The Black Dog of Depression

Captain’s Log   5,890

Everybody is writing about Robin Williams.  I heard the news at work yesterday afternoon, and yes….it was shocking.   It was shocking but not surprising.  We all have a story.  We all have a dragon.  Sometimes, we have more than one.  Sometimes, the dragon wins.

I have been around depression my entire life.  My mother suffered from it.  So did her mother.  So did my mother’s siblings.   Cousins too.  Add in a big dose of alcoholism (grandfather and an uncle), and that’s what constitutes the 50% of my DNA contributed by my mother’s heritage.   Not as much is known about my father’s side of the family.  His father basically abandoned my dad (who was just 16 years old at the time) and his older brother after their mother died and he took off to live in New Jersey.  That was a mess too for a long time.  My father committed the big sin of marrying my Catholic mother, and he was not welcome in my grandfather’s house for a very long time.  Religion and mental illness dividing families for centuries.

I grew up in a small town where suicide was rampant.  I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have known who chose this path.  I counted them up several years ago and it was 20 or more.  From the neighbor down the lane to my classmate since kindergarten…..from my best friend’s nephew to the fellow I once thought I was going to marry….it’s been the choice of nightmares.  As hard as it is for the person suffering, it is just as difficult for those who remain.  Several years after my boyfriend killed himself, his father did it too.  The suffering the family endured was pure hell.

There is no magic answer to stop this.  But it’s important to know that this isn’t about being sad.  This isn’t about thinking happy thoughts and it will go away.  Depression is pervasive and cruel.  It erodes self-confidence, desire, hope, and more.  Nobody is going to “snap out of it” and just get better.

I consider myself so fortunate that the “black dog” of this disease has never taken up residence in my emotional home.  Yes, I have suffered intense sadness at times, but it passes and does not impede my life.  I am also fortunate that I am not an alcoholic or substance abuser.  There are so many times I remember picking my grandfather up when he had fallen in the snow….or collapsed on the sidewalk on our way home from “getting the mail.”  That was hit pet phrase for going to the bar.  I often went along to guide him home.  I was just a small child but I thought that was what kids were supposed to do.

And then I watched my very funny mother slip into times of intense darkness that frightened me beyond belief.  My sister had already moved away when this all started, so it’s almost as if we were raised by two different mothers.  Hers was carefree and fun-loving.  Mine was carefree and fun-loving and punctuated with long spells of my mother sitting around in a Thorazine haze.  It would come and go.  The black dog made many, many visits.

I was frightened that the black dog would someday come for me.  So far, I have been spared.  But I know nobody is really immune.  I do think about it.  I don’t dwell on it, but it does cross my mind.

This is an excellent film about the black dog that won a victory over our dear Robin Williams.  How dare I say “our” Robin Williams.  But he was “ours.”  He anointed our souls with his grace, giving us permission to claim him.  I have never seen depression described so well.  We cannot do any more for him, but we can certainly be supportive of our friends and family who deal with this very serious illness.  Please watch it.  Become more aware of what it means.



Filed under Captain Poolie's observations

19 responses to “The Black Dog of Depression

  1. poundheadhere

    It is the height of conceit for someone to tell a depressed person to snap out of it. Do we say that to someone with the flu? How about a broken leg? Yet we think nothing of doing so with mental illness of any kind. Maybe we should start calling it something else. Broken mind. Mental flu. Emotionitis. I don’t know. SOMETHING so people will get that it is a sickness, and that it requires medical intervention to control it – and that more than likely it is a chronic illness. I lived through it and came out on the other side more or less intact, but even all these years later there are times it threatens to smack me in the face all over again.

  2. This is a great video… thanks for posting it.

  3. Bi polar they call it now. He self medicated, as many do, to create a feeling of normalicy in his life. Many do. I see them often. The meds they are given them is a trade off. Often they wipe out the creativity and create a balance that the patient hates. So off the meds they go back to alcohol and street drugs. Some are lucky. There’s SAD, and the effects of that kind of depression can be mitigated by light. BiPolar hasn’t a cure yet. Someday, but until that day comes we will lose many Robin Williams.

    Sllim also died. 89 years. Speaking of talent.

  4. Patty O'

    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful post and for the video as well.

  5. Valerie

    Thank you for sharing these very personal experiences. I too, am very fortunate to not have been infected with the depression demon yet. Because of that I find it so difficult to understand depression at times – although my Lauren suffers from clinical depression and I’m sure that this is the reason my brilliant, smart girl has chosen to work as a waitress instead of using one of her 3 undergraduate degrees. There are times when I feel so sad to hear how professionally successful my friends’ kids are – but there are other days that I consider the facts that Lauren gets out of bed everyday, goes to a job that doesn’t cause her great stress, pays rent on an apartment, pays her student loan bills, takes care of a dog, and goes out with a group of friends to be HER successes and I’m thankful that she is not only functioning well, but that she finally has a group of friends who accept the person she is… as opposed to the very driven, ambitious friends that she was surrounded by in high school and college. Thanks for letting ME share this with you.

  6. joanie

    Great video. Also, what great insight and compassion you’ve acquired from your own experience with this in your family. Of course, I’ve known that about you for a long time. Anyway, I will miss Robin Williams’ comic genius. A surprise but not a shock that he took this route after knowing about only some of his demons. RIP Robin.

  7. I’ve written this elsewhere today, but there is little cross-reading among those sites. We all knew that Robin was manic — he could make me crazy with ten minutes of ad lib comments — but most of us never knew about his depression.

    Those of us who are familiar with manic-depression or bipolarism now say, “Oh-h-h-h, of course!” But diagnosed or not, that is a very hard life to live without the proper support.

  8. I know some people with this terrible intrusion into their lives. It’s much like going through grief. People just say “get over it” but sometimes you can’t do it that quickly. I’m glad you and Barb have managed to keep the black dogs of life away.

  9. maryz

    It is tough – so many families are touched (mine included).

  10. bholles

    Very well written. We both lucked out on the depression.

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