Open Mike

by Richard on June 21, 2011

Have your say — the floor is yours. Same rules as usual.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }


Pam 06.21.11 at 10:20 am

Let’s discuss.

When the Black Dog brings you down…Who cares?


tortoise 06.21.11 at 12:05 pm

That old Black Dog is surely the most curmudgeonly of canines. Not content with mere stalking, he* has a mysterious bark that can drown out communication, yet without being heard for what it is. So that when his* victim speaks out seeking comfort, all that’s heard by those around is an angry snarl; and if would-be friends do draw near, what reaches the victim’s ears is a sound not of tenderness but of aggression.

Thus the Dog outsmarts us, trampling over the truth of the care that genuinely surrounds the hounded one. Tragically, too many of us neighbours fall too quickly into the trap, and abandon expressions of compassion in favour of the self-righteous assertions of Job’s comforters. So that when a hand is proffered for feeding, it’s not the Dog who bites, but us. Oh, he’s* a cunning beast, that Dog.

And can the Dog be tamed, ultimately brought to heel? Hard to tell… but it’s said that such an enterprise involves training the human just as much as the animal. In this case, I guess that might mean all of us taking an extra moment to check for pawprints, to second-guess ourselves on what we think we’ve heard, just in case the sneaky Dog has got in the way whilst we weren’t looking. It might mean naming the Dog, acknowledging his possible or actual presence - certainly not in order to patronise or excuse, but rather to ensure that high horses aren’t so readily available for getting up on.

And in what seems like the heat of battle or the depth of isolation, it might mean saying “This is the Dog’s doing - not yours, not mine”. To keep on reminding ourselves that we do care, and we are cared for, no matter how the Dog might try to deceive us or those around us.

* Note: I have the feeling that the Black Dog is usually a “he”. But I’m open to correction.

Grace and peace to all.


Kim 06.21.11 at 3:36 pm

* Note: I have the feeling that the Black Dog is usually a “he”. But I’m open to correction.

Er …


Richard 06.21.11 at 5:13 pm

The black dog is more likely to be a cat.

But seriously, when the black dog brings you down, the people who care for you will care for you. I’m not being flippant. But in the tenuous relationships of cyberspace it won’t always be obvious.


Simon 06.21.11 at 10:54 pm

Fascinating, and a damning indictment at the same time….

US Healthcare


Methodist Preacher 06.21.11 at 11:11 pm

I know Black Dog. Has a go at me occasionally. I always remember that he is the ultimate tosser, the ultimate waster. But he only sees from the outside. Only God knows the inside (and there’s a lot of scripture to support that). So when Black Dog, or should it be black dog, makes an attack I try to focus on God, look at the example of Jesus, bathe myself in the Holy Spirit, look over my shoulder and simply tell black dog to piss off —-and he does.

Time for a real row.


Richard 06.21.11 at 11:24 pm

Not from me. You must be a real comfort to those who, despite their faith, struggle with depression. But I take it from this comment that we’ll hear no more cant from you about other people’s use of ‘rude words’.


Pam 06.21.11 at 11:30 pm

Clever tortoise. If you are a minister (and I think you are) your congregation is fortunate.
I use humour and my tendency towards introspection to help me. The dog is not sinister or vicious, but it is overbearing: slow, heavy and always there.
The people who care for me are amazing, no two ways about that.
Re: “in the tenuous relationships of cyberspace it won’t always be obvious”. Good word, tenuous. And when you need “certainty”, tenuous is not so great. But I hope my reserves are deep enough to cope - and I hope your reserves are too!!


Pam 06.21.11 at 11:38 pm

Just read Methodist Preacher’s comment after submitting mine.
That comment reeks of ignorance and doesn’t really even deserve a reply. People die from depression, MP, they lose their jobs, they lose their families. I would run as fast as I could from any pulpit you preach from.


Joseph W 06.22.11 at 12:32 am

Are we talking about Led Zeppelin?


Pam 06.22.11 at 2:00 am


Joseph W, Counsellor of the Year!


Richard 06.22.11 at 6:25 am

@Methodist Preacher: Apologies for the tone of my last comment. It had been a long day. However, Pam is right and any approach to depression that contains the word ’simply’ is dangerous.


