Winston Churchill’s black dog euphemism for depression is given form by author and illustrator Matthew Johnstone. He skillfully reveals his personal navigation through the seven hells of depression to the light at the end of the very long tunnel. As Churchill once said, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” Johnstone sought treatment, told his family and friends and learned how to control the dreaded beast so he could finally enjoy life again.
While I do believe this picture book is accessible to all – including children – with its simple language and warm illustrations, its impact on me was . . . not what I expected. We’re more informed and accepting of depression now than we were when I Had a Black Dog was first published in 2005. Ten years is a long time culturally. I know that had I read this back then, I’d be giving it a standing ovation for its accurate depiction of the most common mental illness.
The above page represents one of the aspects I struggled with for years. Every month, as part of my PMS symptoms, I suffered with cripplingly low self-esteem. Every memory from the minor slip ups to bigger mistakes I thought I’d made in my life would cycle through my mind. It was mental torture. Paranoia was one of the side effects, sometimes so terrible I had to leave work before I had a spectacular meltdown. Which leads on to The Fear.
The Fear that everyone will find out and judge you.
Because of the shame and stigma associated with Black Dog. I became a champion at fooling everyone, both at home and at work. Keeping up an emotional lie takes an incredible amount of energy. It’s like trying to cover up epilepsy, a heart attach, or diabetes.
Although today we’re more open and understanding about depression, there’s still room for improvement.
To those who argue the ‘black dog’ isn’t real, the foreword – written by a professor of clinical psychology and head of mental health for Derbyshire – explains the biological basis for the condition reflected in structural and chemical changes in the brain.
I’d definitely recommend I Had a Black Dog to everyone who wants to understand what it means to be depressed.