Category Archives: The Black Dog

If The Sky Above You Should Turn Dark And Full Of Clouds

The First Fortnight Mental Health Art and Culture Festival  takes place this month in Ireland. In an article in the Irish Times about the events Composer Amanda Feery pointed out that among their Gods the Greeks had Oizys, the Goddess of Anxiety, Grief and Depression, meaning that they were discussing mental health all the way back then …


Oizys (image from

Some deities have it tougher than others.

At the very highest level Gods and Goddesses are worshipped – this, indeed, being their primary role. Others, lower in rank but still revered, have spaceships named after them, or planets, or get played by Brad Pitt in films. At the very least most of them get petitioned for the gifts within their purview – people pray to Aphrodite if they want love, to Athena if they want wisdom, to Demeter if they want agriculture.

But then there are the others, the Gods and Goddesses of the stuff that nobody wants. No-one has ever prayed for anxiety, fear or depression, so being Goddess of these is a difficult and lonely gig, like it would be if you were Goddess of Rabies.

So over time Oizys became the avatar of the very emotions she was responsible for. Lack of worship from humans (other than Goths, and Emily Dickinson) caused her to become depressed. This engendered guilt, since she was after all still a goddess and so had things better than most, and this guilt worsened the depression and so on, in an ever deepening vortex of gloom. This gloom increased her fear and anxiety, and, as so often happens, she froze. Then hid.

So the emotions under her charge hid too. The Greeks’ open discussion of mental health gave way to the silence and denial of following generations. Humankind took to valuing the non-crying male, the un-“hysterical” female, the stiff upper lip. We coped by not coping. This didn’t work.

For her part, Oizys took to spending each night in the Wingèd Horse, the bar on Mount Olympus, staring into her drink and into deep, soul-aching blackness.

Then one evening a voice said “cheer up, it might never happen.”

Oizys turned. A beautiful young Goddess sat beside her, a cheery, cheeky smile on her lips. Oizys was going to ignore her, but something about her good humour opened a small gap in her tightly-wrapped blanket of woe.

“It already has,” she found herself replying.

“Well, things could always be worse,” said the Goddess. “What’s up?”

And Oizys found herself opening up, telling everything about her self-loathing, her loneliness, her sense of worthlessness. It came out in a torrent of words that led to a torrent of tears, tears that she had kept inside for aeons.

Her companion said nothing, just listened, then when the weeping ended in a final sniff and a most ungodlike burble of snot, she placed her hand upon Oizys’s and said “you’re too hard on yourself, love. Most people are.”

She stood up to leave. “I didn’t get your name,” said Oizys.

“I’m Lyssa,” said the girl, “Goddess of Rabies.”

After she left Oizys sat thinking for a long time.

The following evening she came to the bar again. This time, though, she didn’t sit defensively behind a thousand-yard stare. She started to talk to the others, and also to listen. Hera told her of her embarrassment at being Goddess of Marriage while married to Zeus, the Weinstein of the Heavens. Chronos spoke of his irrational fear that time-travel would one day put him out of a job. Eros said he was just exhausted. Oizys learned, or rather remembered, that everyone has hopes but also fears, good days but also bad days, self-belief but also insecurities. That no-one is alone in the way that they feel.

Emboldened, she has returned to the affairs of man. She encourages discussion and openness about depression. She has made people aware that mental well-being is as important as physical. She is promoting a culture of self-kindness.

She is creating an environment in which a group in Ireland is giving their time to run a festival to challenge mental health stigma through creative arts.

She has a huge amount of work still to do. But then, she is immortal.



Baring My Head

HeadSpace 3 (cover art by Michelle Granville)

HeadSpace 3 (cover art by Michelle Granville)

HeadSpace Magazine is a writing and art magazine based around the theme of mental health. It is published online, and also has print copies which it distributes free of charge to hospitals and support groups across Ireland and the UK. You can read more about the magazine and its aims here.

Issue No 3 is being launched tomorrow night at White Lady Art on Wellington Quay in Dublin. It features art, poems, fiction and memoir, and much to my astonishment it includes a piece I submitted about my stress-induced bout of depression in 2001 and about an incident which I regard as the start of my recovery.

Even more to my astonishment I have agreed to read this piece out at the launch. At least that proves that I am nuts.

Actually, I’m quite looking forward to the event, and I hope that the magazine gets all the publicity and attention that it deserves.

Lives Of Quiet Desperation


My name is Tinman, and I am an accountant.

