustrating and grim, indeed.
When I eventually lifted up my head, a vivid image suddenly came to mind – a small black sinister cloud within my skull, completely blotting my brain from sight.
Fortunately, picturing that black cloud encouraged me to focus on my breathing, keep walking and stay calm. Soon, I no longer felt the black cloud was there, and I was better.
From time to time, the black dogs and spinach and clouds return. Fortunately, as time passes I learn how to better deal with them when they do – I stay calm, take time out if possible and always remember one of my most important credos.
Until next time, stay well and take care 🙂