Winston Churchill is famous for a lot of things particularly some of the things he said. Perhaps the one thing that he said that resonates most with me are his comments about depression. Like many people in this world (great or otherwise), he was diagnosed with clinical depression. Mr Churchill referred to his diagnosis as the ‘Black Dog’. The fact that he gave his suffering a name would indicate that it was a constant companion. Throughout his life he often referred to the impact that his depression had on his life such as the time he stated that if he stood on a train platform he would like a pole between him and the oncoming train. It wasn’t fear of trains that made him say this. It was his fear of doing something irrational to ease his suffering. Winston Churchill was not the only great man to suffer. Abraham Lincoln also said that at times he was the “most miserable man alive”.
For a long time, depression came with a stigma attached. I’m sure there were many men and women misdiagnosed as being ‘crazy’ or ‘mental’ and spent the rest of their days in an insane asylum in days long gone. Certainly some of the symptoms associated with depression may give others rise to making the assumption of crazy. In this current time however, the stigma of having a mental illness (yes depression is classed as a mental illness) is not the same as it used to be. Today there are many options available to help those suffering overcome it and lead happy and healthy lives once more.
So where was I going with the black dog thing? That’s right… In medieval times a black dog was seen as a disguise of the devil. It was deemed bad luck to see a black dog and even worse if it had pups. Black dogs were seen as fiendish and threatening in folklore and if someone was sullen or upset, those around would say that a “black dog had walked over him”. The poor things really got a bad rap didn’t they? I guess I can understand why those who believed that they had reached the end of their tether and just wanted to crawl under the blankets and hide from the world used the description of a black dog to describe the way that they were feeling. The fact that a dog is a faithful companion could also be a factor in using the term.
So, I was thinking about this the other day and being the visual person that I am, my imagery of a black dog was that of a Labrador. There is nothing fiendish or cunning about that cute face (although those that own these dogs may beg to differ here – especially if they have lost sheets and towels from the clothes line). Possession of a big heart would preclude a Labrador from being described as evil. In actual fact, dog breeding sites list the Labrador as sunny, smart and hardworking. Most therapy and guide dogs are trained Labs. They love to play and will willingly engage in mischief without any prompting. Basically, a Labrador is the antithesis of Churchill’s black dog. So if I were to be visited by depression again (and I’m seriously crossing my fingers and doing all in my power to ensure that it doesn’t happen), I hope it’s a Labrador that knocks on my door.