Richard 06.22.11 at 6:30 am

@Joseph,Pam: Quoting Led Zep is always welcomed :)


Kim 06.22.11 at 8:50 am

I suffered from depression, sometimes quite severe, during my twenties, and occasionally I have not so much flashbacks as flashforwards, i.e., the black dog occasionally still bites. For what it’s worth …

First, I think it’s both wrong and unhelpful to generalise about the state. I call it a “state” rather an “illness” because to call it an illness is to medicalise it, and I think that says more about modernist culture than it does about depression itself. Depression may be an illness, endogenous or reactive, with an aetiology perhaps dating to childhood, and then you may want to treat it, with chemicals or counselling. Especially the reactive kind, however, may be quite “normal” and indeed healthy, e.g., during grief or loss, or in the wake of tragedy, or simply because life sucks.

Depression may be a curse, but, counter-intuitively and -culturally, even as a burden it may be a blessing, even intrinsic to a vocation — check out the lives of many saints, not to mention authors and artists. It may be a condition over which we have little or no control, and yet “sin” may appropriately categorise it — “despair” classically so — even though it may not be the kind of sin that is blameworthy — which does not stop the depressed from feeling guilty about being depressed. I personally always felt that there was something immensely selfish about being depressed, and indeed when I would seek consolation from my best friend he would often cruelly but kindly say, “Who gives a shit?” (not a pastoral strategy I would recommend, of course!), and it would help me out of myself. Luther described the sinner as homo incurvatus in se - which is an apt designation for the depressed as well: the landscape of depression is a wilderness of terrible introversion and isolation. But then deep spiritual advisers have always seen a close connection between malady and sin. Which suggests an imporant distinction at which I have been gesturing, viz., that between the psychological and the spiritual.

Paul Tillich’s famous sermon “Your Are Accepted”, grounded in the extra me of grace, was seminal in my own coming to terms with depression. That Jesus loves me unconditionally is a crucial therapeutic theological cognition. I thus actually have some sympathy with Methodist Preacher’s comment (#6); I don’t think he means it to sound pious and glib. And while “Snap out of it!” is the advice of the ignorant and unempathetic, it is quite disempowering to sideline the will altogether. When depression is an illness or a curse, the main thing, for me anyway, is to see that depression creates a prison house of illusions about self and world — and God (judgmental, punitive) — and that the way out, therefore, is to see through the self-deception and the fantasy, with help from friends and poets.

Sorry abut the impressionistic nature of these thoughts, and sorry too if they offend or hurt — that is certainly not my intention. Anyway, I’m late for a meeting in Cardiff!


Methodist Preacher 06.22.11 at 9:22 am

Richard, I am sorry. I certainly did not mean to offend you. Depression is a difficult condition. Your post stimulated me to have a closer look at the issues raised and I have put together my thoughts on my own blog:

I haven’t linked to you in this post and will fully understand if you decide not to publish this comment and link. In the meantime I hope your recovery is swift and look forward to your full service resuming.

God bless you.



Pam 06.22.11 at 9:39 am

Talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist who has treated clinical, or severe, depression Kim and then tell me it’s not an illness. I am not offended or hurt - I am starting to know you well enough now!


Pam 06.22.11 at 10:23 am

One thing I’d like to add, then I’ll shut up:)
It can be quite dangerous for depressed people to be advised by ministers who are uninformed about this illness as ministers are in such a position of trust within the life of the congregation. I would urge everyone to be informed by professionals.


Mendip Nomad 06.22.11 at 12:33 pm

I’ve had one real battle with the Black Dog and it lost me my job (to avoid any assumptions being made, I was not fired, my organisation were very good at handling the situation, but my fight left it as almost inevitable I couldn’t carry on in post - it was best for me, and for the organisation, that I left, and I am now happy I did. But it wasn’t a pleasant experience at the time). He (and in my case he’s a he, can’t speak for others) has made brief appearances since, at which point it’s not just the mighty Led that I put on the iPod but the Manic Street Preacher (an excellent Welsh band, Richard!) as well: (not their video).

Somehow, recognising his presence and acknowledging him helps me win my little fights with him - he did so well in my first battle with him in part because I didn’t know who or what he was, and I thought it was me. I know him now. Doesn’t stop him getting the upper hand on occasion, but the moment I recognise his reappearance is the moment I know he’s on the backfoot again.

