Hope Street Cards Book Club - March

Hello Book Clubbers!

This month we had the pleasure of reading and reviewing ‘Living with the Black Dog’ by Matthew and Ainsley Johnstone.

Matthew Johnstone reports that he experienced depression for more than a decade, before speaking up about it and seeking help. In _ he published ‘I had a Black Dog’, in which he narrated his story and experiences of depression with honesty, simplicity and beautiful illustrations.

This book, co-authored with his wife, is a guide for partners, family, friends and colleagues of people living with depression. First published in 2008 and ended up on the best seller list in the UK in 2009.

For those of you who may not have read this delight of a book, you're in luck! It can be found here in you tube goodness.

During one of my episodes of major depression, this book was shared amongst my close family and friends. When I read it in the book store, I immediately bought it for my partner. Not long after, he then received it from a close friend. Luckily there were plenty of people to educate and share the book with.

So what do I think of it? Pretty much I totes love this book. But I’ll break down why.

The good things about this book:

  • It has some really practical tips for loved ones. Such advice includes recognising the symptoms of depression in a loved one, living with someone experiencing depression and helping assist the loved one to tame the black dog. In a simple and clever way, the book offers valuable insights about helpful approaches to living with depression and the importance of self-care for the carer.
  • It’s really simple. This book, and the book that came beforehand, are perfect in picture book format. When someone is experiencing depression, important cognitive things like attention and concentration can really go to shit, so a picture book really helps to make a complex subject so much more accessible.
  • I really like the ‘black dog’ metaphor. Obviously, Johnstone didn’t come up with this himself, it originated a long, long, long time ago, but I think it works particularly well in illustrative format. ‘Black dog’ is such a powerful metaphor that it hardly needs explanation these days. The combination of ‘blackness’ with the negative connotations of ‘dog’ – as both a noun and a verb - seems to me a pretty apt description of depression: an ever-present companion, lurking in the shadows just out of sight, maybe growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert; sinister and unpredictable, capable of overwhelming you at any moment. Furthermore it turns out, the ‘dark hound’ is an archetypal object of fear, with a long tradition in folklore and myth. Black dogs in dreams are interpreted negatively, often representing death; from all over the world come tales of nightmares caused by oppressive black dogs crushing the sleeper’s chest. As harsh as that sounds, to me it sounds like depression.
  • Overall, I find this guide really, really hopeful. And I think that’s to do with the insertion of humour. I particularly enjoyed the image of the black dog pulling the man’s socks down, accompanied by the caption: ‘Socks have little to do with mental health’.
  • This book is empathic and hopeful, but above all else I like that I found the overwhelming message to be one of acceptance. For both loved ones and the person experiencing the condition. With acceptance of depression, recovery is so much easier. As Johnstone states on his blog:

“If Black Dog chooses to make an appearance I no longer take flight or burn huge reserves of energy trying to conceal it. I accept the Black Dog is there, I batten down the hatches, I try to unload some responsibilities and live in the knowledge that it will pass because it always does…

There’s no simple answer, everyone’s path in dealing with a Black Dog is different but it is imperative to find a solid support base, from family, close friends, your doctor and even a support group. Educate yourself because knowledge is power.

Like all bad dogs a Black Dog needs discipline, patience understanding to bring him into line. Never, ever give up.”

The less good things about this book:

  • I don’t really have any less good things. I think it should be provided free of charge to everyone in the country, because chances of them knowing someone affected by depression is quite high and I think this book could be quite helpful. My only advice for using this book is, just don’t read it. Use it as a tool or a work book of sorts to chat with your loved one about their experience of depression. Do they experience these sorts of things? Have they tried some of these tips? If you need to use this book, use it wisely - with talking and listening.

As always, we’d love to hear what you thought of the book. Get engaged by leaving a comment on the blog or interacting with us on facebook, Instagram or twitter.

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