The Dog

Creativity in bipolar disorder is more often than not associated with hypomania/mania instead of depression. However, I wrote this description of depression eighteen months ago while I was in hospital and psychotically depressed: 

My dog has returned to me. Not my cute, loving and gentle dog, but my big, all- consuming and unrelenting black dog. This dog doesn’t like to play and when it does, it pins me down, sits on my chest and doesn’t let me get back up, all the while barking a flood of abuse in my ears. 

The dog has been my burden since 14. He stayed with me for an entire year then, and afterwards would visit me annually. At first he was just an annoying puppy that demanded all of my attention. Each year he would grow and grow and his fur would get darker until it turned midnight black when I was nineteen. He also became more forceful and eventually he didn’t just demand my attention, but overtook it with such power that I would succumb. He’s grown up with me and been with me at every milestone. We have such an intimate relationship that sometimes I think I know him better than myself. 

At first I can hide my black dog and his presence isn’t as strong, but once he decides to move in and unpack, one could say I become the black dog. He consumes my mind, overtakes my body with fatigue and digs at my brain until only an empty shell remains. He is the one who has me on a lead, not I who control him. I adopt his irritability and aggressiveness – even his bark so no matter how hard I try I can’t make myself understood. 

His sickness makes me so self-involved that it creates a barrier between me and everyone else and it becomes impossible to connect with others. Like a controlling partner he slowly cuts off my social networks so eventually it is just he and I. His heaviness settles into my bones like a dead weight threatening to pull me beneath the surface. He sours everything I come into contact with so nothing is beautiful. His shadow discolours my world, turning everything grey and then eventually black.

As my resolve gets weaker and weaker, he gets stronger and stronger, growing in size and he can’t be tamed. He claws at me from the inside trying to get out and I feel his pain and anguish everywhere I go. As the weeks and months go on, he becomes a giant of a dog and there is no escaping. Each time I try to get up, he swats me down with a giant paw, laughing and teasing me. Not even in sleep does he leave and I can’t find relief anywhere. He plagues my dreams with grotesque images of death and decay so vivid it’s as if they’re tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. Everything becomes a constant waking nightmare. 

He plays terrible tricks and gives me false beliefs. He becomes deadly and deceives me into thinking that the only way out is to no longer exist. But he is cruel because he sits on me, my energy fighting him wanes and I give up and lie still, unable to move.

He’s overtaken my bed, my room, my house, my body and my head but he won’t let me leave, holding me hostage in the hellish prison he creates. By now, after 10 years, I wish I could say he was my friend, but he really isn’t. My dog has stolen all of my love, my joy, my optimism and my oxygen. He is the enemy I know too well. He is a part of me and has shaped aspects of my personality and my life. 

We are tied to one another, doomed to walk this earth together until we are both set free. 

Obviously I did recover from that episode of depression. And I am extremely glad to say that although my black hulk of a dog did pay my a visit this year, it was only for a month before he turned back into that annoying puppy and I could put him on a lead and control him. This year I started to learn how to really tame my black dog and I’m hoping in the future his visits become less frequent and that he remains well behaved when he does show up. 

Photo by Matthew Johnstone with The Black Dog Institute of Australia. 

Sally also blogs for bp Magazine and has written for Youth Todayupstart and The Change Blog. To read more of her IBPF posts, click here.


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