Friday, 19 November 2010


Bad misfiring in synaptic gaps.
The wrong fuel mix;
Dopamine, serotonin, noradrenalin, acetylcholine
(sometimes other stuff too),
It’s complicated –
Amazing, really, that for most of us it works
Most of the time.

The result is suffering,
The crushing weight of senselessness.
Darkness, dreariness,
The feeling that it’s all just too hard
And pointless

And frightening too.

There are memories – more, knowledge –
That it hasn’t always been like this,
That there has been joy and hope
And beautiful luminous sunrises
And the caress of loving hands
And contentment at work well done.

And that they all meant something.

There somewhere
But packed away behind glass,
Wrapped in cotton-wool,
Useless now,
Impotent against
Actual hopelessness.

There’s the huge heroic effort
(unnoticed, unsung)
Just to function,
To keep up appearances,
To appear “normal.”
It’s not something others would understand anyway –
Your very own, personal hell.

(And who really gives a fuck anyway?)

Or – worse even –
That others start to see it,
Notice the crumbling façade
And start to worry
And ask solicitous questions
For which there are no answers …

Ah no, I’m all right, really!

Letters left unopened, telephone unanswered,
The bed becomes a haven of refuge,
A place to lie,
Sleepless, drifting in ever-smaller circles.
Sometimes there is enough energy in the evening
To get up
(For the evenings are somehow less threatening;
Another day has been managed … somehow)
And then spend most of the night up,
Watching meaningless television programmes,
Immediately forgotten.

Sometimes you cry,
Sometimes you are too empty, even for tears …

There are various types of depression, with various causes and triggers. Experts reckon that around 10% of the world population suffers or will suffer from what is officially known as major depression disorder at some stage during their lives, about twice as many women as men. It frequently co-occurs with other psychiatric and neurological problems, such as anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as Parkinson’s and dementia. It often afflicts people with chronic pain problems and cardio-vascular diseases.

It can generally be treated, at best with a combination of medication and psychotherapeutic support, and most sufferers succeed in finding joy and purpose in life once more. The majority recovers completely, for quite a few the episodes recur or become chronic but almost all of these can, with the help of medication, lead quite normal lives.

Many prominent figures have suffered from depression, including Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Brian May, Ernest Hemmingway, Winston Churchill, John Stuart Mill, Robbie Williams, Jackson Pollock, Michelangelo, Kirstin Dunst and John Denver.

Some do not survive it; the suffering becomes too great and they end their own lives. I have lost two friends this way.

And I have made personal acquaintance with what Churchill called “the black dog.” It is almost a decade ago now and an experience I hope never to have to repeat. Those suffering need our support – and our encouragement to seek professional help, particularly because a common symptom is such a loss of energy and motivation that they may not be able to take this step themselves.

[This theme is continued in the following post: ]


The "Crying Eye" picture has awakened quite a lot of interest online since I published this. Here is a link to the site where I found it.


  1. A fine piece of poetry, Francis.
    <#Fine' is the wrong adjective, but you will know what I mean.

    Yes, those suffering need support. Of many similar encounters I made there's one which will always be in my mind, before my eyes, in my ears.

    Too cut it short: Sometimes when you are sure to have found a solution, exactly the solution the sufferer has told you s/he's dreaming of / longing for, you will come to hear: "I shall not use foreign folks' bathtub.

    And you will just stay there, tears running down your cheeks ... and thus ... at least for a while one sufferer's misery has doubled.

    What you did (obviously?) came too late.

  2. Sounds like Churchill may have had some problems with big legged women in his time.

    That's a powerful opening salvo you've got there Francis. That's been me. Hopelessness has it's root in thinking you have no purpose or are a complete failure in implementing your perceived purpose. Been there.

    It's cliche, it's platitudinous and lame but we slog through it one day at a time. We may never exorcise our demons but we can chain the door against them and ignore the filthy, rotting fingers reaching around the door jam.

  3. You describe it exactly like it is and in such a wonderful piece of writing.

    Depression and anxiety have been my old friends almost my entire life.

    But, I am fortunate that I did find a good DR. and I listen to him, take my medication according to directions and for the most part the dark days stay away!!

    Hope you have a great day!

  4. You said it so poignantly well.

    In those days, seeking, wanting, needing death, I wrote a long suicidal poem, starting, "She did not say goodbye in a blaze of glory." The poem ended, " She did not wave. There was nobody there."

    The utter solitude, the incredible loneliness and aloneness, the emptiness calling me deeper and deeper into the void. So frightening, horrifying...

    God seized my hand and saved me. I have no religion. Only Him. I let people, if they wish, call Him an illusion. He is more real to me than the tangibility of the crowd around me. His light shines over the darkness of the world. I'm reaching a very old age with joy, peace and hope.

