RETURN OF THE BLACK DOG
By Nick Haines…
A week or so ago I woke in an unfeasibly good mood. My usual demeanor in the morning is one of grim fortitude interspersed by brief spells of inertia.
Not that morning, however.
I started to sing a silly song while I put the kettle on. My singing got a little louder and a little sillier as I sat down with my cup of tea. I stopped singing and giggled at a joke that came to me out of the blue. Suddenly I picked up my guitar and within a short space of time had come up with a couple of new and, if I may be so bold, really quite good songs. Pleased with myself, I started to put down a few thoughts on paper…(well, on the P.C. actually.) Some song lyrics, actually, and not too bad, a short story for kids that was actually quite charming, and an idea for a piece for this esteemed site.
All the while my good mood intensified and the creative juices flowed. It wasn’t until evening became night that an icy realization stopped me in my tracks.
Oh God, no….
That Ole Black Dog was back.
“Ole Black Dog”, you say? Whatever is the fool talking about?
To explain: Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Britain in 1940-45. Remember, that was that time when you guys (the Good Old U.S. of A.) won the Second World War for us (thanks for that…. much appreciated!!) He (Churchill) referred frequently, to his family and friends, about his ‘Black Dog’, which was a euphemism for depression. He suffered with depression for most of his life and at times struggled to hide the extent of his black moods from his political colleagues. Before you deride our ‘great leader’…your own esteemed Abe Lincoln was a fellow sufferer…as was the slightly less esteemed Nixon. So there!)
It was with a mixture of panic and black resignation that I knew I had another 24 hours of euphoria and creativity before “the dog” bit me. 24 hours until the inevitable crash that would strangle all creativity and render me more or less useless. I think I experienced my first ‘episode’ when I was about six or seven but had yet to discover any creative outlets, other than occasionally flinging feces at strangers, which hardly counts does it!?
I knew I felt weird, my teachers kinda picked up on it in my school reports which were an odd dichotomy between ‘shows great promise but has a tendency to show off’ to acid remarks such as ‘Tries hard with limited success.’
Academically I was average in all subjects apart from English. It was the one subject I enjoyed and kinda excelled in. Please, no sniggering or cheap shots! It was a world in which I could find expression for the bizarre thoughts that would often come to me. As I became more self aware, I became more in tune with the cycle of my life. I settled into a routine that was usually along the lines of one week’s manic lunacy in which anything could and invariably did happen followed by a week of utter desolation and struggling to face the world outside, and two weeks of relative normality where I tried to repair any damage done to others during the other two weeks.
It’s extraordinary how thoroughly you can fuck up when you’re high. In one week alone I threw in a job, chucked my girlfriend and walked to London for no obvious reason.
Talking about depression here folks, and before you sigh and go elsewhere, this isn’t intended as any kind of thesis on the myriad types of depression, its symptoms, demographics or any of that shit. Neither is it any kind of confessional or cry for help. It’s just a few thoughts and observations.
“Variations in moods and energy levels have been observed as part of the human experience since time immemorial. The words “melancholia” (an old word for depression) and “mania” have their etymologies in Ancient Greek. The word melancholia is derived from melas/μελας, meaning “black”, and chole/χολη, meaning “bile” or “gall”, indicative of the term’s origins in pre-Hippocratic humoral theories” (wikipedia).
There are various types of depression, but it’s the link between certain forms of the illness and creativity that I’m focusing upon. Standard depression, ie a general feeling of sadness afflicts many of us during the course of our lives. It is usually brief in duration and can be relatively easily managed, often without the need for medication or being tied up in a straitjacket. If you’ve lost a loved one or a job you’d have to be pretty abnormal not to feel ‘down’ for a while. This isn’t what we’re talking about here. Nor are we talking about the more crippling types of depression that lead to a complete inability to function, black moods that go on day after day, week after week without lifting and require medical intervention.
No, I’m talking about the link between creativity and depression experienced by the likes of :
Adam Ant, Beethoven,. Irving Berlin. Ray Charles. Fredrick Chopin .Eric Clapton. Kurt Cobain. Billy Corigan. Sheryl Crow. Ray Davies John Denver, Eminem, Peter Gabriel. Juliana Hatfield. Billy Joel. Elton John. Courtney Love. Morrissey. Ozzy Osbourne. Donnie & Marie Osmond. Dolly Parton. Bonnie Raitt. Lou Reed.Axl Rose. Paul Simon. Sting. Robbie Williams…
or how about authors, if you prefer?
Hans Christian Andersen F. Scott Fitzgerald (H) Kenneth Graham Graham Greene Ernest Hemingway John Bunyan Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) Charles Dickens Mary Shelley RobertLouis Stevenson Leo Tolstoy Tennessee Williams Mary Wollstonecraft (SA) Virginia Woolf.
Or indeed, comedians:
Russell Brand, Stephen Fry, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Tony Slatterey, Ruby Wax….
OK, enough already! It’s a pretty impressive list and only a few therein who could truly be described as truly mad!
…to be continued?