The Black Dog. “Yikes!”

The man in that amazing drawing is The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, who was England’s Prime Minister and Minister of Defense during World War II. I’m going to begin a two-part series about Churchill I believe you’ll find fascinating, inspirational, and motivational.

Winston Churchill was an amazing man, being both a distinguished statesman and author. But what makes him “amazing” for the purposes of this bit of writing is his endurance of an emotional and mental health disorder.

Though the issue is still debated, it’s thought Churchill suffered from bipolar disorder. But even if one doesn’t accept that observation, a recurrent or terribly long single episode major depressive disorder would appear to be a cinch.

Historians siding with the bipolar diagnosis attribute many of Churchill’s achievements to some level of mania. And what’s even more fascinating is the theory that had Churchill not been the expansive and grandiose (manic?) figure he was, England may well not have been sufficiently inspired and motivated to endure World War II.

Well, that addresses the manic portion of Churchill’s supposed bipolarity, but what about the depressive piece?

Are you familiar with the term “Black Dog?” No, I’m not referring to the Led Zeppelin number from 1971; though it’s a great track.

What feelings do you experience as you look at the image just above? It’s damned frightening, if you ask me. Well, Churchill often referred to his well-documented depression as the “black dog.” Whether it was unipolar or bipolar, for our purposes, doesn’t much matter.

Now, perhaps you don’t share the same interest, but I’m fascinated by the origin of most anything – and terms such as “black dog” are no exception. So where did it come from?

Well, as far as Churchill’s use of the term, it appears he picked it up from his nanny. You see, it seems “black dog” was used by old-school English nannies to describe a nasty mood. From what I’ve read the statement went, “I’ve got a black dog on my back today.” And in addition to being a metaphor for moodiness and depression, it was also used in connection with someone throwing a temper tantrum, as well as the delirium tremens (DTs).

Actually, “black dog” can be traced back to Rome, just before the time of Christ. And along came the middle-ages and the connection between “black dog” and depression solidified. And, go figure, the devil was often presented as a black dog. Again, look at the image above.

Oh – one last thing. It’s thought Abraham Lincoln used the term, referring to his depression.

Well, let’s leave at that for the first article in the series. Make sure to come back tomorrow as we get into the details of Winston Churchill’s mood disorder, and why his story can be an inspiration to all of us.

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