12 Years and Still Followed by the Black Dog

By SAC 04/02/19
The Black Dog

I am being pursued by the black dog. No offense to dogs but the black dog is what our cousins across the pond call depression. In a life of over 50 years I can honestly say that clinical depression has been my most faithful companion. Wherever life has taken me depression was always there to darken the best of days. 

I was first diagnosed with double depression (MDD and Dysthymia) 27 years ago by a very nice psychiatrist who put me on paxil. I was in full-blown psychoanalysis at the time, 4 days a week on the couch, and had begun to feel as if I was sinking down through the sofa cushions like a scene from "Get Out." (Great movie by the way). Between that and the spontaneous sobbing I got up from the couch and started to talk SSRIs. My analyst was none too keen on the idea. She was very good, but back then many therapists, especially psychoanalysts, regarded medication as a crutch. In retrospect I suppose it was a crutch or at least an expedient, but this crutch was as essential to my health and wellbeing as insulin or a statin.

In around 5 or 6 weeks I began to feel whole, not euphoric but able to get out of bed, fulfill responsibilities and interact with people without feeling like a visitor from outer space. I remember writing in my journal, "so this is what it's like to feel normal." To me normal was always my friend the black dog. A solitary child, my mother describes discovering me in the backyard facedown in the grass. Alarmed that I might be injured, I explained "I'm exploring the earth." 

Peculiar as a preschooler I was even odder during my elementary years. The appeal of sports eluded me, I liked art and science and my mother's record collection. There was a recording of Bruno Walter rehearsing the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Walter kept interrupting the orchestra after the first four ominous notes. He wanted more staccato, for each note to be loud and fast but also distinct. That sort of precision was difficult to get from orchestras in the 1950s and 60s who had been nourished on an inflated diet of Toscanini and Stokowski. That album started a lifelong love of classical music which is not something that holds much interest for the average American 8-year old. When other kids were dreaming of baseball mitts and playing street hockey, I was by myself fantasizing about them doing so.

It wasn't until a babysitter used it that I heard the word "faggot." I was 9, and asserted that boys were more interesting than girls. Even though I didn't know its meaning the word sounded nasty as if saying it left a sneer on your face. It was true; as long as I could remember I had had chaste but indicting dreams of bandaging limbs broken playing football and rescuing drowning boys from the ocean.

After hearing the F word my nascent feelings went underground; I became a counterfeit of myself and those seeds of shame matured into brambles and weeds of sadness. But the nature of depression is not only sadness, it is also numbness, anhedonia, or what my first sponsor called "life as an ocean of beige carpeting." Here to my mind is the connection between depression and addiction. Depression in remission only freed me from a relentless sadness, it did not make me happy. I never achieved full-throated joy until after I got sober.

A fourth and fifth step with a wise sponsor helped me recognize how the warped thinking of addiction drained life of all its color. Now when the black dog is nipping at my heels, I embrace the furry bitch and put my anguish into words. Sentences and stories -- like those we tell in meetings -- bring the bright colors back.

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