My experience with the black dog
Posted Tuesday 18 October 2011
This a guest blog from Martin, who describes his experience of depression and how his dog Moose has helped him through.
I’m not sure if what I have experienced at my lowest points is clear-cut depression. More often it’s been a swirling mix of anxiety and obsessive thoughts (laced with OCD) and those violent negative thoughts that launch themselves at the jugular, ‘you’re a disaster, everything will go wrong, what’s the point anyway’.
These words seem so clichéd but when they appear in my head at 5am they look terribly impressive and original. I twist over and pull the duvet tighter. It doesn’t. When the rare moment comes that I sink into a pure depression, a feeling of deep blue, it’s a relative respite from the madness – like listening to a long low note as opposed to a cacophony of instruments trying to be heard over each other.
I take anti-depressants. I’ve taken them since my early twenties and now in my late thirties I realise I will do so for the rest of my life. Fluoxetine 20mg times two daily, down the hatch with a swig of water. The other day I calculated that I’ve ingested more that my entire body weight in those things. But I’ve long got over beating myself up about it. They help enormously and on the whole I live a very fruitful life as a photographer and writer, only slipping low a few times a year. In those moments I feel I’m walking through a huge vat of emotional treacle. I’m lucky enough to have friends and family that can help push me onwards.
I also have a dog called Moose. A Mini Schnauzer who loves broccoli and whose hair is too long. I throw a stick out ahead, hang on to the lead and he drags me forward through that emotional treacle too. Out to the park we go, to do the simple things – walk, breathe, laugh at him chasing squirrels, pick up poo in bags. Ha! I love the simplicity he brings to life: sleeping when he needs to sleep, running when he wants to run, being happy when he is happy, lying in his bed with one eye open, watching me pace around the flat when he is more pensive. He greets me when I open the door with a huge leap and lick.
I’ve done the therapy and meditation and flotation tanks and healing magnets and wheat free pancakes and morning headstands while chanting mysterious mantras. I’ve read the self-help books and drunk the special herbal teas. Call me old fashioned but none seem to work as well as 40mg of pills bolstered with a walk in the park with Moose.
The more I’ve become accustomed to my depression the more I have used it in my photography and writing. There are lots of nutrients in the dark goo at the bottom of our minds, as long as you're not too scared to delve into it. Last year I did a series of photographs of dogs in cars all shot at night that was totally inspired by that terrible feeling of aloneness and fear that is attendant to depression. They did very well, being shown in galleries around the world, I think for the most part because they came from somewhere very deep and true.
Clearly dogs are my muses. I find them so expressive, honest and simple. I have also written and photographed a small photography book about depression but told through the eyes of Moose. Hopefully it’s funny and quirky. It’s called My Name is Moose and it’s about how he doesn’t understand why his master seems so sad and decides that he must find the ‘black dog’ that is causing all the trouble. I wrote it after experiencing a down-turn in my commissions and the effects of the recession and realising how immune dogs were from all the human worries – after all there are still plenty of sticks in the park and air to breathe. But I wanted the story to be light and playful. I’m now working on a new book, it’s a self-help parody but written by Moose, with tips on finding happiness from a dog’s point of view (‘Love thy neighbour’ is written next to a photo of Moose sniffing a dog’s bum).
I feel somewhat proud to have suffered from depression. It’s added a dimension to my life that has been undoubtedly painful but also enlightening. I have travelled places that people who have not experienced depression could never go. I’ve gone to the deserts, the frozen lakes, the windy mountains. I’ve seen into deep craters and felt the hot lava flows of the soul. And although those places are wild, dangerous and scary, they also have a stark beauty.
And I have a deep connection with others that have weathered that route, as though we are tired travelers that meet in a small hut at the edge of the mountain to compare notes. If you are reading this and you recognise my words, I don’t know you at all… but I do know you. Please get in touch if you have anything to say or would like to compare notes. Moose and I would love to hear from you.
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