I can feel him long before I see him. He is drawing closer, slowly, stealthily, hiding in the darkest corners, keeping to the shadows. The muscles in his haunches are bunched and powerful, rippling under his jet black fur. As he creeps forward he is almost silent but I can hear him breathing. He begins to pant, gently at first, not through exertion, it’s his excitement that has raised his heart rate.
“I am coming for you” he whispers, I can hear the hatred in his voice.
“Keep back”, I shout, “I don’t want to see you, you are not coming in”. He withdraws a little but starts to move forward again as he detects a tremor in my voice. He can sense my fear, the signals passing down the invisible leash that connects us.
“Go away! leave me alone” I yell. I hear him moving slowly closer my yells and screams have no effect, he feeds on my fear. For the first time I can make out his shape, his body a slightly darker black against the blackness of the shadows. As he looks at me, I can just make out the whites of his eyes, rimmed in red, demonic. I hear the beginnings of a growl rumble in his throat, I can feel his hackles rise and for the first time I see the glint of his teeth through the darkness.
“I am coming for you”, he says “You can’t run, you can’t hide”. My heart starts to beat faster, heat rises to my face, my palms start to sweat as I feel panic rising, fear beginning to take over as he says “Come on let go, one more minute and I have you”. Suddenly it hits me, knowledge comes to the surface. Through the morass of fear that my mind has become, a strand of sanity arises, a thread of hope. I remember!
I have owned dogs all my life and I know that the vicious ones are usually the most cowardly, they feed off fear, they hide their fear behind aggression. To defeat them you must remain calm, to assert control of them you have to project your authority. Any dog can be mastered with time, calm and patience.
I close my eyes and breathe deeply, in through my nose and out through my mouth. In for five seconds, hold for three seconds, out for six seconds. In for five seconds, hold for three, out for six, and again, and again. I focus on my breath, on the expansion of my chest, feeling air fill my lungs, feeling calm descend. I can hear the dog getting agitated, angry. “I am coming for you” he barks, “you are mine, I have got you”.
I stand taller, calm now, my breathing slow and steady as his anger rises. I raise my hand slowly, palm out towards him. “Stop!” I say, my voice firm and steady, calm. “You only have power over me if I let you have it”. “No he screams, you’re mine, I will drag you down, tear your throat out and feed on your entrails”. His anger is rising, I know I am winning.
“Down boy” I say, smiling now as calm spreads through my body, spreading with the oxygenated blood pumping from my heart as it flows through my body. I step towards him and he starts to whine. “Quiet now, Good boy” I move slowly, looking at him but not into his eyes. I want him to submit, not feel challenged. “Here boy” I say tapping my leg. Slowly he emerges from the dark and moves towards me, ears down, tail between his legs, beaten again, at least for today. He comes to my side, I reach down, scratching between his ears. “Good boy, now go in your box” I say. He turns walks to his crate and lies down, his stomach exposed, showing me that he has submitted to me at least for today. He may try again tomorrow, but for today at least the black dog of my depression has been vanquished once more.
This post is my response to a writing challenge where we are asked to express contrast through a dialogue. Having suffered from depression for many years I have discovered that mindfulness exercises really help me. The key to mindfulness is to try to live in the moment, to accept and acknowledge your feelings, to put them away and to move on. To be able to do that a form of guided meditation can be used and I find the best route into this is through controlled breathing. I came across the story of the black dog whilst dealing with a bad bout of depression. I love dogs and have lots of experience in dealing with them. Patience, calm, reward and repetition are the tools that work best when training a dog. The same tools can be used to master your depression. When you are training a vicious dog, if you show fear you are likely to get bitten. I have found the same when I feel the black dog of depression creeping up on me. I have tried to use this exercise to explain how I try to tame my black dog. I hope you found it interesting, informative and entertaining. 🙂
Black dog image from: http://positivepsychologynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/blackdog.jpg