Depression – The BLACK DOG
I hope the Australian organisation using the name https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ will forgive me but I believe that no lesser persons than Samuel Johnson and Winston Churchill (http://theconversation.com/winston-churchill-and-his-black-dog-of-greatness-36570) coined the term many years before when referencing their own status, that of being the sufferers of depression, quite likely being manic-depressive.
I was married to a sufferer. Indeed, we had a REAL black dog, Digger was his name, an irrepressible, goofy and lovable Labrador/Border collie cross…and my then wife, Rose (Rose-Marie) had her personal, invisible BLACK DOG. Depression is an awful condition that has only in the modern era been identified as a real illness. An illness partly of the mind and partly of the chemical make-up of the body of the sufferer.
I am not going to address the difficulties of her childhood that no doubt contributed to her state of mind as an adult but suffice to say, the condition is apparent in her family as related to me by her cousin, a woman who quietly takes her medication and who shows no sign of her black dog to the outside world.
Rose, when I met her, was a startlingly attractive woman of about thirty-two who must have been (and still was ,actually) quite beautiful in her teens and twenties.
Having been shy and introverted, when she was introduced to the world outside the confines of her family she cut loose with a vengeance.
A short-lived flirtation with LSD and a few other drugs was to trouble her once or twice in the years before we got to know each other but she had the strength of character to KNOW that this would be the end of her.
She was a fairly heavy smoker and her DRUG of choice was to become alcohol.
Rose was always well-groomed and outwardly confident but inwardly she seethed with insecurity and anger. The anger was directed inward at her inability to stand up to people because of a fear that she would be thought lazy or incompetent or not fun-loving. It resulted in her becoming overwhelmed as people loaded their work onto this helpful, seemingly cheerful, woman.
Another result of this fear of being found wanting was that she was bullied. By men in her life and by bosses and colleagues who should have known better.
She had few friends because she suspected everyone who tried to get close to her of having an ulterior motive. The men wanted to get her to bed the women were, in her mind, snide and nasty and as soon as people seemed to become her friends she pushed them away. Not so you would immediately notice but she would just find excuses not to meet them, to not accept their invitations to visit for a party or drinks or a braai (barbecue to the uninitiated). In her mind everyone was criticising her. People would eventually give up.
After several years of knowing her we were married and almost immediately the problems started. The accusations of an ulterior motive to anything I did. The raking over of my previous relationships and the often cruel and vicious personal attacks.
From denigrating my manhood, accusations of wanting to beat her, accusations of wanting other women (I dare not comment on some film star for example – yes, I was likely to meet them, NOT). It did not matter that these things were irrational – they were brought up to provoke. And even when the AA had managed to get her off the booze and she was enjoying the company of the members of her group she remained fragile and volatile.
If she visited a psychologist or counsellor she would find a reason to distrust them, to stop seeing them. I came to the conclusion that as soon as the psychologist started getting too close to the matters that were important the distrust would take over. There would be some reason – “He tries to look down my neckline” to “She criticises me” (sometimes the criticism accusation would be made against an innocent comment on the colour of her skirt but it could be turned into CRITICISM if the need to claim such was there).
After seeing several psychologists over a period of years, she had started to see a psychiatrist and was taking medication. I, we, had hopes for her future.
In 2013 at the age of 53 she went into hospital – a supposedly good, private hospital – for a comparatively minor operation from which she was recovering when inadequate care was to blame for her dying. No one has been held to account and no cause of death, just UNDER INVESTIGATION, appears on her death certificate. Our fifteenth wedding anniversary was eight days away – we had known each other for about twenty years and lived together for sixteen.
My point here is that this lovely, attractive woman did not believe she was just that – a lovely attractive and capable person. She believed everyone had an agenda against her and she trusted no-one except her mother – not even me. She screamed abuse at and accused both her mother, who lived with us, and me of the most awful things. Often the most absurd and hurtful things would be screamed at us as she retreated to her corner, believing that only her truth pertained. No matter that she was wrong, and demonstrably so, her self-loathing and insecurity meant that, in her mind, no one told the truth to her.
For us who loved her and wanted nothing more than that she should learn to love herself and shine as we knew she could this was the MOST PAINFUL thing to experience.
Some sufferers of depression are openly aggressive, are often highly talented yet believe themselves to be failures. Some are withdrawn and hide the aggression and anger inside. In all cases the anger, the distrust, the feeling of being alone against the world the introversion and the extroversion eats at them.
It slowly and inexorably erodes them. They gradually find themselves without friends or with VERY FEW friends and only close family will generally persist with them. For these supporters it is exhausting, totally exhausting for they will never know if what they say will be construed as criticism, and not as gentle criticism but as harsh, judgemental and condemnatory. The reaction will vary from hysterical withdrawal and tears to very hurtful (to the supporter) shouted accusations and condemnation of the imagined slight, often made in the most confrontational and aggressive manner.
It is usually those closest to the sufferer who experience this behaviour and if anyone not “in the know” were to be told of it they would generally exhibit utter disbelief. The may even buy into the narrative of the sufferer and join with them in condemning those who know and care about the person.
Rose and I never had children together but my experience leads me to believe that the children of such persons learn to co-exist out of an instinctive sense of self-preservation. Rather be on mommy (or daddy’s) side and be with them rather than to even be suspected of not buying into the fiction. The long-term effect of this on children can be devastating and lead to estrangement in later life with sometimes quite tragic outcomes.
The BLACK DOG affects not just the sufferer but their family, their friends, their relationships – intimate and otherwise – but the ripple effect can be damaging to many persons that one may not even imagine could be affected. It is an insidious, scary and very harmful condition.
Many sufferers do not realise they have the condition or, if they do, they play it down. Many avoid or refuse treatment and counselling. There is nothing the people on the periphery can do except hope that the need will be realised and the help sought.
It is a horse and water situation and cannot be forced. It is tragic.
Subsequent to writing the above I came to learn about BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder. Also called: BPD, emotional dysregulation disorder). Could Rose have also been a sufferer of this horrible condition, this very treatable condition? She certainly exhibited some of the symptoms? I don’t know and would hope her psychiatrist would have ruled it out but her life, already difficult, must have been torture if this had been added to her burden.