Black dog

10 Aug

She feels as if she’s walking through treacle, that is, she feels the effort of pushing her body through a thick, sticky substance whenever she wants to move from one place to another. This isn’t anything like she usually feels. Usually she moves effortlessly, through friendly light air, like a dancer, with grace, as she was taught, a being responsive to music even when it’s only in her head, a being on good terms with the element that supports her life.

In the mornings, she wakes to find she’s crying. She’s detached from this crying. Nothing of her is involved in it. There’s no sobs. There are no physical convulsions. There’s just tears down her cheeks, an overflow. She wipes her face on her sheet. She gets out of bed. She goes into her bathroom. She avoids looking at herself in the mirror. She sits on the toilet. She pees, her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands. She feels like really crying but she won’t. This is her goal for the day, the same goal as yesterday and the day before and the day before that. She will not cry.

She puts on pyjama pants, socks and the dressing gown hanging on a hook in the bathroom. It’s chilly, in what passes for winter in northern NSW. She looks in the mirror. Her hair is wild from the night. She pushes it off her face, behind her ears. She looks into her eyes. I don’t even know who you are, she thinks, without emotion.

She goes into the room where the dogs sleep. There are two dogs since she inherited Little White Dog from her son. Her own dog, called Big Dog now, is old and can’t accompany her on the long walks she likes to take on the beaches and through the forest. Little Dog, though, has proved fearless and inexhaustible and follows her over all kinds of difficult terrain, and though she has never been drawn to fluffy white dogs, she is fond of this one.

She goes into their room and they greet her joyously, as if they’ve been separated from her for months, not one night. She strokes them, tells them they are beautiful, and urges them out into the garden. Then she goes upstairs, into the kitchen, puts on the kettle, finds the teapot, puts bread in the toaster, by which time the dogs have peed and are lined up at the kitchen door waiting for breakfast.

She has learned that things will remain fairly manageable if she takes one small task at a time. If she attempts too much, she’ll be overcome by despair and a crippling sense of incompetence. She’s usually very good at doing a lot of things but since the air turned to treacle and since she’s had to spend so much time making sure she’s not crying, her energies and her attention span have diminished. If she gets this toast and tea made and served up to Mrs Chook and feeds the dogs, that’s a good early morning.

She makes an extra piece of toast for the dogs. She used to share the crusts from her own, but with two of them she doesn’t get any. She hears Mrs Chook waking up. She takes the tea and toast into the upstairs bedroom where Mrs Chook is struggling to fight her way out of sleep and the mountain of doonas, books, scarves, papers, socks, pillows and various other detritus littering her bed. She sets the tea and toast on a minute space on the cluttered bedside table, mutters good morning and quickly leaves, because talking just now is way beyond her capabilities and besides, she can’t think of one single thing to say.  Language is leaving her, at least in its spoken form. It’s still present in her head, her own words, the words of others, poems, lyrics, conversations. But the effort of getting it from her mind to her mouth is beyond her and anyway, she thinks, what’s the point? Talking was always over-rated, wasn’t it? I would like, she thinks, to sit with someone, with him perhaps, in absolute silence. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to simply gaze and be gazed upon. Then I would like, with him perhaps, to touch, just fingertips. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to let the bodies and the hearts have their moment, released from the obligations of the spoken word. I am, she thinks, too tired for speech. Too tired for the enunciation. Too tired.

She takes her tea back downstairs to her domain, and turns on her computer. There’s mail. Stuff in which she has no interest, and a video from her daughter-in-law of her toddler grandson laughing. Mrs Chook says Archie laughs like his grandmother. If you look at photos of grandmother, son and grandson you can see they share the same full-faced grin, showing their teeth, joyful beings engaged with life, the three of them. She’s always loved it, that they share her laugh.

Archie, in the video, is beside himself with laughter. It seems to be inspired by a game his dad is playing with him. The child laughs with his whole body. He shivers, and prances with delight. He holds up his little hands and shrieks. He doubles over, clutching his belly and his hair flies out around his head, electrified with joy.  She watches the video over and over again. She isn’t crying, but the tears are running down her cheeks again quite without any input from her. She wipes them away with the sleeve of her dressing gown, and wipes her nose while she’s at it.  She turns up the sound. Archie’s laughter fills her study. She wants to be with him. She wants to hold his squirming body, catch his small hands in her own. Last time she saw him he was sick with a cold. He languished for long periods in her arms, and let her love him. He hadn’t been so long in her arms since he was a tiny infant, when she never wanted to put him to sleep in his cot where he ought to have been, even though his parents told her not to spoil him.

