I try to warn people by going silent.

Oh damn it’s here again. You wake up one morning & it’s just there. Any advice to get rid of it? #blackdog

Posted by Lemn Sissay on Friday, 10 April 2015


The other day on facebook I mentioned I’d got a bad bout of darkness – there was a black dog at the bottom of my bed – depression I guess you’d call it. It’s the message above. He’d been there a few weeks. Days later I took the advice I was given. I exercised , I called friends and I ate properly and drank water. I am not a weak person. The oppostie. At sixteen I couldn’t leave the children’s home by daylight for fear of being seen. My skin was burning. A psychologist diagnosed depression – the black dog – and I’ve had it in bouts ever since. It is debilitating. On leaving the homes, and entering adult life, alcohol added to depression while pretending to take it away. Clever trick. I stopped drinking a year ago and gained life. The onset of depression is a distant rumbling. Can no one else hear it?. I look at the sky rain’s coming can noone else sense it? The next day rain clouds from ho_Z5A5843rizon to horizon. A mountain appears just outside of town. How come noone else has mentioned it? Wherever I go the mountain’s the same distance away. There’s going to be a storm and then a mudslide. I try to warn people by going Silent. it has all the effect of a cloth school bell. That night there is a terrific downpour. See see. I stand by the window Thunder and lightening. it lights me like an xray. I run to bed and wait for the mudslide to smash through. And then it is here. it is upon me and within me. I’m stuck. Only my face is above ground covered in dust. There are teams of workers digging for survivors. I’m h1280490_241656039315961_1718320927_nere I croak. I’m here. But they can’t hear. I see them talking but I can’t speak. I can’t speak.

I should end this article on  that word  speak  but I can’t can I. Presently I’m in good health. I have some good close friends and some incredible distant friends too. They reached out. My one regret is that I didn’t attend Jumoke Fashola’s warm sunshine evening gathering at her home. I really wanted to be there cause she’s special but I couldn’t get out the house that day.

Right now I am taking in the sun. That doesn’t mean there’s not  challenges  in any given moment right. It means the black dog has gone and the mountain is a dissipating cloud in a studio ghibli film.  I just wanted to say thanks for your kind comments and suggestions.

B & W Photographs by Benji Reid

9 thoughts on “I try to warn people by going silent.

  1. Thank you for your honesty and candor! Happy to hear the black dog is gone. ONward you beautiful SOUL! I had the pleasure of meeting you in Bali at the writer festival. I still remember fondly the passion and energy you have within. May you always find your way back to it.

  2. One thing that helped me through was the mantra “little steps”. Even making a phone call seemed like a mountain. I did not look at the mountain, I just took little steps dialled the number, did not anticipate what would happen next – when they picked up I spoke to the person, did not anticipate their response, replied, when finished hung up. Sometimes I didn’t look at the mountain just the few paces in front now I look back and the view is lovely.

  3. Be kind to yourself. Try not to find all the things you could, should and didn’t do. Remember the things you did. It doesn’t matter if they where today, yesterday or last year. They are still yours and they matter.
    My darkness is not a black dog. I have been followed most of my life by a little monkey.
    I have started to think that the monkey is frightened, and he whispers doubt to stop me leaving him behind or changing our path. I don’t answer the doubts. Since I started thinking like this I think I am behaving differently, the monkey he is there but he is satisfied and quite and there is lightness under my step.
    Keep in the sun x

  4. Lemn thank you for this account of the malarially returning illness that’s depression. The same dog comes to my house sometimes. Not often these days but his kennel is still in my garden. Lets me get up as if I’m walking into a normal day. Waits quietly. Then once i sit down, comes unnoticed and sits quietly on my feet & stops me getting up for a while. I see a counsellor when it happens, as well as doing the things that help you. If you broke a leg you’d see a doctor. If you are depressed people imagine you will heal without support. Makes me furious. You know where I am if company helps. Mx

  5. Sorry you haven’t been feeling so good. Thanks for writing this. There is power in the way you express yourself and the things you choose to communicate are so important. It helps us all to see a little more. I think you have started something amazing by sharing this. Wishing you sunshine and friends and peace.

