The Black Dog by Reverend John R Dolan and illustrated by Paul J Egel
The experience of a man suffering from chronic anxiety and depression is often not a likely heard subject within the walls of the church much less in the larger community. Rev. John Dolan, in his new book The Black Dog, navigates this experience with much wisdom and clarity that anyone going through similar paths can easily resonate with. How? For one, Dolan began to tell his story not only to close friends and family but from the place of the pulpit. To his surprise, an Episcopal deacon gave him great praise for his candor and honesty. Even more, a few congregants spoke to him of their struggle with anxiety and depression (113-114). For Dolan, being able to tell his story and struggle was a kind of medication that released him from having to deal with the ‘Black Dog’ on his own.
What I really enjoyed about the book was the ongoing conversation Rev. Dolan has with himself throughout the whole book. Not only is this is true in my case as well, but the internal conversation you have with yourself comes with great danger and reward. Early on in the chapter on suffering, John puts to paper his conversation, “The tapes of my grandmother’s voice would play in my head, Buck up, John, what on earth do you have to be depressed about? There are a lot of other people worse off than you and they get up every day and face the world, why should you be any different?” (41). Often, we replay voices from our past that haunt our present states of mind and action. These voices have a paralyzing effect on the way we see ourselves, keeping us chained the guilt and pushing us away from getting the help that we need. Yet, as Dolan points out, it was only the strength of his faith and the love of his immediate family that helped through the dark times of depression, anxiety and sadness. I resonate with this point because I know that immediate family can be a sounding board about our struggle with depression, often speaking back to us what is true and what is a lie.
In the chapter on Triggers, Rev. Dolan points out key trigger points that alert him to the possibility of an oncoming panic situation or depression, for him, being underappreciated and surprising news (126-127). This chapter was eminently helpful because it pointed out practical ways to alert oneself to a possible danger zone in the areas of anxiety and depression. I am reminded here that when my wife wants to have a talk, she wants to work through an issue with me, not belittle me for something. My tendency is to think the worst, but, if I know ahead of time that she has my best in mind, then my anxious feelings subside. Dolan is very good at making the theoretical understanding of a psychological issue practical, in order that, change can take place.
I heartily recommend this book as a picture of a pastor’s experience with depression and anxiety. The Black Dog is honest, thought-provoking and also chalk full of practical wisdom.
Thanks to Book Crash and Signalman Publishing for the review copy in exchange for review.