It’s all right, she thinks. Hold on. You can still want, so it’s not too bad. The worst time is when she can’t want. When all desire slips away, out of reach, and she can’t even remember how desire feels.

She turns off the video. She makes a plan. Shower. Dress. Take the dogs for a small walk, one that won’t exhaust Big Dog. Come home. Domestic tasks. One at a time. Then write. She must write. She must not give up writing.

Go out again, this time for a long walk with Little Dog. Take music. Stay out all morning. That way she won’t have to talk to anyone. That way she can concentrate on getting through this day the best she can.

It occurs to her that the only thing she knows how to do is to keep on keeping on.

She loads the dogs into the truck. The sun is shining. It’s warm now.

She can only write about herself in the third person. It’s better than nothing, she thinks.

40 Responses to “Black dog”

  1. Mindy August 10, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Does listening to Leonard help? Keep your headphones in, you can successfully ignore people all day that way. (((hugs)))


  2. Veronica Foale August 10, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    I feel this so deeply. I am so tired. So very tired.

    Wishing for you hot cups of tea, long soothing walks and silence in which to keep writing.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      And I wish for you the things you most need to get through the exhaustion. xxx


  3. Poirot August 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm #


    Thank you for keeping the lines of communication open.

    It’s hard to know what to say, yet with the thought that one needs to say something.

    I used to correspond with the Irish writer, Nuala O’Faolain for a while, sometime after she wrote “Are You Somebody?” She was a passionate complicated lady who, through her own pain, articulated beautifully her thoughts and demons.

    I wrote her a poem, but didn’t send it to her (because I’m not a poet)..and then we lost touch…and then she died.

    Can I send my poem for her to you, even though it was written for an Irish woman? ….as a form of caress and comfort

    Because it’s really for anyone who finds themselves lost – (and you remind me of her)

    Thinking of you, I think of your land,
    Though neither has known the touch of my hand.
    In you the essence of Ireland is there,
    The warm flow of life, the ebb – the despair.

    You’re the river of life flowing out to the sea,
    The nourishing rain on the shimmering green.
    You’re the scattered and lost who fled Erin’s shores,
    The rent in the fabric, the holes that were torn.
    You’re the triumph of time, the crumbling of stone,
    The longing of those who meant to come home.
    You’re a banquet for those who devoured you whole,
    The British, your body – the Romans, your soul.
    You’re the vanquished who cried from the crypt to be heard,
    Took the tongue of your master and spoke your own words.
    You’re the deafening silence, the suffering child
    The passion distilled from one crowded mile.
    You’re the mother of genius – the feminine one,
    Bloom is your father – Dedalus, your son.
    You’re churches and pubs and pagans and priests,
    The flickering embers of ancestors grief.
    You’re style and shambles all rolled into one
    Grimness and beauty, shadow and sun.

    I long to inhale just one breath of Eire,
    To trace with my pen your worries and cares.
    Though I think of you, friend, as sometimes alone,
    You’re enfolded in richness, encircled by home.


  4. 8 Degrees of Latitude August 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Second go at this. The first one got a “sorry this comment couldn’t be posted” response. But I’m a persistent so and so …

    Listen to some Sibelius. He helps take the long view (as you’ve written on this blog). Primavera from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. Thais’ ‘Meditation’. All with headphones, as Mindy notes above.

    Don’t let the black dog bite you. Make more toast for the two real ones – and have another cuppa.


    And hugs, if that’s OK from a complete stranger.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

      Yes. It is lovely from a complete stranger. Thank you.


      • Sandra Searle (@SandraSearle) August 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

        Hugs also from me too Jennifer. Have quite a few of my family who suffer from ‘The Black Dog’ and know just how hard it is for them to push through each day feeling exhaustion from even the simplest task they drag themselves to do.
        Music seems to be one of the things that can bring joy & peace, sitting in the sun with your earphones in, with the dogs around your feet or taking a walk with all of the above sounds like my idea of heaven.
        One happy moment will lead to one happy minute which in turn will lead to one happy hour etc. Take care my friend, you will indeed come through this, you have the spirit within you to survive this.


