Beating the black dog

I’ve had a few run ins with the black dog before. He was only a puppy, and I was too – humanly speaking. But since then I’ve met plenty of others who have a black dog as well. It’s enough to convince you that cats aren’t the only domestic pet problem New Zealand has, Gareth Morgan.

Dogs should be on the list too, if Stuff’s latest campaign is anything to go by. Black dogs. Depression.

Of course they say dogs are a man’s best friend, and this dog will do its best to convince you too. He’ll stick by your side in the good times and the bad, he’ll make you think you can’t live life without him. And like the very best hunting dogs, he seems always to be able to find his way back to you, no matter how hard you try to lose him.

Personally, I think fences are best way to start getting rid of the pest. Then extermination, but we’ll get to that later.

The fences are pretty self-explanatory. They keep you in and the dog out. You build them in your heart and brain and, like the real thing, they can take a long time to put up. First, you have to find the edges of yourself – where the truth about who you are ends, and the lies begin. Then, you have to muck in, daily, while the dog attacks, and make sure that fence goes up. And just like the real thing, having help makes the job faster.

Once you’re done, like any good farmer, you have to make sure that fence is maintained. You have to check on it, and when you see a weak spot, you have to make repairs.

When you’ve worn a hard path around that fence doing maintenance checks, you’ll notice something that was hard to see at first.

You’ll notice it actually keeps you out, and the dog in. That fence you spent years making is really just a cage. That is when you have the black dog right where you want him.

You can observe him, you see, and you must do so with all care. You can see what feeds the black dog, or who. You can see what aggravates the black dog, or who. You can see what weakens the black dog and makes him sick. You can start to plan your attack.

And when you are finally ready, one by one, and week after week, take those things that make him sick and hurl them into the cage. A play, an old friend, a hike or a hobby – none seem to suffer ill effects from being hurled, but the black dog feels each blow.

They’re lethal, those good friends, and hobbies you enjoy, and that’s because they fill life with meaning. Hope is lethal too. The strongest dog will struggle to survive under the glaring, powerful gaze of hope.

These delightful conjoined twins, hope and meaning, are the black dog’s poison precisely because they are the sunlight of the soul.

Once you have lobbed them into the cage they do virtually all the work for you. They destroy that dog utterly when they are present in full force, and leave no trace of him behind.

But it pays to keep the cage standing, and to check it now and then. It may yet trap stray black dogs that come wandering through your life later. And if not, it at least stands testament to your hard work, perseverance and discipline.

There is one final reason you should leave that cage standing. It becomes a monument to the battle you fought against our greatest domestic pest, and for anyone who gets to see it that empty cage is proof that we can win.

This article was originally published on Stuff.co.nz

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