Experiencing the Black Dog
Author and Photographer, Martin Usbourne shares his experience of depression and how his medication, friends and his little dog, named Moose, have inspired him to publish his first book, ‘My Name is Moose'.
I'm not sure if what I have experienced at my lowest points is clear-cut depression. More often its been a swirling mix of anxiety and obsessiveness (laced with OCD) and those violent negative thoughts that launch themselves at the jugular ‘you're a disaster, everything will go wrong, what's the point anyway'.
These words seem so clichéd but when they appear in my head at 5am they look terribly impressive and original. I twist over and pull the duvet tighter. It doesn't. When the rare moment comes that I sink into a pure depression, a feeling of deep blue, it's a relative respite from the madness - like listening to a long low note as opposed to a cacophony of instruments trying to be heard over each other.
I take anti-depressants. I've taken them since my early twenties and now in my late thirties I realize I will do so for the rest of my life. Flouxetine 20mg 2 x daily down the hatch with a swig of water. The other day I calculate that I've ingested more that my entire body weight in those things. But I've long got over beating myself up about it. They help enormously and on the whole I live a very fruitful life as a photographer and writer only slipping low a few times a year when I'm lucky enough to have friends and family that can help push me onwards. In those moments I feel am walking through a huge vat of emotional treacle.
I also have a dog called Moose. A mini schnauzer who loves broccoli and whose hair is too long. I throw a stick out ahead, hang on to the lead and he drags me forward through that emotional treacle too. Out to the park we go, to do the simple things -walk, breathe, laugh at him chasing squirrels, pick up poo in bags. Ha! I love the simplicity he brings to life: sleeping when he needs to sleep, running when he wants to run, being happy when is happy, lying in his bed with one eye open watching me pace around the flat when he is more pensive. He greets me when I open the door with a huge leap and lick.
I've done the therapy and meditation and flotation tanks and healing magnets and wheat free pancakes and morning headstands whilst chanting mysterious mantras. I've read the self-help books and drunk the special herbal teas. Call me old fashioned but none seem to work as well as 40mg of pills bolstered with a walk in the park with Moose.
The more I've become accustomed to my depression the more I have used it in my photography and writing. There's lots of nutrients in the dark goo at the bottom of our minds, as long as you are not too scared to delve into it. Last year I did a series of photographs of dogs in cars all shot at night that was totally inspired by that terrible feeling of aloneness and fear that is attendant to depression. They did very well, being shown in galleries around the world, I think in the most part because they came from somewhere very deep and true.
Clearly dogs are my muse. I find them so expressive, honest and simple. I have also written and photographed a small photography book about depression but told through the eyes of Moose my dog. Hopefully its funny and quirky. Its' called MY NAME IS MOOSE and its about how he doesn't understand why his master seems so sad and decides that he must find the ‘black dog' that is causing all the trouble. I wrote it after experiencing a down turn in my commissions and the effects of the recession and realizing how immune dogs were from all the human worries - after all there are still plenty of sticks in the park and air to breathe. But I wanted the story to be light and playful. I'm now working on a new book, it's a self-help parody but written by Moose, with tips on finding happiness from a dog's point of view (i.e. ‘Love thy neighbour' is written next to a photo of Moose sniffing a dog's bum, etc. etc.)
And I have a deep connection with other's that have weathered that route: as though we are tired travelers that meet in a small hut at the edge of the mountain to compare notes. If you are reading this and you recognize my words I don't know you at all... but I do know you. Me and Moose wish you love.