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Walking The Black Dog: Living with Depression

black-dogI’ve struggled for years with depression since I was in junior high. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed or medicated, but I know that I’ve spent some time walking the black dog.

If you’ve never heard this phrase before, you’re probably not alone in that. It’s not an incredibly popular phrase, but it’s definitely something a history major like me would use to describe his situation. You see, phrase was first used by writer Samuel Johnson and then brought into the modern vernacular by Winston Churchill.1

Perhaps this video will help to explain a bit:

I hope that helps a bit to explain the analogy and what it feels like to live with depression. (I imagine that some of you reading this don’t struggle with depression in your own lives but maybe a loved one does.) I saw this video a month or two ago, and it has stuck with me as a perfect metaphor for how I’ve felt off an on over the past two decades.

Now, let me caution you with If you’re reading this post to find a solution for your struggle with depression: I don’t have an answer for you. What I do have are some brief thoughts about how I try to manage my symptoms and struggles.

1. Understand your symptoms & triggers
I have several triggers that cause me to slip into depression. The biggest is exhaustion. If I don’t get enough sleep, my physical health is effected, of course, but my emotional and mental health is devastated. Secondly, I have this tendency to let others negative energy/attitudes spill over into my spirit. I pick up their despair and make it my own; I blame myself for the moods and miseries of other people. This terrible habit is compounded, of course, when this person expressed their bad mood by criticizing me. I’ll let those worlds rumble and tumble around in my head all day. I’m very quick to forget that God has set my value and my identity, valuing me at the high price of Jesus’ life and calling me out my darkness and rebellion so that I might become His son.

2. Know your needs
I’m the type of person who will work and work and work and never take time for to recharge myself. I need to be recharged regularly, daily even. Watching TV is relaxing but not recharging. For me, to recharge, I need quite time, time with my Bible and worship. If I don’t get that time or if that time is rushed, my mental health suffers and enter a downward spiral of negative thinking, negative behavior, guilt/regret, rinse, repeat.

Of course, tied into these first two for me is my introverted nature. I like being around people, but they don’t recharge me. They drain me. That means that I have to make sure I maintain a healthy balance of human interaction: too little and I’ll withdraw into myself; too much and I’ll wear myself out. Honestly, that’s a big part of this whole thing: bringing balance into your life.

3. Depend on others
This is huge because there’s very little chance of a person who is living with depression finding and maintaining balance in their lives without outside help. Depression is an energy destroyer and maintaining balance takes energy. You need people who can watch out for you and lovingly let you know if the see you starting to lose balance. Beyond that, loving support is critical as depression makes you feel isolated and alone. Having people around you doesn’t solve your problems, but at least you don’t have to walk through it alone.

There’s one more thing that I rely on to help my with depression, but I’m not going to add it to this list because it both transcends the list while also being weaved throughout it: my relationship with God. My faith in Jesus is not some escapist way of coping with difficulty; my faith in Him is trust born out of past experiences and support and a present confidence that He’ll continue to help me through. I’m not stupid enough to say that if you read your Bible and pray you won’t struggle with depression, but I’m also wise enough to know that you’ll never find lasting victory until you’ve found a lasting hope, hope that points beyond this life to a life where joy and peace will be the norm and depression and gloom will defeated forever.

I’ll close this post off with two very powerful passages of scripture that have meant so much to me in my struggles:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you….
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42 NIV

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13 NIV

Clearly, the writers of both these passages understood depression in some manner or another, but they also understand that the best response to the black dog, the One who can help you to make this dog heel, is God.

Photo Credit: H.KoPP via Compfight cc

  1. Here’s a paper that goes in to detail about it, though I honestly haven’t read it. 

2 replies on “Walking The Black Dog: Living with Depression”

Thanks, Mandy. It’s becoming an epidemic as we continue to fill our lives with more activity, leaving less room for the natural rhythm of life and God.

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