Chase out the dog

Black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more.
From «Black eyed dog», Nick Drake

The legendary singer-songwriter Nick Drake only became 26 years old. Whether he took his own life or if the overdose of antidepressants was an accident, we will probably never find out. But there is no doubt that he was seriously depressed. He wrote Black eyed dog in 1974, the same year he died, and it is a heartbreaking song. You can truly hear the desperation and the suffering. The song borrows inspiration from Winston Churchill, and his metaphor for depression as a black dog (again borrowed from the British poet Samuel Johnson).

That we lost Nick Drake is one of the reasons why I hate depression, even though depression played a role in the music he created. That depression stole a decade of my life is another reason. From my father dying when I was 14 years old, until as a student I gradually managed to cast away the sickness, depression took much of my happiness and quality of life. I was on my way to ending up like Nick Drake.

It is estimated that roughly 40 million Americans will suffer from depression some period in their lives. Of these, only a small fraction will receive help. The rest limp through the condition on their own – not alone, because most of us have friends or family who often do their best to help – but in praxis depression is experienced as a solitary sickness. A large part of the suffering is made up of a person seeing herself, her surroundings and the world in a different way than those who are not depressed. As a rule, depressed people see things through several layers of negative filters, and it is these that make everything seem meaningless, gloomy and sad.

And it is here that we find the key to getting rid of depression – to chase away the dog. To identify these filters and eliminate them systematically and over time. The person struggling with depression must be something like that fish which, millions of years ago, realized that there is a world above the surface, and then gradually grow some lungs to breathe air with, not only water. To find another set of filters, which allow them to experience the world as it truly is: filled with much happiness and some sorrows.

This was the recipe for me. One by one the totally irrational thoughts were replaced for healthier and more holistic ones. It feels like a continuous stream of ‘Aha!’ experiences; “if this is how others see things, is it so strange that I have struggled?” As I write in my book Rise from Darkness, it is important to have patience in the recovery phase. This doesn’t happen over night, it will likely take many years.

And in the course of the years you will likely fall back into deep depression several times, like when playing Snakes and Ladders and you slide back down. But if you are prepared for the setbacks, which are a completely natural part of the healing process, they will not bite quite as hard. You can think ‘been there, done that’ if you fall down again, and then set your gaze towards your goal – to get that dirty mutt out of the house.