Of course, my experience is not the same as others, and what works for me may not for other others. As Pam says, if anyone is reading this and has concerns about their own mental health, seek professional guidance. Thanks though, Pam, for bringing up this important topic, and to Joseph W for mentioning Led - I played a track from Robert Plant’s Band of Joy in chapel just last week!


Dave Webster 06.22.11 at 2:31 pm

The archbishop of Canterbury touches on depression in this interview which people might find interesting…


doug 06.22.11 at 3:24 pm

I thought the black dog was not in reference to depression. The original post doesn’t reference so I thought that it was in reference to a person and their comments not something internal within a person. Especially since Tortoise didn’t reply for clarification after the remainning comments. Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t think so. Maybe the answer to who the black dog is is Kim and he is explainning how he is the black dog. Kim, I will pray for all those depressed and now have more compassion for Kim. In the future when he is on his wild goose chases and gets hostile I will pray for his depression.


Mendip Nomad 06.22.11 at 4:20 pm

Doug, of course there are lots of uses for the term “the black dog”, from R L Stephenson’s naming of a pirate as Black Dog to a high-end food establishment on Martha’s Vineyard. However, it’s most common use in popular culture, certainly in the UK, is in relation to depression following Winston Churchill’s use of the term to describe his bouts of clinical depression - if anyone’s history dispels the myth that only failures succumb to depression (I know you’re not saying that Doug, nor has anyone here, but some people sadly think and say it) it is Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, who was, no matter your view of his politics, a highly successful person!

For me, the Black Dog has never and will never be a specific person - except when reading Treasure Island :)


doug 06.22.11 at 5:33 pm

Mendip, thanks for the info. In the US “black dog” isn’t a popular term and hence my response. Call it the “other side of the lake” problem. :) (sorry Kim)


Richard 06.22.11 at 6:43 pm

@Methodist Preacher: Your post begins, “Another Methodist blogger, a minister, is suffering from depression…” Since you’ve wished me a swift recovery, I can only assume this means me. But I haven’t said I’m ill have I? Your post is based on a conjecture which is either
a. false, in which case you’ve no right to be saying it
b. true, but which has not been made public by me — in which case you’ve no right to be saying it.
I’ll accept your good wishes, blessings etc of course. But I’d much rather you did the right thing.

@Kim: I agree with you to a point about depression, but I disagree that labelling it an illness (”medicalising” it) is necessarily unhelpful. It can be empowering. If I might use an analogy: As a three yr old I was involved in a road accident, leaving me blind in one eye. I went through school being rubbish at sport, especially those involving small fast moving objects such as cricket balls. I always hated PE lessons — and I quote myself — “Because I’m useless”. I had several teachers who were prepared to concur, which didn’t help. It wasn’t until I got to O level physics and understood about stereoscopic vision that ‘the penny dropped’. It wasn’t that I was useless: there was an underlying physiology to my poor attempts with tennis racket and cricket bat. Sport became cheerful: I didn’t suddenly improve, but I understood myself better.

I was going to say more, but it’s time to take my daughter to Guides…


Richard 06.22.11 at 6:47 pm

Sorry Doug, but the only way that’s an excuse is if a similar word or phrase is used both sides of the Atlantic to mean quite different things. If it is a case of just not knowing what a word or phrase means, it is best not to just assume. Isn’t it?


doug 06.22.11 at 7:53 pm

Richard, I don’t understand the “rebuke” (too harsh of a word not feeling in that way if you get my drift).

I agree to a point but this “note” gave me an indictation otherwise that any American would think as I originally thought: “* Note: I have the feeling that the Black Dog is usually a “he”. But I’m open to correction.”

The note, unless a person knows the word, indicates a person. Therefore any American would have logically thought and if responded, replied as I did.

I or any American would have no indication that they did not know the word based on the note given in the original post.

So you see it IS a legitimate excuse and a very logical and reasonable understanding in light of the meaning being actually different. However, thanks for the admonishment.


Kim 06.22.11 at 8:09 pm

@ Pam and Richard.

