Hello, my name is #BlackDogRunner and I have a black dog.
I call him Fido. He’s an evil life-sapping bastard to be honest with you. But Fido seems like a better name for a dog than ‘evil life-sapping bastard’. For one thing, it’s easier to say. For another, a common name like Fido seems more appropriate for something that is such an everyday part of my life.
Fido, of course, isn’t a real dog. He’s simply a symbol; of an intangible yet very real companion. Depression; or as I prefer to call it , ‘major depressive disorder‘.
As a metaphor for depression, black dogs like Fido have been explicitly pestering people for a fairly long time. Roman poet Horace is generally attributed with first objectifying his mental ill health as a black dog, as did Samuel Johnson (who I’m surprised didn’t use more flowery language, but then I suppose he invented the dictionary, not the thesaurus). The most famous black dog was undoubtedly the one belonging to Winston Churchill; allegedly one of the reason’s behind all the cigars and whisky. They might not be a very good way for treating depression, but at least whisky and cigars aren’t so socially taboo as, say, prozac.
Recently, the black dog symbol has reached a new prominence, thanks mostly to Matthew Johnson, author and illustrator of a spectacular series of short books on depression, which started with ‘I had a black dog‘ (now freely available a must-see YouTube video). Fido’s picture – and my blog’s banner, by the way, are taken from that YouTube video.
There’s no question in my mind that ‘I had a black dog‘ is a work of genius, and should probably be incorporated somehow into the training of all psychologists and psychiatrists. But as a metaphor for depression – I’ll be honest – I don’t actually like the black dog . Most dogs are friendly and loving, but even the nastiest ones aren’t really anything like depression. Yes, sometimes you end up smelling like wet-dog, and sometimes life can feel like you’ve been thoroughly slobbered all over, but – for me – the metaphor really falls short when trying to explain the shear emptiness that so often defines my depression, at least.
But in some ways that doesn’t matter. The black dog is, at least where mental illness is concerned, the symbol of the moment. It’s the symbol behind mental health community site Black Dog Tribe, and it’s the symbol behind Sane‘s (the mental health charity) awareness-raising Black Dog Campaign.
So, like it or not, I have decided to adopt the black dog, or more specifically my black dog – Fido – as a symbol in my personal quest to return to good mental health and to fight mental health stigma. Which is half of the reason I am calling myself #BlackDogRunner. The other half, if not already obvious, will be explained in a future post.
I like to think of myself like Batman. A masked vigilante dressed as something he doesn’t like. I admit, batman may be a tad more cool. And he probably has a bit more get up and go. So think of me more like batman at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. Sleeping in late, socially awkward, generally not doing that much. Except blogging. Did Batman do any blogging during his five years of convalescence? I like to think he did. Or maybe he was more into looking at cupcakes on Pinterest.
Anyway, by blogging and tweeting as Fido, I’m hoping to bring my illness out in the open a perhaps chip away at some of the misconceptions that make it so much harder living with mental illness. Depression may not be easy to cure, but there really is no excuse for ignorance and stigma.
P.S. As part of ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’, I have agreed to make the following pledge:
“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”