Since there is no such organisation as Accountants Anonymous it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to sit in front of a sympathetic, gently nodding group of people and say those words, but if such a body is ever formed then I will probably be its first President, since I’ve been Anonymous about it my whole life.

I never wanted to be one, I don’t believe that I think like one and, although it’s not drug-dealing or gun-running, I am oddly ashamed to be one.

When I was seventeen, in the summer when I finished school and was awaiting the start of university, I got a summer job in an Accountancy Firm. The people were great, I’d have loved it anyway because it was my first job, and when my Leaving Cert results came out (I got a B in Accounts, though I’d never really bothered studying for it) I found myself doing Commerce instead of English and starting down the road to a life most ordinary.

The odd thing is that, after a couple of jobs, I ended up running my own accountancy business, and ran it very successfully for nineteen years, though when people asked me what I did I’d tell them I ran a book-keeping firm.

I can’t deny that I got a great buzz out of it sometimes, though mostly the buzz was from running the business itself, working out schedules that would enable me to get to each of my thirty-odd clients during the twenty-one or so working days of an average month. And as thirty clients became forty the schedule increasingly involved working Saturday, then expanded to working Sundays as well.

And in February 2001 it all fell apart.

It had begun a couple of months earlier, with a continuous ball of vague dread in the pit of my stomach, but on the day after Valentine’s Day I woke up shaking, and wasn’t able to face going in to work. I took some time off (though I had weekly wages to do for two factories, who would fax (sorry, younger readers, you’ll have to look that word up) their hours to me each week and I would fax back the payslips for each employee, and I did these during my break period by going into my office at night, so I wouldn’t have to face the phone ringing while I was there).

I should have given it up then, I was still young enough to train for something else, but I’d a very young family, the business and therefore the income was there, and so I shed some of my workload and kept going.

Then a client that I took on in 2002, originally just to do their payroll, gradually grew and grew, along with my involvement with them. They eventually asked would I join them full-time, so I closed my business and in January 2006 I came to work where I am now (just nine months later I had the first of the 17 blackouts that would eventually lead to me getting my pacemaker, so I was unable to drive during all of this time and my business would have fallen apart, so just because I’m doing something I don’t like doesn’t mean I haven’t been lucky sometimes while doing it).

I’ve been the accountant here ever since. When people ask what I do I tell them I work in the Accounts Department of a Software Company, trying to give the impression that I’m the person who sticks the stamps on the bills we send out.

On balance it’s been good. The work I did was important to the company, as our gradually increasing monthly profit meant that we could plan more expansion, seek new clients and create more jobs.

But now we’re very big, making a healthy profit every month, and whether that profit is up or down by a couple of thousand doesn’t really matter very much. Certainly not to me.

I don’t save the world. I don’t save a patient’s leg. I don’t even save penalties as a professional goalkeeper, though that may be because I’m only five foot five. A counsellor told me that our fifties is when many of look back at our working life, and wonder have we spent it doing anything meaningful. I look back at mine (and here I do mean just the working part, and not any of the rest of it, which has been pretty great), and am depressed at the sheer waste of time that it has been.

So the ball of dread is back. On the last few Sunday evenings I’ve felt physically ill at the thought that another five days of unimportant, meaningless work is in front of me.

Then yesterday I didn’t go in. Today either. 2001 is back.

My manager, my Division Head and I have been working at work (wait, this sentence isn’t over, otherwise it’s the ultimate in tautology) to create a new job for me, one that will let me do the parts of my job that do I think matter, such as the payroll, while someone new does, well, the accountancy. I am grateful to them for this, it shows that they value me, otherwise they would simply have let me leave, but this is obviously going to take a while, not least because they’ll have to persuade others that my invented-out-of-nowhere job will actually be of value to the company.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime I’ll just have to struggle along. I will go in tomorrow, because staying out any longer will ultimately make me feel worse, and I will win the battle, because I’ve won it before.

A friend I’ve told about it suggests that it might be a mid-life crisis. If it is I’ll certainly feel happier about the whole thing.

It would mean I’ll live to be a hundred-and-twelve.

No Post Today

As the readership of my modest blog (it’s the blog that’s modest, not me, I’m brilliant) grows slowly larger, more and more of my friends and my family have discovered and are reading it. This is great, but has one disadvantage. I’m less likely to vent about the mental issues (I typed “metal issues” there by mistake, which if I’d not noticed it would have given the impression that my pacemaker was beginning to rust) that occasionally plague me if I know that it’s going to be read by people who think I’m a calm, cheerful ray of sunshine, a slightly less annoying version of Pollyanna.

