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The Black Dog on Blue Monday…

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By Marie Carter-Robb, Editor of Pets Magazine

Today is ‘Blue Monday’ when we are most likely to hit a road block with our New Year’s Resolutions.Confounding our resolve of only 20 days ago, the little promises to shape up our lives along with our waistlines have heaved their last heave and are no more. No one’s been paid since forever and there’s nothing to look forward to on the leaden grey horizon of January. So far, so bleak.

While many people are under the temporary cloud of feeling a little down or blue about life, many of us have suffered, or, are suffering, from a more intractable gloom, the kind that grips by the neck, and won’t let go. It’s when the ‘Black Dog’ of Winston Churchill’s often quoted depressed state is awake and snarling on many more day’s than today’s national descent into ‘depression’.

Late last year, I wrote in The Independent about how our pets can help us when we are in the throes of mental health crisis. I received many words from readers with heart-warming, and often tear-inducing, stories to tell of how our most faithful friends had helped them over that Everestine mountain of despair.

If not quite managing to conquer their demons, their four-legged loved ones had provided the kind of unconditional love that is only ever possible from a non-human. The quiet patience of a dog, his steadfast love and his comforting licks, can help get us back on our feet and even out of the front door into the world; preferably with lead and dog in hand!

I know all too well the sense of light that a dog can bring amid the darkness of despair. He can, hand in paw, help us to fight the metaphorical Black Dog that threatens to consume. I too, like many of my readers, have suffered from times of depression, which have swung into, and out of my life, like a pendulum in slow mo. The clock strikes and the Black Dog slinks in, grinning from ear to ear, unbidden and unwanted.

It feels akin to scaling a vast mountain; bloodied nails snagging and gripping at the rock face for dear life.

Real depression grips and sucks the life and the pleasure of things that used to be interesting and comforting; it erases minutes and hours; it makes the existing difficulties of jobs and relationships even more hellish to endure, and much more confusing; but, worst of all, it makes us feel hollow at the very marrow of our beings. There is a numbness about feeling depressed that I would not wish on my own worst enemy. It is not necessarily transient nor brought on by a confluence of pressures such as happens on Blue Monday. Real depression has teeth, and will consume all hope unless something shifts deep within us.

Climbing out of the pit of despair is not easy. It feels akin to scaling a vast mountain; bloodied nails snagging and gripping at the rock face for dear life. Although they are not the right thing for everyone, I am helped by anti-depressants, and do not care to think about ending their prescription. The unconditional love of a pet, in my case dogs, can help hugely. In the case of a dog, he can help us take our daily exercise. Jogging with my youngest dog Rufus is not only good for him, but it gives me a huge spike of those happy endorphins.

Escaping from the Black Dog takes slow and precise steps, rather than a panicky and frantic sprint. It’s not easy but it can be done, take heart. The Black Dog will slink off again to the shadows eventually to lick his wounds.

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