Tag Archive: black dog days


Fall Funk

One of the biggest challenges I face as a man with Bipolar Disorder is that nearly every autumn, I fall into a funk. As the weather gets suddenly colder in the midwest, my mother also battles the same demons, and struggles to get out of bed, sleeping an average of fifteen to seventeen hours a day.

It’s ironic that she and I sleep so much during this time, because there’s even less daylight than usual, but I personally must take even better care of myself during the fall season, lest I start rapidly cycling between mania and despondency. I kind of give myself permission to sleep in on days when nothing is due at school, and I’ve learned to pace myself over time.

Having goals helps immensely. I’m finishing up my final two courses at Northwestern University, getting ready to start my thesis this winter and spring, something that can be done from home, but I’m scared. I’m both scared and excited that I’m drawing near the end of my coursework, getting ready to launch into both the work world and, hopefully, the publishing community. If I didn’t have school to propel me forward, I’d probably watch Judge Judy reruns all day. My father always jokes that when that happens to him, just push him out on the ice floe like the Inuit Eskimos.

The reality is that things are going well, and I’m nervous that the proverbial other shoe is going to drop any day now.

The challenge remains being gentle with myself during challenging times, and keep rising each morning as long as God grants me breath to greet the day.

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Peg Entwistle’s Entropy

There’s something about pursuing a life as an artist that can sometimes lead to acts of self destruction. Whether the writer drinks to excess, the painter cuts off part of his ear, or someone like actor James Dean crashes his sports car and ends his career after only three films. More modern examples abound, including Robin Williams, Amy Whinehouse, and even River Phoenix. I think we expect our artists to be both immortal and indestructible, and the truth is, Philip Seymour Hoffman, after years sober, can suddenly listen to the demons of addiction and overdose, ending one of the most prestigious careers of the modern era.

Still, when I worked in Los Angeles on a little known show called, Mysteries & Scandals, one artist stood out: Peg Entwistle. She had had a fairly successful career on Broadway, and definitely paid her dues, but Hollywood was not so kind to her. Her only supporting role came in a Myrna Loy/Irene Dunne, David O. Selznick vehicle called “Thirteen Women” that was released after her untimely death.

Peg Entwistle went for a walk one night and wound up in the Hollywood Hills with a suicide note in her purse. She claimed the letter H in the sign that then read, Hollywoodland, now just Hollywood.

I don’t know how much depression led to her suicide, how much alcohol contributed, and how much can be attributed simply to the impulse in some artists to self destruct. Robin Williams, one of my heroes for the way he lived life on his terms, unfortunately marred his legacy because of an intractable depression that came out of a recent Parkinson’s diagnosis, but word has it he died sober. That saddens me even more. With a clear mind, he took his life, and didn’t in that moment know the amount of joy he had brought to millions.

I suppose none of us are immune to the Black Dog Days that Winston Churchill described as plaguing him at times. The best we can do is go to bed early, take care of ourselves, check in with our friends, and trust that those dark days do indeed pass.

I just wonder a bit about the artistic bent toward self destruction. I recently started reading, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work in an effort to understand how best to channel those creative energies.

That showed a more positive spin on how people organize their days to insure heightened creativity. The key, I think, is what to do to survive fallow periods when you’re not feeling creative. Self preservation is more important than any particular string of well constructed sentences.