Michael’s Story

55 year old Michael describes how his ‘black dog’ can become a raging rhinoceros that he battles to control.

Black Rhino - Portrait of Michael, Mark Welsh, 2019

Michael is a 55-year-old divorced father of two children. In 1998, he was working as a bricklayer and managing a team of people while studying for his building ticket. He was also coaching a youth football team in Mandurah and had received accreditation in umpiring and coaching.

One night, he was reaching into a cupboard when he felt a pinch. While he didn’t initially know what happened, this injury was the start of a long journey through the health system. He suffered from constant pain down his legs and coccyx, limited feeling in his feet and shooting pains down both his arms.

He went on to see many doctors and physiotherapists. He tried joint injections and was given strong medications, but was still experiencing a lot of pain. He was referred to a pain management clinic and while it helped somewhat, it has never been able to alleviate all his pain.

Losing his ability to work and coach was a huge blow for Michael. He lost the pride he felt from being able to help others build their houses. Losing his job, combined with being in constant pain and past traumas led to recurring bouts of depression and anxiety.

In response to his depression, Michael began self-harming. This snowballed slowly over the years. It finally got to the point where he couldn’t handle it anymore and he sought help. While this didn’t completely take away his depression and anxiety, it did help to minimise things.

After experiencing some family deaths and other traumatic experiences, the feelings of depression and anxiety returned and Michael did the best he could to recover again. At first, he wasn’t able to get adequate help but he eventually found another counsellor who helped him tremendously.

To Michael, depression feels like a black dog on his shoulder that takes control and can become a raging rhinoceros that he’s trying to escape from. Even though he’s in the moment, the moment is so unpleasant that he doesn’t want to be there. It’s a constant battle he has to fight.

Although Michael has sometimes found therapy difficult, it has given him a reason to keep going and has reduced his depression and anxiety. He now uses many of the exercises he’s been given by his counsellors, such as eating correctly and seeing the right people. He uses meditation and tapping techniques for his PTSD and attends therapeutic art classes.

One of the ways Michael helps himself is through helping others. He finds community involvement beneficial and it helps him to keep going. He is very passionate about advocating for mental health support, particularly in the Midwest region.

Michael’s advice to anyone suffering from depression is to get help as soon as possible. He believes the sooner an intervention is put in place, the more chance there is of a successful outcome.

Mark Welsh

Mark is an artist, illustrator, graphic designer and Creative Director for Fabrik, which specialises in the design and installation of public artworks and exhibition spaces. Mark has exhibited his fine art paintings in a number of group shows and solo exhibitions. Mostly figurative, his work explores points in time and fragments of a larger picture. They are snapshots that invite us to question how we perceive the world. His work speaks of an everyday existence while hinting at magical undertones in life.

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