I have always loved animated dogs (Gromit and Muttley are among my favourites), so this video which not only features an animated dog but explains depression in five minutes better than I could in a thousand blog posts was bound to strike a chord with me. As well as explaining the strange and odd (mental illness) through the medium of something familiar and friendly (a household pet) to those who are blessed to be free from depression, it makes sense of the whole experience for people like me.
The most important part of the dog analogy is that it firmly separates The Depression from me, as a thing that can come and go and that anyone could have. This is incredibly helpful, because seeing depression as a Thing I can relate to rather than an unfortunate (life-ruining) character trait allows me to focus on looking after myself when it attacks me, rather than berating myself for being weak. If it isn’t an essential part of me, maybe I can control it. Maybe I could squish it, or at least ignore it for a while, however much noise it makes. I could learn to love it, or at least tolerate it.
There are a few images in the video which precisely represent how I experience things: the man blocking the doorway to hide the dog from his peers is one; the dog lying on his chest preventing him from getting out of bed in the morning is another. I still don’t know how to tell people how depression is affecting me on a daily basis – I can ramble here until the cows come home about how sometimes I get sad or even frightened for no reason, or how tiring I can find being around people in the office all day, or how grumpy I get when I haven’t eaten for a while, but that’s a far cry from actually admitting right now to the person I’m with that I’m feeling sad to the point that my normal functioning (whatever that is) is inhibited. As for mornings, I really do lie in bed some days until the disgust at myself in the present is outweighed by the disgust I know I will feel if I have to explain that I’m late for work because I just couldn’t make myself get up.
The metaphor breaks down in one of the places I need it most: you can’t see depression, so I can’t just walk into a room and introduce myself and my dog. No one wants depression – I spend half my life trying to act like it isn’t there – and it isn’t exactly cuddly. But it can be tamed, with a bit of help, and I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s something I can live with.