Yesterday, on writesaidfred.org, I published an essay It’s Good To Talk about depression. This updated piece was predominantly written a couple of years ago when I was more guarded about suffering from mental health issues. A time when, in a badly veiled attempt to maintain my anonymity, I’d refer to the sufferer as ‘a friend’.
As it’s still Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d re-share some musings on the same subject. These also written around two years ago, again at a time when far less candid about my depression. That (slightly updated) literary piece went as follows:-
“There are numerous metaphors that attempt to educate none-suffers with the challenges of living with depression. Amongst them descriptions of living in a void, experiencing hollowness, feelings of an explosion or fire in the head, along with notions of self harm and increased awareness of ones own mortality.
As I’ve written before, I have a friend with depression, who I recently attempted to engage in a discussion of his darker times. My self-appointed mission endeavouring to increase my understanding surrounding the subject of mental illness.
A topic that despite recent huge strides remains a poor second to physical ailments with in both education and NHS investment. This a mind behavioural affliction many still perceive as a consequence of the sufferer’s over-sensitivity or mental weakness.
My friend described his life as a double edged sword – Telling on one hand of a mind constantly making sorties down various random avenues, returning with innovative but sometimes offbeat epiphanies.
Unfortunately, that same prolifically creative mind also displays a propensity to wreak negative chaos, which drags him into a pit of despair – Filling him full of self loathing and doubt. Incidents of profound sadness; soul destroying episodes of loneliness, along with times of torturing agoraphobia.
During our candid chat, I queried which of the many metaphors surrounding his neurological nemesis he subscribed to. My buddy responded the ‘black rod’ comparison utilised by a section of those similarly afflicted was the most accurate analogy he’d personally heard.
“Do you not mean ‘black dog’?!” I questioned, puzzled at his idiosyncratic explanation. Adding “I think ‘black rod’ is the guy who aggressively knocks on the door with a pole during the annual State Opening of Parliament.”
“No I mean ‘black rod.” he replied firmly. Explaining “It feels like my head is being relentlessly banged with a pole by a guy dressed in black!”
On hearing this I conveyed to my friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, “That sounds a real pain in the ass, Frank Artichokes of 123 Horseguards Crescent, Thacklethwaite”
Admittedly, It wasn’t the most insightful or helpful thing I’d ever said, but what do you say to people with depression? My limited understanding of the illness advocates you provide a listening ear, a caring demeanour, support and re-assure them they aren’t alone and ensure they take their medication – DON’T say “Snap out of it!”
Instead I asked him if there was anything constructive I could do to help him, to which he responded “Yes, you could build me a patio.”
I should also add DON’T say “That sounds a real pain in the ass, Frank Artichokes of 123 Horseguards Crescent, Thacklethwaite”, as it isn’t helpful and you’ll blow his anonymity……. Although, it appears I already have!
The above easily achievable actions for the carer that, I’m told, can make a huge difference in banishing ‘black dog’…… For the short term at least. It was enlightening to engage my friend in the topic of depression. He spoke of the cathartic properties of a simple chat – Interactions which appeared to lift him.
I’ve learned and hopefully grown from our conversation. One thing for sure is I’ll never watch the State Opening of Parliament again without thinking about Frank Artichokes of 123 Horseguards Crescent, Thacklethwaite.
Actually coming to think of it, I never watch State Opening of Parliament anyway as it’s boring as hell……. Strike that from the record, clerk!
Anyway, I must dash, Frank Artichokes’ (of 123 Horseguards Crescent, Thacklethwaite) patio won’t build itself!”
** ‘Black rod’ was of course fictional. The ‘black dog’ depression awareness campaign, however, is very real. The text below giving a brief explanation of ‘black dog’ is taken from the website – http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au :-