Friday, December 4, 2015

Black Dogs, Black Cats and Me

A number of years ago I was reading a book about Winston Churchill (I can't remember which one because I've read a ton of them) and it described how he looked upon his bouts of melancholy and called it the "black dog".

I thought it was brilliant at the time and felt an additional layer of kinship with him.

I also loved one of his signature, quirky sign-offs on notes and letters: KPO ("Keep Plodding On").

(How awesome is that??!?)

I was thinking about the black dog this morning because Mark Steyn was riffing about his new, black cat, Marvin and how Marvin came into his life in a sort of dark period. Of course, Marvin is a comfort, not a negative presence, and seems to be a lovely new feline friend.

Please do listen to Steyn on the Hugh Hewitt show, it's an excellent interview, and his observation that all of the terror attacks are different, yet they are all the same was an incredibly astute one. 

Still, getting back to the black dog, and the sweeter black cat, Mr. Marvin Steyn, Esq., made me think about the very human moments where one sinks into a funk, where things seem overwhelming, when things are just too intense. And everyone has their different ways of dealing with these moments-or not. For some people its unfortunately chronic, or chemical and for others still, a road to very dark places, even to suicidal thoughts or attempts-what I see as the permanent "solution" to temporary problems.

When I feel too much, I take a break and have standard operating procedures for getting back up. One of the most important parts is focusing on the good. A scrubbed, warm home, the smells of the Sabbath, the delicacies of the Sabbath on my gas range and in my oven, food in the fridge, family.

I am focusing on last week, when I had a grade school friend and her young son for Sabbath dinner and she remarked later in a thank you note that the food was wonderful and my house was so clearly full of love.

Today, my local pizza guy told me that seeing my disabled son kiss and hug me last week almost made him cry in the store, and said if I ever do a birthday party for him, it's on him.

The little things are the big things.

I hope you are surrounded with love.

I want to share this piece with you about Churchill.

It really resonated with me personally, and made me think of Mark Steyn as well.


*orders up a round of hugs*

Do read the whole thing. 

"Churchill had not one life but several. Each was full of challenge and excitement, and in one of them he changed the history of the world."

"Yet there were times when he felt his life had been futile, and the mood of despondency that had sometimes come upon him in his most active years - which, following Samuel Johnson, Churchill called the "black dog" - seems to have been with him in much of his later life."

"But in a strange conjunction of events, it may have been this same black dog - together with the intervention of a loyal friend during a few fateful days in early May 1940 - that enabled Churchill to achieve the position from which he could alter the course of history."

"There have always been those who think Churchill's recurring melancholy could have been a symptom of mental illness. Some have suggested he may have suffered from bipolar disorder, experiencing frequent mood shifts from intense bursts of impulsive activity to paralysing depression."

"Nowadays we tend to interpret any type of character or behaviour that departs from our standards of tepid normality as a symptom of some underlying disorder. Churchill was certainly not tepid. He was passionate, volatile and intensely emotional in much of his life. That did not make him unbalanced."

"Churchill's exceptional openness to intense emotion may help explain how he was able to sense danger that more conventional minds failed to perceive."

"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. It needed an unusual type of mind to see that Nazism was something new in the world, a radically modern movement with a potential for destruction that had no precedent in history."

(Substitute Mark Steyn and radical Islam into the paragraph above and you'll see what I'm getting at.)

"A recent study by an American psychologist maintains that Churchill's insight was related to his episodes of mental ill-health. We needn't accept the diagnosis, but it's hard to resist the thought that the dark view of the world that came on Churchill in his moods of desolation enabled him to see what others could not. He owed his foresight of the horror that was to come to the visits of the black dog."

KPO, my friends.