Winston Churchill often referred to the black dog being upon him, meaning his times of deep depression. He was not the first to use that particular metaphor, as it has been used by other historic figures before him. I feel a certain need to apologize for the usage of the word black. We are and have been for some time, in the habit of using it to describe evil, ill deeds, bad guys and even the ruthless guys in western movies who almost always wore the black hat. We say black cats are unlucky but should know in this enlightened age that all of that is not true; at least I’m told we are enlightened, but that is somewhat in doubt and a subject for another blog.
I believe any of us who live with chronic pain and/or illness know very well what it is to live with a certain amount of depression at least from time to time. This sort of life is not a skip through a field of daisies and most of us couldn’t skip if we tried. No, I think it is entirely normal to express our frustration, pain and angst by having the blues. There, I used another color. Personally, I think screaming lime green would be a far more accurate description of this particular feeling. It would have to be bright, neon green, hurting the eyes and playing with the senses. This particular sensory emotion is best recognized, endured and petted but not for too long. We don’t want to spoil our depression and make it feel too welcome.
I think we are far better served by talking about a large, glossy, healthy and very muscular black dog and that is the one who exudes strength; the strength of the black dog of courage. One has to have a great deal of that particular virtue to deal with pain every day upon wakening and retiring. Pain of this kind is with us all the time. It never goes on a vacation except when we have mastered sleep which is in itself a bit of a challenge. Pain that is this constant goes from bad to worse and is seldom better. That is why it is so frustrating when those who do not understand, you know, those folks out there frolicking in the daisy field, say irritating, inane things to us. They say, “Oh you must be better by now.”
Must I? Little they know about it. They just want me to be better so we can talk about them for a while or better still, I won’t talk about myself. This whole conversation with those daisy stompers can get worse if they venture into the whole area of, “Well dear, you must stop thinking so negatively. Just forget about it for a while and come out to lunch with me.”
The chances are I am probably still lying in bed at 11 am and still in my nightie. I have been trying to summon the courage to try out the body to get into the bathroom to wash my face and to brush my teeth. Going out to lunch would involve a whole list of items I am loathe to do such as putting on deodorant, changing into presentable clothing, doing something with my hair and attempting to put on my happy face. I would then have to get into the car, drive to our meeting place, sit on a hard or semi-hard surface while looking pleasant or at least trying to. I would have to choose some food on the menu which I believe would not keep me up all night or have me hugging my heating pad all night like some lover who is a super hero. Oh no, that all sounds like too much trouble and I can only think of a small hand full of folks I would cross that moat to please.
Many of us have a disease that will get worse but that is still not the point. We are all, every human being alive, playing for time. It is simply that many humans just don’t think about it or know that’s what they are doing. We seek that time by being as active as possible and not giving up. We seek that time by searching for the best doctors who deal with our disease. We achieve those extra years by keeping close watch on the black dog of courage and keeping him by our side.
Yes, I know this all sounds so morose and because I usually feel this way I am always surprised by friends or family who comment on my cheerful, upbeat personality. Me, cheerful and upbeat? What a shocker. It always causes me to remember how far I have journeyed in my battle to overcome. My body may be a wreck but that doesn’t mean all of me has to be. Where is that lovely, big, strong and life-giving black dog of courage? He is right here beside me. No, not George, my little Yorkie, although he does truly believe himself to be all that. There is a spirit I have discovered in my very soul, in my faith in a higher power and in my belief in life which gives me the courage I need. I was brought up to believe there is a power in this world and the next who loves me and is on my side, no matter what life brings to me. Keeping that faith alive in difficult days is often a huge challenge.
The black dog of courage is not to be found in some miraculous way. No, it lies in the dark corners of my life, bringing light to them and therefore to me. It lies in the little things like accomplishing a small chore such as washing and folding towels which makes me feel like I just accomplished something far more dazzling. It lies in that sense of accomplishment that comes from being useful. Seeing a job of any size well done, or at least done, accomplished and knowing I did it with my little, old, bent sick body. Hearing a small child react after an accomplishment and say, “I did it all by myself,” is a joyous, warm feeling and it is usually written all over their small faces. We never lose that need to achieve, however small or however large the task, chore or project. That feeling of “I did it” can apply to many actions. We don’t have to be famous artists, employee of the year or the greatest of anything except to ourselves and to our own souls.
The black dog of courage lies in going about the task anyway, no matter the circumstances. Of course, all of us with disabilities have our limits but we also have a long list of that which we can do. Mourning over what we cannot do may last for a day or much longer but there is a time when we must say, “But I can do this and this.” If you can make that “this” a mix of chores, duties and creativity you have the perfect blend to enrich the soul. That way you and I don’t have to live with complete compromise in our homes and our hearts. Regret can sting like depression; I suppose they are cousins because they can have the same effect on our lives and have to be recognized yet kept in their place behind lock and key at times.
The black dog of courage lives in your soul; it does not live in your body. Getting hammered by the throb, ache, sting and boing of pain is a difficult situation to endure but you can and so can I. We can take the meds we need to a certain extent, because help is available but that help is always a two-edged sword. There are always side effects with any drug from aspirin to the opioids. Never believe a doctor who tells you a medication has no side effects. It simply is not true. The other fact to embrace is that each of us reacts differently to every medication, treatment and therapy. We are individuals and that is the beauty of life, or at least one of its beauties. Your life and mine has many rivers to cross as we discover there are many ways to approach illness and change in our life that is brought on by these mortal bodies of ours. Just remember the body is not the boss; the black dog of courage is.