Recently I took an art course, more on that later, and so I had to head into my local art shop for some supplies. While I was there I noticed a flyer advertising an upcoming local art exhibition called ‘When The Black Dog Bites’. This immediately grabbed my attention because of the reference, intentional or otherwise, to The Black Dog Institute, a mental health foundation set up by a guy with lived experience with mental illness who is now raising money and awareness for mental health around the country. They have a great website and a great book about living with the black dog which is what he calls depression; check them out at http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au, there’s a ton of interesting stuff there including self help resources and professional training.
Because of my journey with mental illness this exhibition appealed to me, but at this stage I was no artist!! But I happened to notice on the flyer that they also accepted written pieces and that’s right up my alley, as you know. So I got to and wrote a little something about when the black dog bites, which to me is about when depression hits. The flyer suggested writing something about mental illness, and hinted at a focus on hope and I tried to stick with that approach, because isn’t that the only way to get through this? Focusing on hope?
I entered it in the exhibition, and they hung it on the wall, and I got that cheesy photo pointing at my published piece and smiling, and now I’ll never see it again because I couldn’t pick it up on the last day and the curator doesn’t answer her emails!! Oh well. At least I can say I’ve been published, and not just self-published here. The general public got to see my writing and that’s pretty cool. I’ll never know if they liked it, but actually its more important to me that I wrote it, and got it into the exhibition, than what others thought of it. It got some of my thought out of my head in solid form and that’s always good, otherwise my head would explode!
I went to the exhibition with hubby halfway through the opening and it was fascinating to see each exhibitor’s different interpretation and own experience of mental illness. I associate the black dog with depression, probably because that is what has affected me most, but other artists painted or drew or wrote or sculpted or crafted about schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, PTSD, autism and others; it was a real medley. A couple of art pieces were truly disturbing!! I didn’t need to see those. But there were some really thoughtful and insightful pieces there.
Overall, I think it made me realise that although I like the idea of such an exhibition, I don’t like bathing in a room of mental illness art emerging from the rawness of people’s souls! It’s too much, too real, too full on. It’s a room full of triggers waiting to go off and snap your fingers and sensitive parts of your brain like mouse traps! I wouldn’t go again. But hey, now I know that and I didn’t before. It’s too much like sticking your tongue in an electric socket after having being electrocuted.
So here’s what I think about when the black dog bites. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Enjoy!
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When the Black Dog bites
When the Black Dog bites, it’s okay.
It’s not okay that it bites, but it’s okay. You will be okay.
It’s okay to stop. It’s okay to retreat from life. It’s okay to let go of commitments, at least for a little while. It’s okay to stop.
It’s okay to eat what you want. It’s okay to drink, but only a little. It’s okay to wear your pyjamas all day, and stay in bed, and get nothing done. It’s okay, for a while.
Do what you need to do to make you feel okay. Touch a smooth stone or soft velvet, get a massage or new hairdo, watch people laughing on TV, snuggle in your blankets and sink into your pillow, indulge in your favourite treat, take a bath. Do whatever makes you happy and makes you feel okay.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to hurt, for now. It’s okay, it won’t last forever. It’s okay.
Talk. It’s okay to talk. Talk to someone, anyone. Your best friend, a work mate, your mother, a help line, your diary, a recorder; just talk. It’s okay to talk. They won’t run away, and if they do, persist and start again with someone else who will show you its okay. You’ll be okay if they run away. There is someone out there who will hear you and show you that its okay to talk. It’s okay to be heard. It’s okay to talk.
It’s okay to see a doctor. It’s okay to have a diagnosis. It’s okay to take medications. It’s okay to see a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a counsellor, a therapist. It’s okay to get help. It’s absolutely, and necessarily okay.
It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to accept help. And if the help isn’t helpful, it’s okay to reject help. You know best what help it is that you need, so ask for that help and accept only that help. It’s okay to be choosy and try, try again to ask for help. Just don’t reject all the help. Once you’ve found the help that you need, accepting that help is okay.
When the Black Dog bites, hygiene becomes hard. Really hard. So I’m here to tell you, not showering for a week is okay. Not showering for however long is okay. Not brushing your teeth, or combing your hair, or doing your makeup today is okay, but use some deodorant; you’re still human. People won’t like it, and eventually you’ll have to change, but right now, it’s okay. When the Black Dog bites, it’s okay.
In fact, nearly whatever you do when the Black Dog bites is okay, whatever you need to do is okay. Focus on you, on surviving this bite, on being okay for now. You know it will pass and you’ll be okay again, for real. In the meantime, it sucks. It really sucks. So, do what you need to do to be okay for now.
And someday soon, it will be okay.