High Desert Hoofbeats
The Black Dog…

While the radio was droning on in the car a few days ago I overheard someone talking about death and grief, subjects we all have to experience at various junctures in our lives. The statement was made that the darkest times for survivors are not at the moment of loss, or during the funeral, but a few weeks later when the well-wishers have stopped calling, the casseroles have stopped arriving, and the sharp ache of sad realities finds no relief.

There is some risk in broaching the subject of young lives cut short; in ripping off scabs that may be starting to cover wounds. I hope my words don’t do that. I did not know the young member of our town who loved animals, who thrilled at riding fast horses, and who excelled at school and selflessly cared for others. But she would have been a girl after my own heart. In a small community, pain has a way of rippling through everyone, and most especially in the family and friends who most acutely feel her absence. It’s been a few weeks since young Lily McClish took her own life. Her family’s frankness about the depression that Lily was dealing with, and the depression felt by many others, underscores our need to communicate openly and honestly about mental health.

The sometimes uncomfortable topic, long and wrongly stigmatized as if it were a disability that should be shushed or hidden, needs to be broached under the full light of awareness. It is not shameful to have mental health issues. I think nearly everyone has them to one variety or degree, and that they can impact more tangible health issues.

If you don’t understand what I’m saying, consider yourself very lucky. By some dint of fortune you must not know depression, or know a friend or family member who has been stalked by the so-called Black Dog. That’s the term Winston Churchill used for his gloomy periods. If you’ve ever had a “pet” like that, you know just what I’m talking about from this description I found on the internet: “The ever-present companion, lurking in the shadows just out of sight, growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert; sinister and unpredictable, capable of overwhelming you at any moment.”

I became familiar with the term a few years ago when the Black Dog started to visit me. Depression is complicated. A person generally doesn’t suddenly come down with it, like the flu or a cold. It sneaks up. You cope in subtle ways, getting small reprieves of contentment amidst invisible torment. You can’t measure it very well; you can’t take its temperature to determine how life-threatening it may be. You can’t cure it with a quick round of antibiotics. In my case the flare-up was partially self-imposed. For about 25 years I had been on a doctor’s prescription for a low dose of antidepressant medications, then I stupidly decided I didn’t need them anymore. The ramifications were slow to appear, but after about four months I was nearly nonfunctional and had no desire to enjoy life or even stick around, except for the waning worry about how it would affect my immediate family. I visited with a local therapist who bluntly told me that if I felt worse I should call 911.

I left her office in the sea of tears that for several weeks had been pouring from my eyes, made an appointment with a psychiatric nurse in Blanding (because Moab didn’t have one) and waited, with what little patience and hope I had left, until he could see me, which was more than a week later. In his office he had me answer a dozen questions, the answers to which confirmed I had severe clinical depression. Thanks to his help, some new medications, and an extremely supportive husband, I slowly scared the Black Dog away. But it took a long time and I still have to be watchful to keep it at bay.

Someone made the comment that young Lily was too sad to stay in this life. I understand that. Depression can make you feel that way, like an invisible infection running rampant in your body. As parents, our primary wish is to protect our kids; we yearn for their happiness. But there is only so far we can reach. Although it’s been a few weeks since the tragedy, I want to offer my condolences and the wish that the McClish family will continue to feel the “web of love” that Lily’s mother spoke of after the death of her daughter. I hope we can more openly acknowledge depression, the Black Dog, and the silent and seemingly insurmountable struggles wrought by mental health diseases.

ByBy Sena Taylor Hauer