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Black dogs, black cats and dirty great Leviathans. Wednesday December 18, 2013

It was Winston Churchill who described his depression as a black dog. He was a man who liked cats.

My brother has a black dog. Her name is Shiraz, and she is a collie/shepherd/greyhound mix of faithfulness, affection and gentle fun. Shiraz is about as far away from depression as you can yet. In fact, she's a great help to my brother when he feels down – because there's nothing like the love of a good dog to make you feel better about yourself.

While that video you watched last week described pictorially how depression feels, many of you animal lovers out there felt it was very unfair to real black dogs. And you may be right. A fellow Moodscope blogger wrote about Oscar, the black therapy cat. There are many animals out there helping people when they suffer from depression. Some of those animals happen to be black.

The fact that the image was a dog was not that important. The message was about giving the depression a shape. The dog is a convenient shape as it is recognisable and familiar. It then makes sense that everyone has one of these shapes with them – just in lots of different breeds and sizes.

So what shape does yours take? Some time ago I wrote about my dirty grey leviathan which periodically swallows me up for days, weeks, months at a time.

Picturing it as a shape or animal in my mind helps me be less scared of it. In fact, because of the power of our minds, I can change its picture so that it becomes almost a cartoon, with rolling eyes and a swishing tail. Like the man in the video I can start to tame it, to reduce it in size. I can take steps to avoid its worst effects.

So picture your "monster" and then start to make it less scary in your mind. The days still come when it gets the better of you, but it's much easier to fight what you can see – even if you see it only in your mind's eye.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment on our Blogspot:

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deepukittu Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 8:04am

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The Entertrainer Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 9:03am

I remember learning about the 12 States of Awareness... sounds deep but it's easy.
We see, hear, or feel as our dominant conscious senses.
These senses are either internal (mind's eye) or external.
They are 'associated' or 'dissociated'.
So, with a MILD headache (CAPs as a warning - serious head pains - go to the Dr)... you notice how you represent it to yourself... the big grey leviathan?
As Mary so eloquently put it, she then changes its state.

For me, a headache usually has a grey/black cloud that is close to me - internal in fact. So I see it, it is internal, and I am associated with it.
Using my imagination (and most depressed people are intelligent and have a powerful imagination!), I imagineer the scenario where the cloud is pushed outside my head and put behind bullet-proof glass. (External-Dissociated). I then drip water on it and the grey/black 'colour' begins to run and fade.

Sounds a bit bonkers, but with mild toothache and mild headaches, it works - great on a plane. With mild depression too, it will give relief. But I never forget that depression and pain are their own messengers - they need to be paid attention to. My 'trick' is only to help give relief from the symptoms for awhile.

terencenic Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 10:28am

Yes, the cartoon with the black dog was very neat but I too have never seen my depression as a dog. This may be because I grew up with a lovable spaniel who assumed the responsibilities of a nanny. But for much of my life I have been shadowed by a menacing presence and have as yet been unable to explain it's origins.

Some years ago I was offered an unmissable opportunity, to crew on a racing yacht across the Pacific Ocean. It was a glorious experience full of excitement, fun and learning. At one point, days from land we were tanking along in the trade winds on a huge swell of deepest blue sea. I didn't have a care in the world, I was focused on my job of managing the spinnaker when I noticed a dark shape under the boat. A large whale, longer than our 60 foot yacht, had risen but without surfacing was just shadowing us from below. The immediate feelings of ominous dread mixed with excitement coming out of the blue were very familiar to me. This picture has remained with me and I use it as an aid when discussing the mixed messages of my bipolar condition.

Lynda Wise Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 11:06am

Brilliant. I say. Just brilliant. Thank you.

Dawn Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 1:28pm

very astute of you to notice that not everyone's mental image of depression is the same. Mine has never been black or grey but quite the opposite - bright red, like an internal bleeding. And instead of a deadness inside it's a screaming to do something to make it stop - usually something very harmful. I would be really interested to here if anyone else here experiences 'colourful' depression like this as I've never heard it described other than in dark colours.

phrixuscoyote Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 2:12pm

"Picturing it as a shape or animal in my mind helps me be less scared of it. In fact, because of the power of our minds, I can change its picture so that it becomes almost a cartoon, with rolling eyes and a swishing tail."

I never thought of it that way, no idea why - it's so simple. Thankyouthankyouthankyou for this post.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 3:51pm

I have a 'can of worms',most of the time the can is safely locked shut. Every so often though usually when things aren't going well, and something happens to remind me of previous traumas, the can starts to open and slowly but surely the worms start escaping. At first I don't usually notice but over time I now recognise the signs and can get help. I now have strategies in place to 'kill' them off or get them back into the can and lock it closed again.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 7:10pm

i wonder if its also that dogs are creatures which tend to follow their masters around with such intense loyalty. depression doesn't seem like a cat which saunters in and out of your realm... its definitely something which if it isn't in you, seems to loiter in the shadows until you feed it. c

Suzy Wed, Dec 18th 2013 @ 7:40pm

Great post as always Mary.
And I gotta share my new morning tune with you - try watching the video without smiling. Nigh on impossible! Pharrell Williams - Happy (Official Music Video) - YouTube -

Gitanjali Sondhi Thu, Dec 19th 2013 @ 10:43am

I kind of had the same reaction to the black dog but then I thought the message conveyed was more important. So I didn't comment. But it's interesting to see many people had the same reaction. I think people who feel low often rely on dogs. I myself have 3.

Daren Thu, Dec 26th 2013 @ 3:36am


Pharrell's "Happy" from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack is a fantastic song.

Although, I can imagine that for those accompanied by their big black dog, such an outwardly pronouncement of joy might be wholly rejected and out of tune.

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