I can’t write, for example, about the reasons why my posts are appearing at the moment less frequently than Halley’s Comet. I can’t use the excuse that it’s because I’m depressed again, more so than I have been for a couple of years now. I can’t write that I am massively stressed about work, even though there is nothing going on there to be massively stressed about.

I can’t write that all of this is affecting my sleep again, that I wake at ludicrous times and lie for hours thinking about work, about things that I can’t exactly fix while in bed at three o’clock in the morning and many of which don’t really need fixing anyway.

I can’t write that I woke on Saturday at three am and lay there until five, fell asleep for a while and then got up at seven-thirty. I can’t write that yesterday – Sunday – morning I woke at four and lay there until I eventually got up at six. Yes, six o’clock on a Sunday morning, a time that I had previously believed to be mythical, like the Wonder Years, Sheffield Wednesday and the Age of Aquarius.

I can’t write that I am writing this on the six o’clock train (the buses haven’t even started running yet) because I got up at five this morning.

When it comes to my sleep pattern you could set your clock by me at the moment, if by that you mean that you could get your clock set by me, since I’m always awake to do it for you.

And I can’t write that I am tired, so, so tired, so, so exhausted. I take out my computer each morning and evening on the bus, write about ten words of blather and then put it away again, defeated by the fact that I can’t remember how to spell cat, let alone write about one (the fact that I don’t have a cat is, of course, another drawback in this particular example).

I can’t write about the fact that I can’t write.

So I won’t.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

One photo challenge, one man, no camera…


 There has been a silhouette in front of me for the past few days.

It wasn’t a shadow, because a shadow has a cause, a definable something which casts it, gives it shape and determines its very existence. Take that cause away and the shadow vanishes, it has no life of its own.

A silhouette is real. It exists, but its features are invisible. You don’t know what it is, or why the sight of it troubles you, causing a ball in the pit of your stomach of unspoken, indefinable and frankly unwarranted dread.

It could be the shape of your life as you feel it is now, full of petty, oh so petty stresses and hassles. This life has a face that turns toward sunshine, that fills with joy at the sight of your children and that laughs in the company of your friends, but you can’t see that face right now.

It could be the shape of your future whan all the joyful possibilities that you and that future may face are in shade.

It’s most likely to be simply you, when you’ve lost faith in yourself, when the wall behind which you keep your insecurities and self-judgements – stern, merciless self-judgements – crumbles and allows them into your mind, heart and stomach, where they sit heavily and painfully.

There is a face there. It is the face of a person who is good at heart, who tries their best and who deserves to be treated more kindly by themselves. This face is in darkness, though, and all you see is the forbidding mass of the silhouette.

Silhouettes have light behind them and it is important, when one confronts you and fills you with fear, to remember that. Find a way around the shape, find your way back into daylight where all the wonders of the world and of your life become visible again, and all will be well. Turn and look back and the figure is now just you, bathed in light.

I’ve gone around silhouettes before, many of them far bigger than the one that blocked my path this last week. I’ve got past this one too.

I just needed a good run at it.

A Chink In Your Armour

It’s Monday evening and you are on the bus home. You’ve had a good time at work, you’ve laughed with your friends, dealt competently with your job and have walked to the bus stop in glorious, about-time-July’s-nearly-over-sunshine.

You have a post written (it’s not that good, forget about that part) and are going to transfer it from Word onto your blog as soon as you get home.

It’s been a good day.

Then something, just one thing, one tiny insignificant moment of your day creeps under the tent of your content like a wasp under the tent of, well, a camper. It stings.

The tiny incident – a look, a word, even a silence, becomes less tiny. It becomes a slight, or a threat, a problem. You are now in trouble.

You invent scenarios that will never happen, could never happen. In your head you carry on full conversations in which you are angered, or disappointed, or just plain hurt. Or you provoke these in the other person.

You know this is all rubbish. You try to think positively, to use common sense, you tell yourself to stop being a horrendous gobshite, but it’s too late. A black cloud now covers the sunshine of the real world.

It’s no longer a good day.

You reach home. You don’t bother with the blog-post, you don’t bother with your dinner, you go to bed. It is six-thirty in the evening.

It’s Tuesday evening now, and I am on the bus home. Today there was no slight, threat or problem. There was no rabidly offensive conversation. There was another day like Monday was, remarkably unremarkable.

You, my friends who come here, sometimes wonder at my imagination. It does indeed take me to the most amazing, fun-filled places, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

But sometimes it’s a real pain in the arse.

