I can’t pinpoint when “Shadow” started following me but I know he’s been with me since my mid to late teens.
Who is Shadow? He’s my Black Dog ~ the name I gave my chronic depression.
I’m not entirely sure where the term black dog came from; the Oxford dictionary states the origin as being “from the late 18th century (earlier as a name used during Queen Anne’s reign for a bad shilling). Winston Churchill used the expression when alluding to his periodic bouts of depression.”
The Australian poet Les Murray says;
“It was the victim~sickness. Adrenalin howling in my head, the black dog was my brain. Come to drown in my breath was energy’s black hole, depression, compère of the predawn show. When, returned from a pee, you stew and welter in your death.”
You can read an interesting history of the expression “Black Dog” depicting depression here.
The charity SANE have adopted the black dog making it into their campaign to reduce stigma around mental illness and to encourage sufferers to find help earlier rather than later.
They specify their aims as being…
- To reduce stigma, prejudice and exclusion.
- Encourage sufferers to seek help.
- To stop the stigma by educating the public.
- To talk about mental health in schools, colleges and workplaces.
- Work to alter perception of mental illness.
- To demonstrate the need and importance of research.
- To get young people involved and talking about mental health in order to change the attitudes towards mental health of future generations.
You can access from the SANE website the support group called Black Dog Tribe which was the brainchild of Ruby Wax and Dr Nina Storms later supported and run by SANE. Initially designed as way to connect with other sufferers and feel less alone now with SANE being involved members can also access emotional support and services too.
On joining SANE Ruby said “It’s great that a new chapter is opening for Black Dog Tribe, and I’m delighted that by joining the SANE community, tribers will have additional support and be able to connect with even more like~minded people like me.”
I think “Shadow” materialised and started following me after prolonged bullying at boarding school. In desperation I did everything I could to get away from the bully and the institution where it was happening. I finally successfully managed to get expelled and flee from there when I was 16. I then lived at home with my grandma and parents, both my siblings remained at boarding school. During this time I became very close to my grandma, as I cared for her, bathed her and tended to her colostomy. She was my confidante and co~conspirator, so when she passed away when I was 18 I was devastated and felt exceptionally isolated and misunderstood by everyone around me which resulted in a suicide attempt. I took a bottle of pills and necked a bottle of whisky hoping to fall asleep and never wake up. Fortunately for me after a little while my body repelled and I spent 24 hours vomiting profusely, the following week all I could keep down were sips of fluids but miraculously I suffered no long term damage to my organs. Looking back I am mortified by my actions but at the time felt I had no alternative and was grieving along with feeling isolated from everyone around me, I could see no light, no hope, no future, I didn’t want to live and experience another day of overwhelming sorrow. My mum found my suicide letter and ensured I had therapy which helped a little. From then on Shadow has always been with me. Sometimes barely visible and other times dark and foreboding. Over the years I’ve been on various cocktails of anti~depressants along with seeing a number of therapists.
Although my suicide attempt failed, sadly my 16 year old cousin succeeded ~ it devastated his family and made me realise that no matter how much I didn’t want to go on that I couldn’t put my family through the experience my Aunt, Uncle and remaining cousin went through , that I had to do what I could to deal with it instead.
Whilst looking at depression leading to suicide I came across this website , which is a national suicide prevention charity in Australia founded by Steve Andrews in 2009. Since its beginning it has grown and now involves thousands of Australian motorbike riders. While on this website and reading their blog I came across a powerful poem by Jamie Davis, who suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. He wrote this poem whilst in a dark episode of his illness and shared it in the hope to help others. He also rode his motorbike in 2013 to support the charity. His description of depression resonates with me, the link to the page is here…
The Black Dog by Jamie Davis
Have you met the Black Dog?
Has he followed you late at night, in your dreams or in your mind?
He is cunning, and will lie in wait,
until he senses the time is right.
Then when you least expect it, he will pounce,
taking your freedom, your confidence, your courage.
Once he has you in his bite, he will control your life.
He will make you do things you never thought you could or should.
Those who have not met the Black Dog will not understand where you are,
or who you are, and they will not know where to find you, or your soul.
They will just see a different person, and won’t know why.
They will still care, still love you, and try to understand you.
But you have the Black Dog, he is your new friend.
He holds the power, and gives you his strength,
but his strength will bleed you dry.
He will show you the way to your new life,
but this new life you cannot sustain,
In the end you will put out your hand for help,
and those that love you will release you from the Black Dog’s bite.
But beware of the Black Dog, as he will always be there,
hiding and lurking somewhere.
You must respect the Black Dog, and be at the ready,
don’t let him get you, don’t let him win.
Now you hold the power, and you make the rules,
and, should that Black Dog cross your path,
you will know how to fight to redeem your life,
’cause that Black Dog is never as strong as the person he bites.
