The Black Dog | Part 2

by | May 2, 2023

Let’s play Jeopardy. “World History for $600, Ken.” THIS HEAD OF STATE WOULD WEAR CUSTOM-TAILORED SILK UNDERWEAR IN STAFF MEETINGS “Who is Winston Churchill?” Yesss.

’Work keeps the black dog from the door, the blue funk on the other side of the window.’

We began a two-part series on Winston Churchill and his emotional and mental health challenges last week.

We got to know a little bit about him in part one and gave the black dog, a metaphor Churchill used for his depression, a lot of attention.

Here in part two we’ll get into portions of his psych history, which will include his, what I call, eccentric behavior.

I’m thinking you’ll find this series closer fascinating. You may even identify with a thing or two. Onward…

Who was Winston Churchill?

Winston Churchill 1941

Quick review, The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister and Minister of Defense during World War II.

He was a great man, ranked #37 on Time’s 100 Most Significant Figures in History.

But of all his accomplishments, his greatest may be courageously moving forward in the face of intense life-or-death stress – all the while dealing with what was likely bipolar disorder with severe depression.

Winston Churchill and bipolar disorder

Let’s begin with the words of the man himself. And I’ll bet the farm I’m not the only one who can relate…

I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.

That may not be a sign of bipolar disorder, but I can feel anxiety, obsession, and compulsion. And that gets him in the ballpark.

Mania saved the UK

It’s interesting, there are plenty of folks who remain outraged by reports of Churchill’s supposed bipolar disorder. Whether they realize it or not, they’re implying that such a great man could never have suffered from such an ugly disease.

Did I hear the stigma buzzer?

What’s even more interesting Is historians are quick to point out that mania was a huge contributor to Churchilll’s greatness.

Fact is, the odds were incredibly stacked against the UK during World War II. And a leader without Churchill’s boundless energy would have likely been unable to inspire the people of the UK to continue the fight.

Had Churchill and his mania not been at the helm it’s quite possible the UK, and hundreds of thousands of lives, would have been lost to the evil insanity of Adolph Hitler.

Winston Churchill’s psych history

2nd Lieutenant Winston Churchill Age 21

Historians report that Churchill’s depression began in his youth.

And we know depression typically hits first as bipolar disorder presents.

Churchill was the son of a British Lord and descendant of a Duke. His mother was the daughter of a New York financier and horse racing enthusiast.

It’s known that Churchill was neglected as a child. And his saving grace is reported to have been his nanny.

As we discussed in part one, she introduced him to the metaphor, black dog, frequently used in those days in reference to feeling depressed or gloomy – “I’ve got a black dog on my back today.”

The depression

Churchill’s depressive episodes were long and severe. By all accounts, they could be triggered by environmental factors (exogenous) and come out of nowhere (endogenous).

The mania

Let’s get right into the signs and symptoms of Churchill’s reported mania…

  • Friends described his emotional state as either extremely high or terribly low
  • Difficulty with personal relationships
  • Delirious over World War I, which he referred to as “this glorious, delicious war”
  • Sarcasm, heavy-handedness
  • Ramblings that could go on for hours
  • Ongoing financial woes because he couldn’t manage his gambling, impulsive spending, and living beyond his means
  • A typical workday began when he awoke at 8a and ended somewhere between 2 and 4a the next day. He expected those working for him to do the same.
  • Dramatic behavior and speeches
  • Grandiosity: self-assessment as a great man with an incredible destiny, disdain for others and their opinions

Funny, inhibition certainly wasn’t a problem for Churchill. He’d think nothing of meeting with his staff dressed only in his custom-tailored pink silk underwear, walking around the house in the buff, and conducting meetings from his bathtub.


Churchill enjoyed alcohol. It’s reported that his minimum daily consumption was six glasses of wine or champagne and five to six ounces of whisky or brandy.

It’s also believed he took the occasional prescribed amphetamine and barbiturate. To be fair, his workload and stress, especially during the war years, were brutal.

And, of course, his trademark cigars.

“…keeps the black dog from the door.”

Let’s wrap it up with more Churchill…

Work is for me the antidote, not for any of the world’s ills, but for all of my own. Work keeps the black dog from the door, the blue funk on the other side of the window. When working well, my life falls into place; I needn’t search for life’s meaning but seem temporarily to have found it; I am, in a world not notably arranged for sustained felicity, as close to happiness as I am likely to get. That’s what’s in it for the talent – the sweet delight in exercising one’s gifts – and that is everything.

So did Winston Churchill endure bipolar disorder? Kind of looks that way. However, I’d rather know him for his courage, drive, and accomplishments – not his diagnosis.

Much like the two of us

That’s a wrap on the series. By the way, did you identify with some of Churchill’s signs and symptoms? If so, did you find his story especially inspiring?

Sir Winston Churchill: an amazing man who lived an amazing life under amazing circumstances – black dog and all. Much like the two of us, don’t you think?

If you haven’t already, give part one a go: The Black Dog

Lots of Chipur mood and anxiety info and inspiration articles are waiting for you. Go ahead, peruse the titles.

Churchill images: public domain

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