  6. My black dog grows and shrinks with the seasons. Thank god for the spring, light and sunshine. He’s retreated back into his kennel for now…

  7. Hi Lemn,
    Thought you must be down. Not that you have to keep up some Internet profile, it’s something you clearly do out of need. And your blog is a touchstone. You’re alive to so much and voice it. As in the poetry, it’s all there, (the urgency of the poems, their form and clarity are unique). The pain, anger, injustices some of the poems rail against rage eloquent off the page. Life is made sharp again, the lies and crud fall away, you give breath back it’s meaning.

    I also get the blues. Cripplingly bad at times. My understanding is it does come from real stuff, a combination of turmoil, trauma, or repressive environments whilst young then the stress and adversities of life socially / economically as an adult. Added to which is disparity between our reality and expectations, and I mean across the spectrum of our lives, an impasse or disjointedness that scews our heads.

    It doesn’t help that society is made totally neurotic by the profit / growth incentive befor all else, so that we are perpetually forced to over-extend, running just to keep up, and many falling behind. The relentless economic machine has the effect of a distorting mirror upon our lives, it is outwardly bright and shiney yet bends us out of all recognition, we exist in a weird limbo, displaced people.

    As walking wounded we all have different coping mechanisms for depression, and anyone who gets bouts of it will know that what worked one day may not help another. So being flexible is the best strategy, (and recognising that you hurt for a reason and pain has something to tell you). I don’t mean it can be rationalised away, but I think trying to identify what might be the most pressing problem can help.

    For many people depression is caused by an economic or an emotional strain. And when we feel we can’t resolve the issue it wears us down. The frustration is repressed, and anger internalized. Disempowerment is the hallmark of depression , accompanied by guilt and shame. The combined pain of which can be so fierce you simply want to die. Begging for that internally like a mantra. It is said that for one hundred young men that is the choice they take each week here in the U.K. And worldwide depression is now epidemic. Socially we have become sick. We all know it but few name the causes nor fight the good fight, instead we fall by the wayside and suffer the effects of social atomisation. We need a paradigm shift both economically and socially. The ongoing war on people’s and resources is driving us insane.

  8. Dear Lemn,

    A mutual friend of ours Thabiso ‘Afurakan’ Mohare knowing my struggle with depression shared this entry with me on the day that you posted it.

    I cried my eyes out while reading it and for a while after. I cussed him out for sharing it with me, then thanked him profusely.

    You see I have only recently comento terms with the fact that I have been living with depression as a.companion for a number of years. For many of them I was oblivious to the presence of this dark companion hovering around and at times dragging me into into a dark place.

    I was unable to articulate mentally and verbalise vocally what it was I was going through and chalked it down to life not being as easy as we are made to believe. Once the precense of my dark companion was pointed out to me I couldn’t accept it and spent three years living in denial.

    My inability to communicate my situation (strange for a writer) to my wife caused a rift in our marriage. I couldn’t explain what I ws going through, I couldn’t explain the mood changes, I couldn’t explain my withdrawal or should I say my captivity in the dark place.

    Suffice it to say, the rift became a chasm and eventually the earth opens up and swallowed my marriage. My wire had had enough of the loneliness, she had had enough of trying to help me, trying to free me from captivity and decided to save herself from the pain my dark companion and I were inflicting on her.

    This was three months ago and it prompted me to seek help. To reach out to friends and build a support network.

    I am in the throws of divorce and remaking my life and it is not easy with a dark companion hovering around.

    I couldn’t bring myself to pen this reply to your piece until now for two reasons, 1. It was/is so personal in terms of my experience with the dark companion. I go silent (one of the things my wife can’t understand)
    2. A few day ago I too saw the dark clouds on the horizon and started preparing for the storm, I wasn’t ready when he came, it’s been four days now… I am not coping well with this visit. But I have hope that it will pass soon.

    Your post has given me an extra tool to include in my arsenal when fighting off the advances of my dark companion. And that is voice. I am committed to exercising my voice so that the I no longer experience the debilitating silence, that grips me from the time I first see those clouds forming until the storm passes.

    Thank you for your bravery…

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