Posted by: jedwardswright | March 2, 2011

Of Dragons and Black Dogs

Feeding the Dragon




violently trembling

threatening void below.

He waits, thrashing  tail

clicking claws restless.

Offering, cautiously lowered.

Offering, frantic prayers.

Bait or sacrifice,


 Every one of us has a name for what ails us. In private, when the darkness falls, an image rises in our minds to represent our depression at its worst.

A pit, a black hole, blindness, fog, beasts, prison, chains, monsters — and dragons – all have been used as metaphors for depression.

 Winston Churchill referred to it as his “black dog.”

Nicholas Cage has compared depression to a “festering cesspool.”[i]

Marie Osmond described it as feeling “like you are in a void.”[ii]

William Styron stated that depression induces “the gray drizzle of horror.”[iii]

Constructing metaphors for depression is both an attempt to express and explain the pain. We express ourselves to expel emotion, and we explain in order to seek understanding from others who have never experienced this darkness. We also use metaphors to seek out those who can identify with us. Our fellow sufferers recognize and respond to images that describe our condition, relieved to know that we are not as alone as we feel. 

Fortunately, we can also use these metaphors to visualize the possibility of relief. We can battle dragons, beasts, or monsters. We can climb out of a deep pit with the aid of a rope. What about blasting our way to freedom from a tower or prison? Chains can break to release us, or be used to bind our enemies. Light can illuminate darkness, or assist us in finding a path in the fog.

By including God, our friends, doctors, therapists, or medication in the scenario, say as a shield, or lamp-bearer, or the person at the other end of that rope, our image is enhanced further.

Imagery, when added to our arsenal of weapons, can be helpful. Cancer patients are often encouraged to visualize their cells returning to normal or their tumors disintegrating when they have chemo or radiation because medical science has determined that there is a positive effect on their physical health.

 Whether we consider metaphors to have only a psychological benefit, or as a literal aid in changing our body chemistry, it is a simple technique to try. Besides, we can always use the imagery to describe our condition to those around us, as we attempt to promote acceptance of depression in our society.


  1. ‘Festering cesspool.’ Yep. I always have liked Nicholas Cage. I usually refer to my depression somewhere along the lines of: a big mass of slimey, slitering, black darkness. The visual of somebody helping me out, being there for me is vitaly important. I view my medicine has life giving — my life depends on it. I cease to function, to exist as I am without it. So yes, it is absolutely life giving, a shining shield of armour. As usual, I come here and find words that affirm and inspire me. Thank you.

    • For me depression is a metaphorical cave. The list of implications of this metaphor has been quite helpful to me for many years. If anyone is interested I can email the list of implications of the cave metaphor.

      • The cave metaphor makes sense to me too. Dark, cold and isolated are all words that apply to both caves and depression.

      • Depression is a natural condition. It is a natural formation. Better yet it is a natural resource.
        The list of implications of the cave metaphor can provide strategies to deal with depression.
        Every cave is unique.
        The forces in nature (erosion, stress , upheaval) that form caves have emotional equivalence.
        Trying to figure out exactly how a cave was formed doesn’t change the cave.
        The ENTRANCE to a cave also serves as the EXIT.
        Caves are better for temporary shelter rather than long-term residence.
        Caves can be fascinating, comforting and starkly beautiful but at the same time very dangerous.
        Going too deep and getting lost in a cave may require help in returning to the ENTRANCE/EXIT.
        Caves are useful for storage. Unwanted, unneeded, painful and harmful memories can be consigned or stored in metaphorical deep pits. Treasured memories and thoughts are best stored near the ENTRANCE/EXIT.
        Attempting to fill in a cave creates a depression somewhere else.
        Remember the old adage: In a cave or any dark place it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
        Owen Kaminoff

  2. Thank you, Kim, because your words encourage me too.
    Although I used the dragon image in this poem, usually I think of my depression as a dark pit. The idea of someone throwing me a rope fits, because while I still have the long, hard climb out, there is someone up there calling and pulling for me. Even when it feels like there is no rope, I imagine that voice above me. Sometimes I see that as being God, and sometimes my husband.
    It also reminds me of how important it is for us to offer that rope, that voice of hope, to others when we are able. It can literally be the lifeline that keeps someone from going over the edge.

  3. In order to explain a group of students I work with, I used an analogy from life. I never was claustrophobic until this one single event. I used to love climbing into boxes, I craved to explore caves. And then, I was pregnant at a ski retreat. I was dressed warm winter clothes and playing outside with some friends. We found a snow fort and decide to play in it. A friend went down a slide, and I followed soon after. But all the excitement crumbled when I got stuck. I couldn’t move. My mind was assaulted with fear and panic. I opened my mouth to utter all of these concerns inside me, and said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” My friend at the bottom of the slide chuckled and said, “You’re going to have to wiggle a bit, but you can make it.” Sure enough I did. I was only in that snow slide of death for all of 30 seconds but it has forever changed my view of small spaces.
    But it is nice to be able to have encouragement and tips from those who have been through the scary places and made it through.

  4. (I didn’t mention that the slide was a small tunnel in the snow. Much smaller in the middle than it appeared to be from the top….)

    • So is your image of depression a snow tunnel like that, or does it only represent claustrophobia for you?

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