The Black Dog

I don’t like saying that I have depression. I prefer to say that I’ve battled depression or that I struggle with depression. To me, saying that I have depression implies ownership. The last thing I want is to encourage it to stay. It’s not mine, I didn’t ask for it and I would very much like it to go back to where it came from. I’ve tried medication and therapy, but the black dog still comes back to haunt me. 

Sometimes it’s arrival is sudden. I’ll wake up in the morning with it in bed with me. Before I had Lucy I would know it was going to be a tough day when during my morning ride the dominant voice in my head would be screaming about what a failure I was. It would tell me that I couldn’t make it up the hill. That I was too fat to be out there on a bike. To turn around and go home. On those days I knew that I had to make it to the top of where ever I was going. Because if I could beat the voice and make it up the hill I could get through the day with minimal damage.

Other times I can feel it coming. It’s like there’s a long shadow that falls and turns the atmosphere ice cold. I know what’s coming. If I exercise, socialise, read and maintain a level of miscellaneous activity I can delay the arrival. This happened over the weekend. I felt it coming. I almost cancelled my regular Sunday dinner arrangements, but I’d already promised to take dessert and I couldn’t think of an acceptable reason to bail. Dinner was great. I was quiet. I couldn’t think of anything much to say. We ended up walking around the neighbourhood looking for Christmas lights. Even though I love Christmas lights, it all just felt bleh. I walked in silence surrounded by other people’s chatter. After I left I got a text.

‘What’s going on?’

Telling people that I’m not ok but I’m ok is hard. Sadness is not a bad thing. Hermits used to be people who got depressed, disappeared from society and then reappeared when they were better. That’s a romanticised version anyway. The truth is I can function with the black cloud over my soul. It’s not pleasant and there’s no fun in it but I can do it. It’s difficult for other people to watch but I’ve spent years learning my boundaries. Knowing when it’s just sad and then when it’s time to haul myself to the GP for some external assistance.

The hardest thing now is trying to figure out when it’s grief over depression. They are very close cousins. But grief has a purpose. It’s something that I need to walk through. Engaging with the sadness of grief can bring healing. If I entertain the activities of depression it gets worse. It’s a delicate balance that I’m yet to work out. I’m not sure if I ever will. But until I do I’m going to do all the things I know are good for me. I’m going to go for walks with friends, socialise, read good books, dance around my kitchen to music that I’d be embarrassed to otherwise own. I’m going to look after myself. Because as much as other people care, when everything is said and done I’m left standing by myself. My tribe is always behind me but I’m the one that must face this ugly black thing. I’m determined not to let it win.


I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. There’s too much undeserved pain in this world for that to be the truth. Even though I’m still working on what my faith looks like I do know that life is not an orchestrated event. Things just happen. Good things, bad things and all the mediocre things in between. But every so often there’ll be a phrase, words or events that repeat over a very short period of time. It’s as though my attention is being drawn to something that’s important. There’s a life lesson I need to complete before I can level up. This past week’s life lesson was about passion.

It started Thursday last week when I met with a guy and talked over dinner. It was fantastic conversation. One of those nights that you leave with a full heart. At one point in the conversation he uttered the phrase ‘I’m passionate about…’. It took every ounce of concentration not to roll my eyes back into my head. In the minute that followed I struggled to take him seriously. Nobody talks about being passionate anymore. Didn’t he know it was a requirement of adulthood to be a disillusioned cynic? Thankfully the conversation moved on and I didn’t have to suffer through more silly talk about being passionate.   

A few days later a girlfriend sent me a motivational video. This youtuber promised that by embracing his program I would create ‘flow’ resulting in a more successful life. My little judgey heart was on fire. Firstly, flow cannot be forced. It’s a soul thing, it either happens or it doesn’t. Secondly, there was that word again. Passion. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard it since dinner guy. It’d been popping up over my morning coffee, conversations overheard from passing strangers in public and in my study. My attention was being drawn to it. I decided it was time to re-evaluate my judgemental attitudes.

As a teenager and twenty-something, I spent most of my time attending Pentecostal churches. It is one of the reasons I was allergic to the word ‘passion’. Years of being encouraged to find what it was that I was passionate about so that I could change the world wore me down. The expectation to be significantly magnificent was exhausting. I wanted to change the world so badly. Instead I struggled away at dead end jobs just to pay the bills. My reality was so different from the dream being promoted at youth group

Unconsciously I decided that being passionate was for the hipsters, wannabes and those that had been blessed by genetics. The Gang of Youths song Preserve sums it up perfectly;

I used to want to be important but now I want to be alive and without fear. You got to preserve.

At the age of 27 I found one of my biggest life’s passions by taking a job as a youth worker. However, I didn’t use the word passion. But ask me about how the system has screwed over so many young people and you’ll see me passionate. Let me talk about the ways in which I believe our education institutions need to change in order to better help our young men. Give me some good coffee. Talk to me about food or better yet, let me cook for you. You’ll see exactly how passionate I can get. The amount of energy I spend on these topics is incredible. There’s a lot of things that excite me, very few light me up. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Passion like flow, is not something that can be manufactured. You can fake excitement, but you can’t fake passion.

In the last several years my soul has been wounded. I’ve found myself on a path I did not expect to be on. Currently my life feels like a never-ending cycle of housework and sleep.  I’m not living a passionate existence.  However, as I’ve thought about this topic over the last week I’ve learnt that passion doesn’t die. It may need to hibernate for a season, but it doesn’t die. It’s still there. I suspect that this the starting point of a new season in my life. Before I start I needed to be reminded of who I am. Because what are passions except the most authentic desires of our hearts?