Black Dogs of Depression
The black dogs of depression began sniffing near my heels on a recent day. I felt them creep toward my eyes and produce tears that brimmed in my lower lids like cups too full yet not quite spilled.
Dense, dark clouds blocking the sun validated the day’s forecast of heavy winds, rain, maybe tornadoes. The lack of blue sky and sunlight helped me rationalize the weighty thoughts and feelings springing into my psyche. Those feelings, however, reflected more than weather woes, more than the occasional dark day in my usually sunny Florida skies.
Sensing the black dogs approach, I gazed beyond the sky, knowing that more than clouds beckoned them near. Depression having been my nemesis for years beyond which I can count, when its dark scent heralds demons coming my way, I’ve gained the wisdom to know it’s a matter of life for me to act. If I don’t, the black dogs and all they entail might overcome me.
I sharpen my senses and begin the critical task of surveying my environment. I am aware that what I see, when I sleep, what I eat, where I go—or don’t go—and my actions and reactions either sustain my soul or provide a feast to lure the dark beasts nipping at me. To quell the beasts’ advance, I ask: What scraps of life have I tossed their way that they circle round me, salivating for more?
The question and its answers are essential because once the feeding begins, such beasts are never satiated; they will circle, sniff, and tug at my soul, until my most vulnerable marrow is exposed. Indeed, I ask, what scraps of life have enticed them? What did I choose from the “Menu for the Black Dogs of Depression” and put on the plate of my life?
Menu for the Black Dogs of Depression
Feed Them and They Will Keep Coming Back for More
Loneliness: Isolate yourself. Avoid social contact and interactions.
The God Hole: Fill the God hole with stuff, distraction, sensation—anything that isn’t spiritually enlightening and sustaining.
Sloth: Black dogs drool when they spy the vulnerable wasting time, frittering away opportunity, and letting food-crusted dishes, clutter, sweat-stained laundry, and dirt accumulate.
Junk Food: High-sugar, high-fat, white-flour-laden, nutrient-lacking food, and a scarcity of fruits and vegetables open a path for the dark side to edge into your psyche and provide a platter to serve up the scraps of your soul.
Alcohol and Drugs: Soul-killing substances are top of the menu for seeding dark clouds—and days and nights—of the soul.
Negative, parasitic people: Those who suck the life out of you, people who sap your time, energy, and strength—physical and emotional—leave little to ward off the nipping canines that howl, growl, and seek a place to sink their teeth.
Garbage In/Black Dogs In, Too: Words, music, movies, videos, angry rants, and rage, all rent a kink in the armor of your psyche where the black dogs can latch and then hold on.
Menu in front of me, appetizers, entrees, and desserts scanned, I noted the items on my order: isolation, lack of exercise, poor diet. Awareness was my first step away from the snarling, salivating beasts. Next, connection, exercise, and eating well made them fall back into the shadows, far from my heels, far from my psyche.
I remain alert, aware, and watchful because these carriers of depression aren’t cute, they aren’t cuddly; you don’t want to bring them home. These fierce, snarling, destructive hounds of hell will never be full. They are rarely satisfied. Leave a place in your life or heart open, and they charge, hungry, and cruel. When you refuse to provide them a single entrée from their life-wrenching menu, they will back away, heads low, tails between their legs, but nonetheless sniffing and ever-alert for their next meal.
I have power in the tools I use to keep the black dogs in the shadows where they belong. I keep those tools close by, knowing that life—and my menu—are likely to change.
From where I sit this day, my heart holds no fear of those recent dark days. The black dogs have trotted away and neither do I anticipate nor am I wary of their return. These feelings of safety, security, and serenity are a result of me seizing the gift of awareness—and giving my heart, my psyche, and my soul the care I deserve.
Depression enters and becomes a part of one’s life and heart for many reasons and wears many faces—not all as dark as described here. I must be watchful in all facets of my life to maintain the edge of awareness necessary for me to keep the dark side at bay.
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The term black dogs of depression is nothing more than a metaphor. I mean neither disrespect nor disservice to black dogs when I use this term. My two mixed-breed Black Lab/Virginia coon hounds will vouch for me.
Important Information About Depression
Mild depression and situational depression are not unusual at unsettled stages of our lives. That unsettled aspect often lends the name adjustment disorder to such forms of depression. When our lives are askew, it is more important to be aware and not entice the black dogs with items from the menu presented earlier. Situational depression can often be addressed, soothed, and ended by positive lifestyle activities and choices.
NOTE: It is important to be aware that clinical depression is a serious, sometimes life-threatening condition and must be treated by a mental health professional. If you or someone you know or love has or shows signs of depression, it is of utmost importance to receive help right away. Signs of depression and resources for information and treatment follow.
Signs of Depression
Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or unhappiness
Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over small matters
Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, such as sex
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
Tiredness and lack of energy, so that even small tasks take extra effort
Changes in appetite—often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
Anxiety, agitation or restlessness—for example, excessive worrying, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that are not your responsibility
Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
Frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
The following links provide more information on depression: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/detecting-depression
Google the term depression for additional resources for depression and anxiety.