I Had a Black Dog (Called Depression) – Book Review

I had a Black Dog, Depression Book Review, by Matthew JohnstoneAs someone who suffers from depression as a by product of living with Fibromyalgia, I don’t read books about depression. I mostly find them, well, depressing. Even books, or websites that offer advice on how to feel better can leave you feeling emotionally worse because of the ‘lens’ you see the world with. So when my wife borrowed a book from her work’s library and said I should read it, I knew I should. She wouldn’t advise me to read something if it wouldn’t actually be helpful. After all, she lives with me, my pain and my depression. So here I want to review I Had A Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone. I’ll explain why it’s been helpful to me. Here I have also given a quick overview of the sequel for those caring for people with depression, Living With A Black Dog.

I Had a Black Dog – His Name Was Depression

If you suffer from depressive symptoms, the idea of committing time and that short-attention span we have, to reading a book can be daunting. But this isn’t a normal reading book. If anything it is an extended comic strip with longer captions. That makes it super-accessible.

The Black Dog Analogy

I only want to share a few pictures of inside the book because

  1. I don’t know how far creative license is allowed in its usage. I don’t want to get into trouble.
  2. You need to borrow or buy the book yourself!

So, to state the obvious, all book images are copyright of the author. They are beautifully sketched and very poignant.

However, depression appears in this book as a black dog (hence the title). When the ‘story’ starts, the Black Dog appears in the author’s life he says “I just felt empty”. The Black Dog would just appear at random and unannounced. We then see the impact the Dog had on his life.

The Black Dog Becomes All-Consuming

As you read through the book, the Black Dog takes over life. A few examples are

  • Becoming his ‘glasses’ so everything was viewed through the Black Dog of depression. The ‘lens’ I mentioned in the intro.
  • It sits on and disrupts life activities that Matthew Johnstone used to find fun.
  • The dog begins to grow in size, while the author feels like he shrinks.
He also broaches, in short sentences, social situations that depression radically impacts:

  • Being around any people he thought were judging him.
  • At work, where he had to fake being okay.
  • Home life, where his mood and attitude were affected.

Taming the Black Dog

Before you think that this review is depressing, it is called I Had a Black Dog for a reason. The author reaches a point where he felt he was the black dog, which stirred him to get a diagnosis.

Feeling like you’re alone is one of the biggest weapons of depression, along with fear of talking about it. Knowing you’re not alone and people are not judging you are your strongest defences against it. Matthew found out that many others also have a Black Dog in their lives.

Through opening up and making a few life-changes Matthew learned to accept depression. By accepting it, you can begin to tame it, so that you control it and not vice versa.

How Matthew Johnstone’s Account was Helpful for Me

From my summary above you can see how the analogy really helps, but here are my key takeaways from this book.

  1. The Author is Male: depression seems to be one of those things that women get more than men. The likely reality is that women are more open to telling people about it than men. I’m not like men in quite a few ways. However knowing that “other people” suffer from depression and knowing that “other men” have Black Dogs is different.
  2. It Reflects My Experience: In many ways, I relate to Matthew Johnstone in this book. When my depression phases come in, which they do semi-regularly, I go through much of the same experiences he goes through.
  3. It Offers Hope: Depression is likely something I will always have. But I do not need to always feel depressed. That is a subtle, but vitally important difference.
  4. Great for Relatives and Friends: If you have depression, the book is great for friends and relatives to read. As someone with depression, it can be really hard to word how I feel. This book expresses many of those things that can help those who live or work with you to understand what living with the condition is like for you.
  5. Depression is something you have, it is not your identity: separating any illness from yourself is hard. As FibroJedi, it is easy for me to see Fibromyalgia as part of who I am, not how I am. That’s why I chose to write You Behind the Illness, because it’s important to remind myself of the person I am underneath my crumbling health.

Living With a Black Dog

That said, Matthew and his life Ainsley co-authored a longer sequel called: Living With a Black Dog. It is longer because it offers gentle advice on how to care for the depressed person, but in equal measure how to care for yourself with a Black Dog in the home. I’m not going into detail on this one but I strongly recommend you borrow or buy the book yourself.

Issues Addressed by This Book

A few points on its very helpful contents are:

  1. Signs to Look For that may indicate you have a Black Dog in the family.
  2. The Genders Swap Around: the first book is, effectively, Matthew’s story with his depression. In Living With a Black Dog, the depressed-person and the caregiver, friend or co-worker alternates between being male and female. This makes it a bit more universal, allowing readers of the book to understand various people in their lives.
  3. What to (Not) Say: how you communicate with someone diagnosed with depression really matters. We need to be communicated with to keep friendships and relationships open. In this book it gives pointers on what not say, but also on helpful things to say. Both sides of the coin are needed.
  4. Small Life Changes: while not a complete list (which would be impossible!) the caregiver is offered small life changes to help the Black Dog Owner. Things such as helping out with practical aspects of life and encouraging exercise, to taking steps to make sure they do not feel alone.
  5. Caring for the Caregiver: If you’re a caregiver, it is not your responsibility alone to try to banish the Black Dog. It takes teamwork with the person who’s depressed. But looking after yourself is absolutely vital and likely easily forgotten. Ensure you, the Caregiver, get the mental and physical healthcare you need. And it is very helpful for those of us with depression to realise what our caregivers need, when the condition itself can make you only look inwards.

Get Your Hands on the Books!

This is not sponsored content. My wife borrowed these books from her work’s library. My only self-interest is that you help yourself, or any around you who own a Black Dog. Here are the links to what I think are the author’s direct Amazon links:

TL;DR I Had a Black Dog, by Matthew Johnstone

Both I Had a Black Dog and Living With a Black Dog are very easy to read resources and exceedingly insightful. They look at both what living with depression is like for the sufferer and those who know someone who does. Both books are simply, but beautifully illustrated, which can often convey things better than the words. If you, or someone you know has depression, or even if you think they might have it, then I urge you to get your hands on these books. Share them with others too, because the more awareness there is, the greater understanding there will be. And that can only help to make everyone’s lives that bit easier.



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