Mindful Of My Health

I am going to a Mindfulness Course this evening, as the latest sortie in my battle against derealisation. I’m hoping that it’s going to be the classrooom equivalent of the Inner Peace found by Po in Kung Fu Panda 2 (I’m sorry, I actually sat down last Sunday morning to watch something else, but that came on and next thing I was hooked).

 It’s on for the next six Thursdays and one all-day Sunday, though I’m not sure that my mind is as big as they think it is. This means that I am missing several Euro 2012 football matches and one semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, so it had better be good.

The blurb claims that the course will aid anyone prone to stress, depression, rumination and low or anxious moods, or who struggles to experience calm and psychological well-being.

They should have just called it the Tinman course.

Doing What You Do

I’ve posted this post after the one before it in the hope that you will read the one before it after it.

No, my medication is fine, thank you, I just reckon that most people will start reading a blog from the top post downwards, so I’d like say this about the post that will come later, or did come sooner (look, if George Lucas can do it with the Star Wars series then so can I).

I made a mistake over the last couple of days. I believed that I was too depressed and unhappy to write, which is what I most love doing.

Then I realised that doing what I most loved doing would leave me too happy to be depressed.

So this morning on the bus I took out my netbook and started on a story for Sidey’s weekend theme. I had no idea where it would go and I didn’t care. It ended up surprising me, as many of my stories do, but that wasn’t what mattered. It took my mind of my (needless) stress and it made me happy.

This is what is important. This is me.

Back Again

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how overwork was getting to me, and about how the long days and lack of sleep were causing me to slip back towards depression. I wrote that I was going to fight the problem head on, was going to take the following week off and all would be well. You all wrote words of comfort and encouragement and agreed that a break was just what I needed.

Things got better, I got better and once again I wrote posts of shining wit, or at least a Spoonerised version of that.

The problem, which I was embarrassed to admit here at the time, was that I never took that week off. Because I had too much work to do I felt I couldn’t take the break that I needed because I had too much work to do.

From all over the world I can hear all of you you saying “Jesus, Tinman, you big gobshite” (though in a far more lady-like way, of course). And you are all correct, because of course the problem is back.

I got home at a quarter to eight on Friday evening (a time at which I get home far too often these days) and was in bed at half-past, not the way in which anybody should spend a Friday night. I slept until half-past eleven yesterday morning, got up for four hours (just long enough to see my team get knocked out of the FA Cup) and was back in bed by half-past three. I slept again until about 2.30 this morning and lay there until six (on a Sunday, a time that I previously thought existed only for people who are employed to shout “six o’clock and all’s well” (a profession which I believe is dying out, like thatching, building giant rock-catapults and walking in front of cars carrying a red flag) and for mad people like my dad and brother, who think that it’s the ideal time to get up for golf.

So I got up and started writing this, since I have given myself jet-lag.

There are four people arriving at the office at 8am tomorrow to get answers to a list of questions which they sent on Friday, and which already prove to me that (a) they are totally up themselves and (b) haven’t a clue what they are doing. I will not offer these opinions in their presence because we need to keep them happy (I must stress that the company is not in any trouble, we need their report for various expansion plans that we have for the coming year). They will be here for a week.

Adding this information to the fact that I already face my busiest week of the month has had the same effect as the kid at the other end of your see-saw suddenly deciding to get off.

The blindingly obvious answer, of course, is to get another job, to accept finally that the one I have is no longer fun, it’s hell on earth. But I don’t know if there are other jobs out there, and leaving would mean leaving the girl who is the other half of my work-team, and also frankly my best friend, at a time when she herself is suffering. The neck-and-shoulder pains which kept her out for the month of December have turned out to be Degenerative Disc Disorder and arthritis of the neck. She is thirty-three years old.

And it’s a job and a company that I’ve liked for a long time and would like to like again, for all its flaws, its petty unfairnesses, its constant pressure and its debasing Performance Management regime (I got the highest score that it is possible to get for the last quarter and still believe that the system is intrinsically evil). So I’ll stick it out for a while longer, hope that things improve (we are supposed to be getting a third person, that’s all we ever needed, the acceptance that we needed help) and just come here when I need to blow off steam (I’ve found this quite therapeutic, though I doubt it’s been much fun to read).

My attempt at Sidey’s Weekend Challenge will follow later in the week, as will my Weekly Drawing Challenge (I’ve just looked up WorkPress’s suggestion, ironically it’s “Hope”) and I’m making you all a solemn promise.

The next time I book time off I’m going to take it.