It’s been an age since I wrote a poem. When I was a teenager, that used to be my go-to. I wrote poems as presents, poems to stop myself crying, poems that were funny, poems to stop myself from bursting with happiness.
It’s absurdly cliche to say that I get my best writing ideas at night, but it’s true. I always keep a notepad by my bed, especially since I’ve been suffering with my mental health. Depression and anxiety can leave you with a broken sleep pattern. Waking up in the middle of the night is easily remedied, for me, by a quick scribble (or even a doodle). Outside of that, I have kept one by my bed because the amount of times I have failed to write down my bestseller idea at 3am and forgotten what it was by 7am… It doesn’t bear thinking about. I’ve probably given up million pound book deals because I preferred sleep… Maybe…
Last night though, I was reading Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive (review & giveaway coming soon), and he describes depression in the way Churchill did – as a black dog:
Winston Churchill lived with the ‘black dog’ for much of his life too. Watching a fire, he once remarked to a young researcher he was employing: ‘I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed.’
Indeed he did. He was – in terms of career achievements – one of the most active men who ever lived. Yet he continually felt despondent and full of darkness.
The political philosopher John Gray … believes Churchill didn’t ‘overcome’ depression to become a good war leader, rather that the experience of depression directly enabled him to be one.
Gray argues, in an article for the BBC, that it was Churchill’s ‘exceptional openness’ to intense emotion that explains how he was able to sense dangers that more conventional minds failed to see. ‘For most of the politicians and opinion makers who wanted to appease Hitler, the Nazis were not much more than a raucous expression of German nationalism,’ writes Gray. It needed an unusual mind to address an unusual threat. ‘He owed his foresight of the horror that was to come to the visits of ‘the black dog’.
Matt Haig – Reasons to Stay Alive
Just as a I began to drift to sleep, my brain latched on to that metaphor, and my latest poem was born. Luckily, I wrote this one down… I will never stop being surprised by the power of words.
The Black Dog
You’re there, panting,
Tail wagging, happy to see me.
I am less enthused.
You bound over,
Playfully yapping and snapping at my fingers so deftly
That I barely have time to whip them out of your reach.
It’s been a while since we walked this path together.
Robotically, familiarly, I attach myself to you,
The lead tightening around my wrist.
We’re walking it again.
The trees around us begin swaying,
Baying along with you.
For some creatures, this would terrify them,
But you soak it up,
Feeding off the carcass of my fear.
I let you off the lead.
You run, as I try to keep pace;
My leaden legs beating against the ground,
Yet you speed along, howling.
We howl together.
I stop to catch my breath,
Attempting to slow my pounding heart
And swallow the sickness in my throat.
You stop to watch me,
With that inquisitive cock of the head
That I despise.
As if to comfort me,
You nuzzle yourself against me,
Your cool nose stark against the
Sweat of my palm and the tremble of my fingers.
Your black eyes lock with mine.
You seem placid,
But this is when I fear you most.
I cower, waiting for your next taunting move.
I don’t have to wait long,
Yet the moments pass like years.
The playful, menacing hunt for your tail.
Circling, circling, circling in a neverending motion;
I don’t know when it started – I don’t know when it will end.
I feel it coming again
The tightness in my chest
The bile rising in my throat
You run off, playing fetch with my memories
Returning the ones that distress me and
Turning your nose up at the good ones. You don’t care for those.
Eventually, you tire, lying down in the shade of a tree;
You look so frail, so beaten,
I almost feel affection for you.
And, like always, you eventually leave.
You jump the fence of the back yard of my mind,
Chasing a bird, or a rat, or a rabbit.
I am free of you, for a while.
My allergic eyes are no longer puffy from tears
And my heart no longer breaks.
I miss the gentle comfort,
The familiarity you bring, but
I pray nobody will find your tag.
I pray nobody will bring you home.