Depression: Battling the Black Dog

March 8th, 2021 by Ruan Humphrey

I will never forget the morning I asked a friend, “How are you?’ and he answered, “Battling the black dog!”

I responded, “What does that mean – the black dog?”

dog nose

“You’re not familiar with that term?” He asked.

“Not at all.”

“It’s depression. Winston Churchill called it ‘the black dog’.”

“I am very sorry.  How are you battling?”

Before he could answer, we heard the signal for our meeting to begin.

My thoughts turned toward Depression.  It was only in retrospect that I surmised my friend used that term with me because of my work as a mental health counselor.


Before I Opened My Eyes in the Morning

DEPRESSION - WITH ITS MYRIAD SYMPTOMS of Sadness; Preoccupation with death; Irritability; Isolation from loved ones; Loss of interest or pleasure; Low energy and self-esteem; appetite and sleep disturbances, feelings of worthlessness, and lack of ability to think or concentrate.

I recalled my own experiences and that of others to consider the battle.

One person who battled said, “Before I opened my eyes in the morning, I felt depressed.”

“When I lived in the Northeast, before I opened my eyes daily, I wondered if it would be sunny or cloudy. I knew that If it were sunny, I would feel the sun inside. If it were overcast, I would be down.”

cloudy day

A prayer in the devotional Our Daily Bread aptly stated my sentiments, “Some days all I can see is the ways I’ve disappointed myself and others, the ways I’ve broken the future I’ve dreamed of.”

On those days, if I continued to focus on disappointments – the black dog nipped more and more steadily at my heels as I sank – heart heavy, tearful, under a dark cloud needing to look up to see the bottom of the barrel I found myself in.

If I focused on what I did not have for any length of time, the black dog slinked into my space.

If I focused on what I did not have for any length of time, the black dog slinked into my space.

Successful Martha

A woman, I will call “Successful Martha” came for counseling after attempting to “battle the black dog” on her own. Unable to focus on her work, she realized that she needed to take a leave of absence.

She was very embarrassed about needing help. This professional woman saw herself as strong and capable. After all, she was the one who family members confided in, and depended upon to solve problems, so she decided to isolate until she recovered.

Someone asked, “Other than anti-depressant medication, is there HOPE for victory in the battle with the black dog?”

Understanding Depression

The psychiatrist “hooked” us when he drew a sailboat on the board.

sailboat 2

Then he wrote a word on the sailboat.

sailboat with serotonin

As he wrote "serotonin" in the boat he said emphatically, “SEROTONIN FLOATS YOUR BOAT! If your serotonin level is high, you will be happy. If your serotonin level is low, you will be sad!”

This was our introduction to Clinical Depression.  He continued, "There are new meds to help with the regulation of serotonin levels sans devastating side effects."

A Rave Review

After her husband had been on one of those medications for more than a year One naturally “UP” wife said, “It doesn’t make him like me (always cheerful!), it just makes him normal!” A rave review from her!

husband and wife hold hands

One youth pastor evaluated his progress after 6 months on one of those meds saying, “I was such a fool to resist getting on meds.  I am so much better now! My marriage is better. I now realize our bickering was all me, because of the depression.”

Situational Depression

Situational Depression (defined on Healthline) is short term, and stress-related that can develop after a traumatic event or series of events. It is a type of adjustment disorder. It’s also known as reactive depression.

Situational Depression is short term and stress-related that can develop after a traumatic event or series of events.

The afore noted symptoms are the same for both types of depression.

Events that may cause this type of depression include:

problems at work or school; illness; death of a loved one; moving; relationship problems.  Might COVID-19 be included?

Added Stress

We have all lived through one year with the COVID-19 pandemic, its rules, and restrictions.  We have started this new year with it and the added stress of:

  • “I need to get a vaccine to be able to renew my life!” 
  • “I’m trying to register but I’m either too early or too late.”
  • “I’m going to sit in my car on a line even if it means being there overnight.” 
  • “I am eagerly waiting for my age group to be opened by the governor.”
  • “I’m not getting a vaccine that has been swiftly pushed through the trials process by the FDA and or CDC.”
  • “Can I be tested for anti-bodies?”

Hope for Victory Over the Black Dog

For those who are in relationship with our LORD JESUS CHRIST there is HOPE for victory over “The Black Dog”!  The WORD OF GOD was truly my salvation through two sources, Watchman Nee’s book The Spiritual Man and my Cousin Angela’s morning meditation, “This is the day which the LORD has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).

Pastor Jentzen Franklin theorized,  “When you can muster up just enough faith to have HOPE, it will give you the power to push through!”

“When you can muster up just enough faith to have HOPE, it will give you the power to push through!”

He shared a massive study completed by the military to be applied to helping those with PTSD. The program is called PERMA. The doctor who led the research study concluded that if helplessness can be learned, OPTIMISM can be learned.  Optimism is a key to winning the battle! 

“PERMA is an acronym for

  • P -Positive Emotions – “Joy of the LORD!” Jer. 15, Ps. 16
  • E -Engagement – No Isolating! Stop soaking in your sorrow! Get back in the flow. Engage in the presence of GOD. WORSHIP!
  • R -Relationships – Seek them out! Develop them again!
  • M -Mission – You need something bigger than yourself. GOD has not changed HIS MIND! GOD is going to fix it!
  • A -Accomplishments - You’ve got to have some wins! Focus on them. The Bible says we are more than CONQUERORS! It helps to have a hero character like JESUS!”

“Successful Martha” credits her recovery to diligently practicing PERMA while increasing her hours of sleep.

Positive Emotions Engagement Relationships Mission Accomplishments

The Fight Is in Your Thoughts

Finally, to overcome fear, the following teaching by Dr. David Jeremiah parallels PERMA to assist in the defeat of the “black dog”.

  1. “Control your mind.”

Gordon Robertson said, “The Fight is in your thoughts.” PRAY! “When you pray, believe that you have it and you will.  GOD is working even when you don’t know it.”

  1. “Count your blessings.  Focus on what you have!”
  2. “Continue your work.  Do what you can do. “
  3. “Consider your future.  HEAVEN!”

Ruan C. Humphrey+

“Count your blessings. Focus on what you have!” “Continue your work. Do what you can do. “ “Consider your future. HEAVEN!”

Read more from Ruan in "The Opposite of Fear."

Listen to her speak on "Living Waters" or "Perseverance."

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The Opposite of Fear
February 1, 2021 In Articles, Facing Challenges
The Good Neighbor
April 14, 2021 In Articles, Facing Challenges
Serving God…How I Put My Toe in the Water
June 8, 2021 In Articles, Facing Challenges

About this author:

Ruan Humphrey

Ruan Humphrey

Mother Ruan is an ordained priest in Anglican Mission International, a counselor, and a veteran educator.

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