My journey with my black dog, Shadow, has been rocky but finally I think I have managed to face him and work out how to live with him. My last therapist helped me enormously to address my own self~awareness. What could trigger my depression and derail me, the signs to look for and coping strategies. When to recognise when something needs to be done and what to do. I fully believe in treating the mind and body holistically specially since being diagnosed with ME ~ a diagnosis which took years to obtain as having chronic depression meant that initially doctors put my symptoms and fatigue down to physical manifestations of stress and depression. Finally though the psychiatrists acknowledged that depression wasn’t causing my symptoms. Then a new GP recognised my symptoms as being indicative of ME leading to a hospital referral and official diagnosis. It frustrates me when ME sufferers are told ME is a psychological illness as it’s not, unlike my depression its biological and multi~systemic. However I do believe one can and does exacerbate the other which is why a holistic approach is important.
As for treatment, I feel everyone is different, therefore the approach to treatment needs to be bespoke to each individual, lifestyle changes, drug therapy and talking therapies all have their place ~ but the care plan needs personalising with input from the individual.
For me, my careplan is to take medication, try to self care by being kind to myself and learning when to step back and utilise talking therapy if needed. My husband and daughters all have various levels of depression too due to illness and trauma they have experienced. So we work together, supporting each other through bad spells and can advise when we feel professional help is necessary to help get over the hump.
I think it is essential to recognise when to talk about your worries, depression and emotions. The feelings of dread, loss of enthusiasm for life, lack of interest in anything, wanting to curl up and disengage from life, to “not be” are all signs that you need to seek help and support.
I now know that I have to talk about my thoughts instead of bottling them up until everything seems unmanageable. To turn around and face my Shadow, sit down with him and acknowledge his presence. Making him less terrifying and finding a way to live alongside him. Sometimes he runs amok and needs reining back in ~ but nowadays these episodes are less frequent and less destructive.
I hope that talking openly and writing/sharing blogs and articles about mental health issues will encourage conversations and get people talking, perhaps even result in someone recognising depression in themselves or someone close to them. To then seek help and hopefully prevent a suicide and save a life.
Life can get better, there is always hope and help available for you. Utilise helplines until referrals come through because sadly due to lack of funding waiting times are long but worth waiting for. We are currently waiting for DBT for my daughter with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) ~ we have another 4 months to wait at least and so helplines are crucial at the moment for her.
I have days when I don’t want to face the world and find myself crying for no reason that I can think of. When there is a deep hollow empty pit in my stomach which feels like it is going to swallow me whole. On these days I try to do something just for me, usually just something really small like have a small treat such as a plain chocolate bounty bar (oh my if you haven’t tried one you must!) or to colour in a mindfulness picture, it doesn’t matter what it is really just something to allow myself some time out and to recognise that this episode will pass. I find that really crying it out, sobbing ’til my eyes and nose are streaming and my face is a blotchy mess helps release built up tension. I take myself away from others if I feel that I don’t want to be with anyone, don’t shower or dress that day if it seems unsurmountable (and believe me with ME combined with depression this happens more frequently than I care to admit) or just stay in bed and have a duvet day ~ do what helps you and don’t worry how others perceive your actions, you know you and what helps you cope ~ so just remember whatever it is that’s okay!
Some useful links and numbers for help are below ~ please don’t hesitate and contact them today because you can reach a friendly caring voice to support you and help you seek help. Most of all don’t give up, it may seem hopeless now but there is a future and there will be brighter days ahead. I have used helplines in the past which have helped ground me and realize I am not alone.
- Samaritans: Telephone 116 123 (24 hours a day, free to call). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.samaritans.org ~ Provides confidential, non-judgmental emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those that could lead to suicide. You can phone, email, write a letter or in most cases talk to someone face to face.
- Mind Infoline: Telephone: 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm Monday to Friday). Email: email@example.com. Web site: www.mind.org.uk ~ Provides confidential mental health information services. With support and understanding, Mind enables people to make informed choices. The Infoline gives information on types of mental distress, where to get help, drug treatments, alternative therapies and advocacy. Mind has around 140 local Minds providing local mental health services.
- Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line: Telephone: 0300 5000 927 (10am-2pm Monday to Friday). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Website: www.rethink.org ~ Provides expert advice and information to people with mental health problems and those who care for them, as well as giving help to health professionals, employers and staff. Rethink also runs services and groups across England and Northern Ireland.
- Saneline: Telephone: 0300 304 7000 (6pm-11pm). Website: www.sane.org.uk ~ Saneline is a national mental health helpline providing information and support to people with mental health problems and those who support them.
- Childline: Telephone: 0800 1111. Website: www.childline.org.uk. ~ ChildLine is a private and confidential service for children and young people up to the age of nineteen. You can contact a ChildLine counsellor for free about anything – no problem is too big or too small.
- Elefriends: Website: elefriends.org.uk ~ Elefriends is a supportive online community where you can be yourself. Elefriends is run by Mind. If you’re a carer needing support you can contact all of the above as well as Carers Direct and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, both of whom are able to provide support and advice on any issues affecting you.