Wednesday, 19 December 2012

I had a black dog



I had a black dog

Matthew Johnstone

"There are many different breeds of Black Dog affecting millions of people from all walks of life. The Black Dog is an equal opportunity mongrel. It was Winston Churchill who popularized the phrase Black Dog to describe the bouts of depression he experienced for much of his life. Matthew Johnstone, a sufferer himself, has written and illustrated this moving and uplifting insight into what it is like to have a Black Dog as a companion and how he learned to tame it and bring it to heel."


I had a black dog is a difficult book to describe, is it an autobiography? A self help book? Comic? All of the above?
What it most certainly is. Is the heartbreaking and inspirational story of a man battling his depression and finding the light at the end of the tunnel.
The book resembles a childrens story book, each page featuring a minimalist sentence or two accompanied by superb illustrations by the author himself.
It helps set the book out from the countless “dealing with depression” books and lends it a very personal touch that can be absent from the traditional self help book.

The author personifies his depression as the eponymous Black Dog, a looming hulk of an animal, constantly getting in the way of the author’s life.
We see the dog sitting upon a table, paws in the authors meal, stopping him eating, wrapping his tail around his neck stopping him speaking.
In one particularly heartbreaking panel we see the author brought down to his knees, harbouring the black dog within his broken frame, literally a shell for his depression to live within.

I have been fortunate to have never personally experienced depression though it is an illness that has touched upon my life through people very close and dear to me. This book presented me with many images I recognised from these people and offered me explanations of many things I had found hard to deal with.
One of the best things about the book is there is no sense of self pity, the black dog is treated as a literal creature, one that not only interferes with the author but also frequently interferes in the lives of those around him. It’s a frank, honest account of depression and the most accurate description I have ever come across.

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