The Black Dog (10 years on) 2: TECTONIC VULNERABILITY…


The thing about volcanoes is that they’re as immovable as mountains. Rock solid in fact. But of course that’s the deception of appearances. And in geological terms, they’re savage beasts, easily provoked to ire by invisible tectonic interference.

It probably seems a totally incongruous metaphor for the Black Dog – but probably only to those whom he’s never pursued. Because there is something so irrational, so mysterious, so dark even about so-called depression that it is as destabilising as a major geological event.

In fact, the most surprising thing to me is its physicality and … well… vigour (though that’s not quite the right word – its connotations are too positive). I commented on this before when discussing William Styron’s extraordinary Darkness Visible. And this is the main reason I find the notion of ‘feeling low’ such an irrelevance. We all have times when we ‘feel a bit down’, and often all that’s required is a hot bath, an early night, or taking the dog for a walk. If only that was it… But with the real dog, it’s almost painful to be encouraged by a well-meaning friend to try them (as if that’ll do the trick). We just know it’s not as simple as that.

Of course, I have found hot baths, early nights, and taking the dog for a walk to have had value, even therapeutic value – I’m not denying that at all – they’re all good. They might help take the edge of things, at least. But they’re akin to the bandage on a weeping wound caused by a tumour.

So what exactly does I mean about the physicality?

van Gogh – Dr Gachet (1890)

Everyone’s different, so naturally it presents differently. I can only describe what I’ve found – especially at the worst moments. Here are a few:

So far, so odd. Does it seem weird to you? Perhaps you think pills are the answer? They are for some things no doubt. But definitely not for everything. For the black dog is much more than a physical problem (even though, surprisingly, it is not less than one).

For me, it is at times like living in a dark, dank, deeply dispiriting cave. But feelings are the story of the next post… and I know you really can’t wait for that one… 😉

In the meantime, here’s a little provocation – what if we offered the kind of advice sometimes given for depression to other types of affliction?