  5. paul walter August 10, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Yes, I understand it. Have lived with it for years. Monocultural greys, “Doona dives” and small things become difficult, its debilitating..


  6. MsPraxis August 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Thinking of you Jennifer. At least you’re writing, which is good. It’s something. *supportive silence*


  7. samjandwich August 10, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    I know this is the hardest thing to believe, when you are surrounded by the faces and bodies of the people you have withdrawn yourself from, whether willingly or otherwise.

    But you will never be alone.

    Peace and love,


  8. Bailey's Mother August 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    She remembers writing is a fine sanctuary where there is no treacle in the air; where a page is replete with the comfort of words.


  9. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) August 10, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    It must be the ‘treacle down’ effect, Oh Two Dogs, with which the air is thick! You have brung a new perspective to me in relation to the writing in the third person in which you have indulged, one which I had not had before! It does help overcome a writer’s natural reticence.


  10. russell August 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    I respectfully ask for patience for my being presumptuous if needs be. I mean no offence.

    Love you. With *attachment* or with no *attachment* I still love you. That’s all i can do. Love you.

    I didn’t know how to try to tell you at the time of the wondrous joys of the convoy but instinct told me a low can and often does follow an exceptional high. Silly me I thought to myself, she would well know all about those things. It was a huge triumph for lots and changed peoples lives. Not everyone can do that. With care.

    Because it is you doing these exceptional honest things perhaps you may have become separated from knowing just how loved you are. I know I am not alone is saying I care.

    Apart from attachment to all things and people the main one is attachment to life itself. At least our realization of IT in us and us as part of IT.. And it is ALWAYS.

    You do extraordinary written expression. Many love it. We care that you care.

    For my own part, coming out of an extended dance with whiskey and black dogs I discovered i could delight in the ordinary and simple things of the day. Tea and toast figured strongly. The washing up was noticed by the seconds it took to do.

    I have hope for the future, compassion for the past all wrapped in love in the here and now. That’s the way i do it these days. Even melancholy has compassion. Loss has a strong element of compassion as does the sense of being separated.

    I send my love and gratitude to you for your wonderful honest work and how it has helped me understand the way of this life and the people therein. (politicians notwithstanding!)

    The inspiration i see from you reminds me of a friend and workmate who was a strong feminist (separatist) from the 1980s. It was her take no prisoners honesty that had me in awe of what she achieved and how she went about it. This mere male became educated.

    Love and hugs to you from another stranger. Respect. Love Is. Always.

    Than you for being so generous in your sharing. All the very best to you.


  11. Louise Allan August 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I know Black Dog — he’s always there, like a comfortable old cardigan that I can’t throw out or give to Vinnie’s. He’ll always be there. He’s part of my life, part of me. I wouldn’t be me without him. These days, I let him in when he wants to enter, and I just do whatever he wants me to do. Then he leaves, and I can get on with normal life again. That’s how it is. There’s no point fighting him — when he’s not there, I make the most of it, and when he is, I do whatever I have to do to survive until he leaves again …

    I like that you’ve written this while he’s there. He’ll go away again. In his own time …


    • Jennifer Wilson August 11, 2013 at 7:07 am #

      Thank you. So many people know this black dog. I didn’t know how many.


  12. Jay August 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    A moving, insightful read. Wishing you some level of comfort and release in the writing.


  13. doug quixote August 11, 2013 at 1:07 am #

    Keep on keeping on.
    It is called life.
    It is what we all do.

    I know your pain, your lethargy, your inertia;
    Because it was mine.
    From 1998-99 when I lost my mother, my brother, several aunts and uncles and several friends in what was my annus horribilis, until at least 2008 I was off the air.

    I came though it, more resilient than anyone gave me credit for, apparently.

    You can do it Jennifer; life is an endurance test, life is for living.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 11, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      Oh, DQ. I know you are right. I didn’t know of your losses. Thank you.


      • helvityni August 11, 2013 at 9:36 am #

        Jennifer, only this week I had a dear friend staying with us, she lost her young son to suicide, soon after, her husband (52), she stopped working, buried herself in her house…it lasted six months, she is still fragile, but getting stronger, we had many good laughs…

        It takes time, you will get through Jen, all the best. Many thanks for your brave article, yet another one.


