Thursday, November 08, 2012

Black dogs and bath mats

Some people are visited by the black dog. Others talk of feeling "low". The early Quaker George Fox wrote about an ocean of darkness. Whatever the euphemism, let's face it. We're talking about the good old elephant in the room - depression.

Most people have experienced some low points in life. For some, they are triggers for episodes of depression. Many sortof carry on as best they can, managing to maintain the illusion of normality, and eventually come out the other side. Others who can't are made to feel inadequate or even guilty because it's not possibly to snap out of it or even conceive of a life beyond the blackness.

A few years ago a friend who knew from experience lent me a book called "Taming the Black Dog". It's a comic book designed for people suffering from depression or anxiety and those close to them. It describes the negative thoughts that tend to take over, and how they become a cycle whereby more negative things tend to happen as a result of the negative thinking patterns.

I like the black dog analogy. My mum was telling me once about a black dog (an actual dog that happened to be black) that she was looking after. This black dog would follow her around wherever she went. There was an element of comfort to it being there, but sometimes its presence got annoying and restricted what she could do. A defining moment was when she stepped out of the shower, and there was the black dog, sitting on the bathmat, and there was no room left for her feet.

The metaphorical black dog can be a bit the same. There's a comfort in the familiarity of the negative thoughts following you around and the fact that they give you an excuse for inaction and cowardly decisions. But sometimes you have a moment where you open the shower door and realise that the black dog sitting on the bath mat leaving no room for your feet is no longer helpful. You can't just get rid of it, but you can tame that dog.

The book my friend lent me offers tools for "taming" the black dog and suggestions for showing support for somebody caught in the fog of depression. It doesn't attribute blame or suggest unrealistic goals. It just offers a few steps for thinking differently, acting differently and for celebrating even the smallest indicators of progress. While I can't bring back the people in my life who eventually succumbed to the illness, I can try to be a supportive presence for others, and hopefully live my own life as a confident dog tamer rather than a wet bathmat when times get tough.

No comments: