Winston Churchill’s Black Dog of Depression doesn’t like haircuts.

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I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.

I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train.

I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.

A second’s action would end everything.

A few drops of desperation.

~ Winston Churchill

6 Ways I hope to Tame my Black Dog.

Winston Churchill—one of the greatest, fallible, romantic, vital and charming figures in modern history—was known to suffer from highs and lows. Lows so dark and so steadily recurring that his depression came to be known as his “black dog.”

While I feel fortunate to be rather up and outward, generally, when I was younger I would frequently go a good day or two, once every while, lost in my mind of solid sadness and defeat. Over the years my Buddhist training, meditation, and particularly Kasung work—as well as my naturally growing up and finding a vocation and avocation in which to pour my considerable energies—have helped me to fall into such solidity only very occasionally. My red tick hound not-at-all-depressed dog, Redford, and his consistent desire to get outside to run about and pee on everything also helps force me out, when I’m feeling like cocooning myself in my home/office—which, when it was under foreclosure, wasn’t exactly a warm nest.

Lately, though, due to a particularly heart-pulling, open, raw situation, I’ve been down. I’ve been down and down and down.

Not just sad, but stressed and in physical pain—to the point where I meditate and do tonglen but instances of difficulty keep recurring and sending me deeper. And so, with the encouragement of a friend, I’m reconnecting formally with a meditation instructor, and for the first time in my life seeking therapy (something I’ve had less than less-than-zero desire for, historically), and recommitting myself to my Buddhist path of service and meditation practice.

But what makes all of this relevant and useful, hopefully, are a few easy suggestions by others that have helped me and might help you, should you find yourself down and out.

> As a friend said, the other day, in a reply to one of my posts about depression, “the black dog doesn’t like haircuts.” I finally did so, yesterday.

> Another friend, Robbie, suggested shaving (I finally did so, yesterday, hacking away my scraggly red beard).

> Another friend suggested getting dressed, properly, instead of living in sweatshirts. My parents’ Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, often said that sweatshirts and such baggy clothing weren’t advisable, they allowed the ego to be too comfortable and hide out. He advised wearing slightly too tight clothing, which encourages one to sit up straight and take good posture.

> His son, my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, has noted that posture is 50% of one’s state of mind.

> Working directly with one’s state of mind, for a few minutes each morning and evening, or more of course, no matter what, every day, twice a day (or more of course).

> Eating real food instead of the crap you naturally want to eat when you’re down.

> When all else fails, take a hot, hot bath. Epsom salts are nice, and cheap.

Finally, never give up on yourself, even if you feel like doing so.

So, yesterday, I scheduled a haircut. I didn’t want one—I liked my shaggy sideburns and all. But I knew it would uplift and open me up. And so, yesterday, after the haircut, I had to bathe and shave off the half-beard I also felt attached to. And that’s the funny point about depression—we may hate being in it, but we’re attached to it, too. We self-medicate in whatever ways, but we don’t often have the will or inspiration to do those simple things (like exercise, or meditate, or just get out, or eat real food) that would uplift us.

What else, in your experience, helps uplift and open and make sane and heal up?

Yesterday. Today. Still tired, wiped out, stressed, but…my black dog has nowhere to hide.

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anonymous Jan 30, 2013 6:31am

[…] […]

anonymous Dec 16, 2012 9:27pm

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anonymous Feb 27, 2011 11:07pm

You have a ginger beard? There is some Scottish in you! That would mean am not that Scottish, as I have no ginger in my beard!

Hope you feel better, been down there too. Although I was told not to keep a diary. Or more precisely to write my day down and then destroy it, as the keeping of thoughts were keeping the depression around…supposedly.

anonymous Feb 26, 2011 10:51pm

I would have loved for Winston Churchill and Trungpa Rinpoche to have met. But I fear that the time-space continuum may have come undone. I hope you are feeling better soon.

anonymous Feb 26, 2011 10:11am

Nothing kills the black dog like a good hair day.

anonymous Feb 26, 2011 5:21am

To borrow from Pema Chodron and the lojong slogans – "just keep going." Don't know if substances – particularly alcohol – are part of your lifestyle, but my experience is that booze can result in a subtle, dark undercurrent that can pull you down and downer. Yes to backbends, walking, and to making a concerted effort to see the signs of spring. And lovingkindness meditation, making the effort to do something specific for someone else anonymously, remembering all the kindness that has come my way. Reading David Reynolds always catches me up.

anonymous Feb 26, 2011 4:08am

Be gentle with yourself. Practice being kind to yourself. Notice that you are a deeply okay person. Appreciate your good mind and heart. Understand that you have more than enough reason for your feelings and struggles. Appreciate how well you've done in a harsh world.
Decide to feel and give up shame and blame, putting everyone first, not knowing that you are wanted, telling yourself you aren't enough, trying to do it alone, deciding to stay alone, not asking for help,not trusting others to be one your side, not asking for help, avoiding things, that bring up your worst feelings, not showing up, avoiding people who could help when you feel your worst, any other self-defeating patterns you carry and keep choosing to give up negative self talk you have related to these patterns. Find positive phrases you can say to yourself that point you in the winning direction.

anonymous Feb 26, 2011 4:06am

I tend to get frustrated with myself when I'm in that state, fighting it uselessly. Scolding myself for feeling that way! Instead, I know i need to just give myself a hug and seek hugs from others 🙂 I run (or walk) outdoors and study the trees and how far each branch reaches out. Watch a comedy. Have a convo with my kid, who has lots of interesting things to say at the age of not quite 10. I also dig into elephant posts where I'm guaranteed a dose of whatever it is I'm looking for–inspiration, laughter… And who can avoid a bit of wallowing? If I'm lucky, I'll think of my brother in prison who still has 7 years to go and realize I have choices. I'm free. I can go for a walk if I want to. I can run to the store. I can hang with my family, enjoy a fire. xoxo

anonymous Feb 25, 2011 4:04pm

Cleaning the house… Washing the dishes, by hand, even if there is a dishwasher.
Definetly the hot bath… Love a hot bath, but I am 6’8 and therefore do not fit in most baths 🙁
I love sitting with my sadness. There is something to be said about loving sadness— not glorifying it or clinging to but it giving it the space to breathe.
When all else fails, I turn to Reed’s Ginger Beer.

    anonymous Feb 25, 2011 4:09pm

    Yah, I'm 6 3, way shorter but still baths are tough to squeeze into. End Tub Size Discrimination!

anonymous Feb 25, 2011 4:22pm

Oh and yes, I started a regular meditation practice this winter as well as relying on my yoga practice as well. Backbends for the win!

anonymous Feb 25, 2011 5:15pm

Jerry, would you consider writing up an article about your path? I'd love to hear from someone with more experience who isn't me, as would our readers. Suggested title: Depression? Backbends FTW!
~ W.

anonymous Feb 25, 2011 9:59pm

That I can do – I have journals and journals filled with my thoughts of my depressive days.

And I love that title "Depression? Backbends FTW!"!

anonymous Feb 26, 2011 11:23pm

I will see what I can do – I like that title!

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.