      • doug quixote August 11, 2013 at 10:25 am #

        Some things seem too painful to mention, but it is part of the process; to recognise the problem is to start to do something about it. I did not mean to appear to be trying to trump your losses, far from it; but I say in empathy, I understand it and share it. Hugs are not usually my thing, but just for you Jennifer: a big hug. 🙂


  14. hudsongodfrey August 11, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Sounds to me like writing this may have been cathartic for you, and you certainly won’t get any negative feedback from me on that score. I think it’s beautifully written and I’m also one who appreciates the contribution our pets make in our lives, so it doubly resonates with me on that score.

    On the bright side, your pain is authentic, you know it’s locus and you’re not dealing with it by denial, deflection or any other form of emotionally dishonest behaviour that would only worsen the harm for yourself or others. I think that’s great, you seem strong, probably stronger than you feel and I think that helps a lot of other people who may read this to journey a little way with you, offering our support perhaps, and knowing that empathy, intellect and humanity that is you is also part of us, inasmuch as one can share a real connection with another person pseudononymously, I’d say keep writing these kind of pieces as often as you think that they’ll help.

    For my own part I’ve encountered more of the mental illness side of depression and anxiety than I have with the kind of grief you seem to be experiencing. In that vein I’ve found it useful to be matter of fact because it can be an important thing for people like myself to be able to step out of our internal experience. I think maybe it’s not just a prosaic grammatical device that you’re speaking of her in the third person, you seem to actually be exercising the option of using a technique I’ve also found helpful. As it was explained to me, when one has sad thoughts it can be useful to practice thinking about them as the product of a mental state that you want to change by quite literally saying out loud “my mind is having sad thoughts and I wish it wouldn’t”.

    Lastly but by no means least I’m interested in whether Jennifer feels some of these experiences resonate with what she’s written and by no means feel I ought to or am in any way qualified to offer advice to others in their lives. What works for some may not work for others and it would be arrogant of me to presume otherwise. If my suspicions are correct after reading your reactions to political topics then if some of you aren’t on Lithium already then you probably will be after the election occurs.

    Jennifer, I hope you’re feeling a lot better soon


    • Jennifer Wilson August 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Thank you HG. Writing, animals, babies, music, the natural world, silence. Anything but the demands of sociable life.

      I recall reading James Hillman writing on depression years ago and his advice to go through it, don’t resist, because it contains great treasures, no matter what its causes. The days can seem so long, though, and the nights.


      • hudsongodfrey August 12, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

        We often struggle with acknowledging the point where problems are more and larger than we can deal with on our own. In the case of mental illness there seems to me to be a problem to do with the nexus between the mind/brain and the sense of self, if I can use those terms in any strictly ordinary sense. That is to say that acknowledging one’s brain isn’t always functioning such that we feel we coping that in turn can make one think of one’s self as diminished, and it takes a while to overcome resistance to that notion or feeling.

        It does seem to be one of the enigmatic qualities of depression, perhaps in common with some other disorders, that if some kind of corner is turned when you acknowledge your own mental state no actual requirement exists to change how you are or who you are, only to deal with it and benefit from whatever tools you elect to help you cope.

        Whether one moves forwards through the good graces of James Hillman or otherwise, I wouldn’t see trying to work through depression with whatever tools help you as a form of resistance so much as a process of coping with the reality of a disorder much like any other.


  15. sarah toa August 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Hello Jennifer, I’ve been returning for days and am still not sure what to say, except to say, thanks … and hang in there. That third person ain’t a bad one.

    You may dislike Bukowski but here is him in his moment:
    And for something completely different … a moment:


  16. sarah toa August 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Sorry, I just checked and it looks like Bukowski has skiived off. But ‘murmuration’ is still there.


    • paul walter August 12, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      It has me in mind of doco clips of a small African bird called the Quelea, a bird that Wiki announces lives in “huge flocks” that “take five hours to pass”.
      The sky turns dark with them, they are the worlds most numerous bird.


      • paul walter August 12, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

        Which reminds me. How many of you know of the old question, “Would the skies turn midnight if dickheads could fly?”


  17. samjandwich September 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Speaking of birds, the most effective treatment for depression I’ve ever come across can be found here:


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