Read my comment again: I explicitly state that depression may be an illness, and I even refer to methods of treatment when it is. What I object to is over-generalisation. And I also want to say that clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, et. al. do not have a monopoly on insight into depression. Particularly as Christians, do we not want to listen to what the psalmist, the desert fathers, the mystics, the saints, the holy fools have to say about melancholy, lament, despair, tristitia, accidie? Whatever makes sense to you, and works for you - absolutely. But surely no one wants to deny what has worked for and made sense to others - and me? Or to claim privileged access to the experience here described by two poets who have been there, where apparently several of us have been too?

Broken in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poore creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortur’d in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace
– G. Herbert

My own heart let me more have pity on: let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormenting mind tormenting yet.
– G.M. Hopkins


Richard 06.22.11 at 9:57 pm

“I explicitly state that depression may be an illness, and I even refer to methods of treatment when it is. What I object to is over-generalisation. And I also want to say that clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, et. al. do not have a monopoly on insight into depression”

I don’t disagree with any of that, of course.


fatprophet 06.22.11 at 10:12 pm

This has been a quite fascinating series of posts/comments as I had never heard of the black dog that has been referred to here.
If nothing else it proves the saying that we are never too old to learn!


doug 06.22.11 at 10:17 pm

FP, I agree and am glad that I learned something. I just take issue with people saying “their is not excuse” when in fact, in light of the note, anyone who didn’t know the real meaning would have no reason to question the menaing even though it turned out different.

Richard, thanks for clarifying, teaching us and helping us learn other than the “no excuse” part.


Pam 06.22.11 at 11:29 pm

Great to read the discussion. And thanks for your honesty Mendip, I can say I know exactly what you are expressing.
My depression resulted from another serious psychological condition, post-traumatic stress disorder (with a bout of anorexia thrown in), so a triple whammy. I have recovered from the anorexia (back to 55kg’s) but it took a great toll. I no longer experience the more invasive symptoms of PTSD but depression (the black dog Doug) is a companion. If I could “will” myself free of it that would be fantastic but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I have great support, a great doctor and I can often feel my strength and resilience somewhere close by.
I do not discount the role my faith has played in all this either.


Methodist Preacher 06.22.11 at 11:52 pm

Richard, you are confusing me. You say :

“Since you’ve wished me a swift recovery, I can only assume this means me. But I haven’t said I’m ill have I? Your post is based on a conjecture which is either
a. false, in which case you’ve no right to be saying it
b. true, but which has not been made public by me — in which case you’ve no right to be saying it.”

I’ll accept your good wishes, blessings etc of course. But I’d much rather you did the right thing.”

In the post on my blog I thought I went to some lengths to say that I wasn’t certain where the dividing line was between depression that could be handled by an individual and their congregation and that which could be defined as clinical depression. But I didn’t mention the words “ill” or “illness”. In fact the word I used was “condition” and referred to “suffering”. You are right, I do not know the ins and outs of your current situation, but you took the decision to place it in the public domain and there are some who may make the choice to follow the discussion through.

I just hope that you come through your present difficulties. If you need a retreat I can recommend Glasshampton. You ask me to “do the right thing” and obviously I strive to do that and believe that my post meets that requirement.

While I’m on I just want to take up another point. “Pam” says: “I would run as fast as I could from any pulpit you preach from.” Well Pam I have read your comments on Richard’s blog over the last few months. I am absolutely certain that you don’t worship in inner-city Birmingham or any other spiritually tough area. Therefore I can’t foresee a situation in which you would need to run from any pulpit to which I am planned. Stay in your comfort zone, don’t feel you have to seek out my pulpit. I doubt if I have anything to offer you. I’m not very good with the self satisfied.


Richard 06.23.11 at 8:25 am

David, I commented on this thread 3 times before you came in with your conjecture. Here, here and here. In none of those comments do I say I’m depressed. And so I repeat myself with one small amendment:

Since you’ve wished me a swift recovery, I can only assume this means me. But I haven’t said I’m depressed have I? Your post is based on a conjecture which is either
a. false, in which case you’ve no right to be saying it
b. true, but which has not been made public by me — in which case you’ve no right to be saying it.

I’ll accept your good wishes, blessings etc of course. But I’d much rather you did the right thing.


Rachel 06.23.11 at 8:31 am

David - I’m afraid you’ve misread. It was Pam who started this thread on depression - not Richard. I’ve been following from the sidelines and nothing that Richard has posted led me to conclude that he is suffering a bout of depression at the moment. Given that it was Pam, I hope she’s feeling sufficiently robust to handle your comments!


