The first thing that springs to my mind when it comes to happiness is the distinct lack of it in my life between 1986 and 2005. You see, a black dog often followed me wherever I went during those years. Not all the time, mind; but very often. And when it wasn’t there, I was the Three Muskateers: creative, dynamic, intense, a powerhouse of energy, a fighter.
Then the black dog would return, sometimes slinking up upon me, sometimes springing from nowhere.
Now this wasn’t the kind of black dog that licks your ear or comes when you call. No, this was like Winston Churchill’s black dog: a massive depression that sat on my back, suck its teeth into my very core and crushed me dangerously close to the point of destruction at four points during these years.
Early Spring 2004
I used to teach at the university. I’d dedicated all my early adult life to academia, pouring over books, writing, teaching, determined to inspire others just as I found inspiration. But one March morning, having just taught Seamus Heaney’s Midterm Break, it occurred to me that jumping out of my 8th floor office window felt like the right thing to do. The black dog had savaged me time and time again that winter, even though I hadn’t known it at the time, and now he had floored me. In that very moment I didn’t have the strength to fight him off once more. So I decided to put him to sleep, no matter what it took.
I don’t know what it was that got me out of that room; perhaps the experience of having been here or at moments very similar and even worse before. But out of that room I fled and I never went back to the university.
Instead I went home and walked in the forest. At least that’s what I remember.
Sweden can be immensely beautiful as spring rages into life after the long, dark winter. But this year the rain came, weighing everyone down. Still, somehow, I felt a sense of release.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to turn. So I kept walking the circle through the forest, trying to lead train the black dog once again, just a five minute walk from where I’m sitting now as I write this.
Eventually he slunk away with some help from a shamen. I dragged myself from my cocoon, translated a couple of books, wrote some articles for the newspapers. I started talking.
I also bought a basset hound.
Anyone who knows me, whether it’s through my podcast, website, or in person will know that my four basset hounds are an enormous part of my life. They sit under my desk as I work. They drag me round the woods every day. Although I’ve been apart from them for a few days here and there, they are pretty much my constant companions. They bring me such happiness.
Watching them smile as they tear through the grass, their loose skin flaying, I want to wrap these moments up and treasure them forever. They are moments of intense happiness.
I’m blessed to have two grown-up step sons in my life, but I never really managed to sort myself out in time to have children of my own so the dogs are my true babies.
I’ve bred 18 pups the nine years I’ve had the woofs. Raising a litter of basset hounds until they’re ready to leave the nest means spending the first three weeks sleeping next to the whelping box, watching that mom doesn’t squash them 24/7 and being able to put life on hold. But I’ve done it and loved every minute of it. These have been moments of great happiness.
And happiness is what I’ve found growing a business, many days spent in my office, connecting with the people that work for and with me and with customers, stoically protected by the floppy-eared angels who’ve helped me keep the black dog at bay. It’s years since I walked with the black dog although I see him on the horizon from time to time.
Still, I couldn’t have built my business without Winnie, Aggie, Tia and Digby.
Being Happy to Share My Story
Being bipolar is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a blessing because sometimes I can feel so energised, so hyper that I really am like the Three Musketeers, able to tackle anything, do anything, conquer anything and that feeds into the immense creativity, determination and passion I run my business and (hopefully) bring to each project we do.
I also know that the subject of mental illness can make people uncomfortable, send them running away; friends, family and customers. Still, I’m always happy to be frank about my story, matter of fact if you will, because people who walk alongside a black dog can function and do succeed. Perhaps not all the time, but often. And that makes me happy.
About The Author
Dr. Jon Buscall runs Jontus Media, a marketing and design agency, out of Stockholm, Sweden. He regularly podcasts about Online Marketing from the Dog House Studio. See the podcasting gear he uses here. Connect with him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonbuscall or visit: www.jontusmedia.com. Access his blog here.