    The best I can say to people I love, and people who suffer, "You're in my heart and prayers." So are you, Francis, for this moving Essay. Merci de tout coeur!

  5. Great article, great poem! As someone that has tangled with the "Black Dog" I know the power it can wield over you, and the loneliness, isolation and problems it causes.

    I'm glad that you posted the article and glad that you came forward with your fight with it.

    Again great article!

  6. Powerful work Francis. I know all too well what it is like to suffer from the black dog.

  7. I spend far too much time reading news that leads me to conclude depression is the only logical reaction to our culture of isolation and excess. I know the place well and sometimes it takes all my effort to avoid the depths of despair.

    Your poem and essay on the subject are very beautifully and poignantly done.

  8. Such has been my life for almost 20 years now. At least I know that it is not in vain, but that knowledge does little to ease the pain much of the time.

  9. good evening, francis, interesting is life, isn't it....? have we met in some other life, a parallel universe, walking along sharing blog ideas? strange we both write about this tough subject... although my post actually posted itself and was posted originally two years ago....still very relevant to my life however as i suffer from major depressive as well as several other names of things i don't give lots of meaning to...they are only labels, something i learned years ago from my first shrink, words to live by, never be labeled by anyone, including those who supposedly know the drill. nobody really knows for you or me.

    anyway, it is good to meet someone walking my path, and if not, as i believe you said, then that's wonderful! i am thrilled for anyone who outruns the black dog of depression...come over anytime to read my ramblings and i will enjoy your writings....they are beautifully done. xox

  10. To all those who have commented up to now -

    I am honoured and humbled by your honesty. Obviously I seem to have struck a chord which resonates.

    Thinking about this reply, I have more or less decided to write another post on the subject in the (hopefully) very near future. Watch this space ... :-)

  11. Hi, Francis

    Yes, you've struck a core with me as well. I have suffered a couple of major depressive episodes without hospitalization. One in early childhood. It's taken me a lifetime since to deal with it but I am much better now. Learning to laugh helped a lot. Previously, I underestimated or, at times, disregarded completely the power of laughter. It's helped me.

    There are so many people in my family and among my friends, who have depression or bipolar illness, including my daughter, on whom the black dog turned with ferociousness when she was only 16.

    Thank you for writing about this and keeping the dialogue going on a topic that not many are willing to discuss.


  12. There was I in some depression and worrying you might be, because I thought you hadn't posted since early October. The cure was to realise my link was not to your main page!
    I was reading up on the 'obesity plague' earlier and found some serious epidemiology showing animals are getting fatter too, and lots of possibilities beyond too many calories and less exercise.
    In the same line of thought, it seems one possibility on depression is the lack of sensible routes into fellowship and the spirit.

  13. Right now my depression doesn't seem to let up, I REFUSE to be "medicated" I want very few things in life, but the things I want seem impossible and I don't think they will ever happen. I'm at a point now where I just don't know what else to do and if the things I want are never going to happen, why continue this charade?

  14. DesiringMommy-hood: What's your problem with medication? If everything is unbearable as it is, what have you got to lose?
    Mental disorders take on a vampire life and existence of their own and often fight for their continued "right to life" by persuading us not to go down paths they see as threatening themselves.
    Think about it!

  15. I have suffered with depression on and off my entire life. You describe the pain and numbness with great beauty, elegance, and exactness. I felt that you really understand what it's like. Thank you.

  16. its the loneliness, isolation and paranoia that are so hard to fight and every time i think i am winning and get a little of my self esteem back some one or something is waiting to crush me back down into the pits again.
    life is a casino where all the games are rigged.

  17. Vincent said "life is a casino where all the games are rigged."

    No, Vincent, rather, you experience life as a casino where all the games are rigged. this is your perception and it is very real for you. But it is not all there is.

    Consider that one of the consequences of depression is a narrowing of perspective, the eradication of many possible alternatives until only one or two, usually frightful ones, remain. But the others are still there, only the lights illuminating the way to them have been switched off.

    This is a specific area where therapy can help; exploring with a professional the possibility of those other alternatives - initially perhaps only an intellectual insight that there may be other possibilities. But this may be a first step on the difficult road to turning on some of those lights.

    There are many realities - we all create, to a certain extent, our own. But this also means that the capability to create new ones also resides in us ...

  18. Can you tell me about the picture with the crying eye? Is there a copyright on it? I'm interested in using that picture for my therapy practice.

  19. I am interested in using this picture for my school project. Could I use this picture?

  20. Sammie Feel free! I found it originally on the web as well. Maybe you'd better give the original source - it's a Brasilian blog!

    I'll add a link to the original source in the text.


Your comments are, of course, welcome. I've had to reinstall captchas recently as - like most other bloggers - I was being plagued by spambots.


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