William Nicholson wrote Shadowlands, the play (which became the film) inspired by C.S.Lewis’s extraordinary testimony A Grief Observed. In it, he gave Lewis this lovely line, one he never actually uttered, but may as well have done.

We read to know we’re not alone

After the last ten years, I find that’s true now more than ever. So I’ll tie this black dog series up with some printed companions for the cave.

van Gogh - Une liseuse de romans (1888)
van Gogh: A Novel Reader (1888)

My Top Tips

  • Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine: as I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is a book I’ve been longing for – it’s brief but hardly shallow – part-biography, part-testimony, part-theological reflection, part-pastoral manual, part-biblical meditation. It’s got it all. An absolute must-read.
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron: it takes a novelist to distil cave experiences into les mots justes – and Styron does it in spades. Breathtaking in its spare beauty, honesty, and ultimately, hope.
  • I had a Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone (as well as its follow up written with his wife, Living with the Black Dog). I come back to these again and again, especially at times when I doubt the reality of my own experiences (such is the dog’s ability to distort that I regularly doubt its very existence, even at the darkest times).

Honourable Mentions

  • Black Rainbow by Rachel Kelly: a very moving and helpful account of how words (and poetry in particular) helped one person escape the cave. I reflected on the book here.
  • Through the Dark Woods by Jo Swinney: Jo is a friend who joined us for the service on Depression at All Souls few years back to be interviewed.
  • [LATE ADDITION!] Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig: I loved Matt’s novel The Humans (which is a fantastic read) but couldn’t put my finger on why it resonated so much. Then I read this memoir and his battle with depression and suicidal feelings. It’s not the last word, perhaps, but boy, is it a tonic.

Some other helpful perspectives

Balm and Solace

The Psalms of course stand out as a constant. But it’s interesting how often the spiritual reflections of our contemporaries really don’t seem to cut it as much as former divines when really down in the depths.

Spurgeon's sorrows Styron - Darkness Visible i-had-a-black-dog

Kelly - Black Rainbow Swinney - Dark Woods Matt Haig - Reasons to stay alive

Cantopher - depressive illness curse Redfield Jamison - Touched with fire Norris - Acedia and me

Bennett - Valley of Vision George Herbert - complete poems William Cowper - complete poems

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