Rachel 06.23.11 at 8:33 am

Though in fairness I’ve repeated your error, given that Pam’s question also does not indicate she’s suffering depression right no.


Pam 06.23.11 at 8:35 am

I think Methodist Preacher is having an Ecclesiastes moment:
judgment, judgment, all is judgment.
I sure you’re familiar with Romans 2:1.
The church I attend is full of people who look like ordinary church-goers but they are a diverse lot. We are getting to know a new minister and I won’t be running from his pulpit. I will be making any relationship I have with him work.
It was (possibly) an unkind remark to make to you but I was upset at your portrayal of depression as something that can be “pissed off” (after being clothed in the Holy Spirit, of course). I think your comments were disrespectful to the many people who suffer from this debilitating condition, a condition that often requires intensive medical treatment and a lot of support.
Birmingham and Milton may look very different but I’m pretty sure suffering and trouble don’t keep to one locale.


Pam 06.23.11 at 8:46 am

I hope Methodist Preacher and yourself read comment # 30. That will tell you a bit about where I am at the moment.


Methodist Preacher 06.23.11 at 9:29 am

Pam, I do not know if you have read my more extensive post on my own blog. There I go to some lengths to express the view that there does come a point where depression goes beyond a condition which can be managed without skilled medical intervention. The point you make in comment 35 is pertinent - in addition to your medical support you are seeking to create a positive relationship with other members of your congregation and your new minister. This is the sort of invaluable “self help” which enhances, and, in the best circumstances, can provide the support which enables the condition to be de-medicalised. Surely this is something that we should strive for? Does anyone really want to be dependent on medical support for the rest of your lives.

As to my suggestion that the black dog should be told to “piss off”, well, it works for me. I know that it works for others. I can’t predict whether it will work for you. So that’s not being flippant, it is being realistic.

My (limited) experience of my own depression is that it normally has spiritual roots and must therefore be met spiritually. That means focusing on prayer, even fasting. By the grace of God though, depression is something that affects me very occasionally. We have a great God with lots of love to give, I suspect that too few of us really want to reach out and take it.


Rachel 06.23.11 at 9:30 am

Yes Pam - sounds like you’ve been through a tremendous ordeal. I didn’t want to make assumptions given that you say the black dog is still a companion - but I’m hoping he’s walking a long way behind at the moment. I admire your resilience in being able to contribute into the cut-and-thrust of blog debate. I have been blessed with good mental health up to now (and journeying with many friends through bouts of depression teaches me that I can make no assumptions for the future based on that). But pressing “submit” on blog comments still raises my anxiety to levels which do not normally merit my saying anything at all (mine and Richard’s comments crossed in the ether earlier or I would not have made mine). I do sometimes raise my head in quieter blog waters, but it’s just not a mode of communication that I find it easy to cope with. I’m always grateful there are women who are prepared to do it though.


Richard 06.23.11 at 9:56 am

David: Do you ever admit that you’ve made a mistake?


Pam 06.23.11 at 9:56 am

Mostly I enjoy commenting. There is a blog here in Australia I enjoy commenting on, one in NZ that’s great too. I have no anxiety with either of those places but they are a slightly different setup to Connexions.
I’m sure you would have a lot to contribute here and it would be great to see you comment more. You couldn’t possibly make more mistakes than me!


Pam 06.23.11 at 10:04 am

Richard & Kim
I have a poem for you both. Hope you like it as I do.

From Francis Webb’s Canticle series, The Leper.
(Francis died from a mental illness at the age of 48)

Forgiven, forgiven
Forgiven by the road.
Grey obdurate flint
Under all lights, the goad
Of sunstone and hailstone; glint,
Colder than the eyes, but nearer.
Of mile, mile; and the driven
Whittlings of day; day -

These would not gainsay
A sudden wayfarer,
Lamp in the spectrum’s tent,
Homing shades to the one mirror
And white of embodiment.
Given, the kiss of peace,
Given, a white way,
Love aloft in those hands.

Is there any wall withstands
This one white embrace?
The town falls open, I
Know the whence, sureness, release,
Bread to my pillory.

Forgiven by the road, forgiven
By a man and many lands.
I too have forgiven.


Richard 06.23.11 at 10:36 am

Thanks for sharing that Pam.

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