The Black Dog: Nonfiction
By Miriam Teague
I’m depressed. Sometimes, I even want to die.
That’s not something I tell a lot of people. Really, the only place where it’s ever come up consistently is the confessional. I certainly never confided in anyone at school, because they’d have had me in my guidance counselor’s office faster than I could say Mother Teresa. Nor have I told my family — though they’re great for debating the finer points of television shows, I’m not anywhere near close enough to them to reveal the deeper and darker facets of my heart. I don’t have a therapist to spill to — and, for the most part, I don’t want one, because a solution isn’t what I’m looking for.
A lot of the time, I really don’t mind. I don’t particularly want to get better. The depression is a constant, a companion. The crushing sadness, the restlessness, even the longing for death are strangely comforting. The notion of dying young doesn’t bother me, so long as I’m in a state of grace.
And when things seem very dark, I almost don’t care what’s on the other side. Heaven would be nice, I suppose — but then, so would a lifeless black void, if it would make it all stop hurting, rid me of the persistent ache in my chest. In fact, I might even prefer the void. It doesn’t matter so much that I feel good. I just don’t want to feel at all.
But to say I want to die is not to say I’m suicidal. Because although the Catholic Church doesn’t keep me from desiring death — and even begging God for it — it does keep me from taking the matter into my own hands.
I don’t know, if I weren’t Catholic, if I would consider taking my own life. But as it is, it’s nice to know that it simply isn’t an option. It’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make, but not for my own sake. For all that I may not want to go on, my faith makes it easy for me to accept that my death must come from God’s hand and in God’s time alone.
I could take my life for love of self, but I’ll spare my life for love of Church.
Winston Churchill is said to have referred to his depression as his “black dog.” I like that image — particularly because the Mark of Cain is sometimes imagined in the same way. Even upon sentencing him to wander the earth, God didn’t leave Cain high and dry. He gave him the Mark, a sign of protection — of love — to carry with him into his exile. Cain’s trial was accompanied and tempered by the grace of God.
In some manner, the Church is my black dog — my depression’s twin constant, an expression of God’s love in my inexpressible pain. Wherever I go, it is right on my heels, ready to offer me whatever comfort, and — on occasion — admonishment I need.
The two of us may traverse the valley of the shadow of death for a long time to come. But in the end, I hope my black dog will bring me home.
Miriam Teague is a student of American history who makes her home in the Midwest.