Walking the Dog

There are times when my time on the bike is limited to running errands, commuting three times a week to and from the station.  As regular readers of these musings will know, my bike computer can become something of an obsession; watching the miles clock up, the first mile of the week, what speed I’m doing.  Sometimes – like this morning – with a bit of spare time on my way home from running some errands – I went round a nearby park before heading up the hill to where I live.

The Spring has arrived, the weather is warm, and it’s my day off.  What’s not to like?

Cycling round the park I pass parents pushing buggies, others coaxing their children on bicycles with trainer wheels along the paths.  A wide assortment of joggers, and, of course dog walkers.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that I am a cat person, rather than a dog person.  Likewise, regular readers will be aware of the personification of depression that the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave depression – ‘the black dog’.

The Black Dog of which Churchill wrote was one that snapped at his heels during meeting with the War Cabinet during The Blitz, growled at him from under his desk, and pawed at his legs as he walked in his country estate.

Over the past decade I have become all too familiar with the bark and yap of the voices in my head.  But these days I am generally in a better state of  mind.  The tablets do their job, and I make sure I take the steps I need to in order to keep me in the saddle.

But depression is a ‘light sleeper’.  Apart from the fact that poor sleep is a sign of depression and anxiety, it’s also never far from the surface. This is something I have only recently come to appreciate in myself.  As a mental health worker, sure, I’m aware of the need for ‘daily maintenance doing things every day to ward off the malaise.I talk about this with Peers, fellow sufferers regularly at work.  But it doesn’t apply to me, right?  I’ve ‘got insight’; that precious commodity that people with  severe mental health problems may lack.


I can be complacent and smug about my ‘recovery’ any day of the week.  In 2009, thinking I was cured, I abruptly stopped taking my anti – depressants and didn’t bother to tell my doctor.  With my work hat on I know that this is foolish, and is likely to led to a serious relapse ( as happened to me in 2010).

What I have come to realise recently is that I need to pay attention to my stubborn morbid feelings – not just wish them well, and see them on their way before returning my attention to the present moment, and my immediate surroundings as a Mindful approach encourages us to do.  I’m not saying that I should feed these feelings, but some sort of dialogue (I’m not quite sure what kind yet) is important to protect me.  Like keeping a dog on a lead.

Depression provides a curious companionship, as I have wondered on these pages in the past.  It peels away layers that others may not see.  Does it give a truer view of how I see the world, however uncomfortable?  I m beginning to think that it does.  And yet I also know that a depressive outlook and behaviour that it promotes is, to put it mildly, unhelpful.  This is  concept that I have written bout before when sharing my views on Acceptance and Committment Therapy (A.C.T.)  This approach asks not whether depressive feelings are right or wrong – with reactive depression they might be a rational response to events.  Instead it crucially asks: is this attitude, are these feelings helpful?  Will they help me to get where I want, or need to go?

By keeping the black dog on a leash I can at least exert some degree of control over my low mood, even if this means connecting to these feelings more than some therapeutic approaches might advise.

from The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock

And would it have been worth it, after all,After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it toward some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head,

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.

That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old… I grow old…

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?

Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

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One Response to Walking the Dog

  1. This is more than insight Nic. It is sheer brilliance!


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