The Black Dog

The other day, I unsuspectedly chose a book off a library shelf which had appeared on a recommendation list from a good friend.

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt.

I read just enough of the inside cover to find out that Mr. Chartwell was a dog. Interesting. I was expecting a cute animal persona, as was the character in “Come Thou Tortoise.” by Jessica Grant. 

But polar opposite to the likeable tortoise,

Mr. Chartwell is an asshole.

Winston Churchill famously described his depression as the Black Dog and the premise of this book is that there really was a black dog. His name was Black Pat Chartwell, and he was a six-foot-seven talking dog who walked on his hind legs.

Many reviewers have tsked Rebecca for making light of a serious disease. But for me, it turned something that has been so abstract and untouchable into something I could begin to understand. It personified depression into a big, messy, smelly black dog.

I loathed Black Pat Chartwell and throughout the book, I felt his heaviness press down on me. Yet, under his strangely seductive spell, I couldn’t get enough of him. I devoured it in two days. (one of the many perks of retirement mixed with day camp).

Just after finishing the book, I opened a letter I had received in the mail. It was from the Lighthouse, program for grieving children. They had written me to thank me again for our participation in their program this past year and wish us luck in our new endeavors in Peterborough.

“You have two incredible, deep thinking and warm hearted children, and clearly you are to thank for the amazing and resilient people that they are becoming.”

(*please pass the tissues..)

I very often think about their dad and his depression. I am plagued by all the ways I might have been able to help.. and all the ways I did try to help. Had he felt the enormous and unyielding weight of this massive black dog? How the hell do you save someone from an invisible giant dog that refuses to go away?

Fuck you Mr. Chartwell

I’ll leave you with the song, Little Black Submarine by the Black Keys. Jason used to sing it with the kids and, at their amusement, they would mis-sing the words as “oh can of beans” (you’ll hear it). I used this song in a playlist I made for the kids and some of his close friends and family. I since discovered that it was written about depression. I’ve learned to (awkwardly) play it on the guitar. I like the company it keeps me during bouts of insomnia. Maybe one day I’ll play it for you.

So many people are talking, singing and writing about depression. Stop the stigma. Keep talking. Keep singing. Keep writing. We are not alone.

To all of you fighting this black dog, submarine or just an asshole disease; Keep fighting and don’t let the weight suffocate you.

peace and love,



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