Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Hello,

In the not too distant future ihadablackdog.com will be no more. If you do come here you’ll find yourself teleported to matthewjohnstone.com.au

I’ve found in life if you have too many moving parts, life can become unnecessarily complicated. So I have tried to simplify what I do in my life with one core website which encapsulates everything I am passionate about – books, drawings and public speaking. I would still love to get your comments, thoughts & feedback. The new site I will be updating and blogging more than I have been on this site. Having said all this if you're a fan of The Alphabet of the Human Heart the website for that has also been updated: alphaheart.com

Many thanks and Woof Woof !!!

MJ

Monday, 11 April 2011

Black Dog Mardi Gras Float Wins Best in Show



The Float entered by the Black Dog Institute won the Best Float in the parade which was no mean feat as there were over 8500 participants and some incredibly stunning floats. So I don't think we won on artistic merit (although our 40 dancers were outstanding) more on our community spirit in supporting the Gay and Lesbian community with the line 'DON'T BE SAD BE GAY'.


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sydney Mardi Gras 2011

This year the Black Dog Institute where I consult, appeared in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. Part of my job was to create the 3.3 metre high paper mache' dog, which was quite a job but great fun. We had a heap of volunteers help with the project and another 40 come and dance behind the float on the night. It was a brilliant night and how could it not be when you have 350,000 people cheering you on. Check out the Youtube clip below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndFTN_pNTOI

Friday, 14 January 2011

Alphabet of the Human Heart UK Launch

This week Alphabet of the Human Heart by myself and my good friend James Kerr, launched in the UK. The Daily Mail did two consecutive days of double page spreads of the entire book.
The results on amazon.co.uk are as follows:

Number 3 in the Top 100 books

Number 1 in Self Help Books

and Number 1 in Motivational Books

A is for Amazingly good PR!







Thursday, 25 November 2010

Headstrong. Understanding Mood Disorders and Resilience for Teens



Over the last year and half at the Black Dog Institute. I've been working on a program for teenagers called Headstrong. It's about 140 images that bring a bit of understanding to what it's like to be a teenager and to have a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar. It's been a massive project but it is finally rolling out into schools across Australia. It also has no Black Dogs in it.

The program will be split into about 8 class room sessions, where there will be group discussion and projects. If you're a teacher and you're interested please go to
www.blackdoginstitute.org.au and do a search for Headstrong. From there you can download the curriculum for free. The curriculum was put together by the Inspire Foundation who also do the amazing teenage website reachout.com

Teenagers with mood disorders often slip through the cracks because often their symptoms can be confused with changing hormones etc. There also seems to be a shortage of specialists in this area and those who are good have long waiting lists. So I hope the program helps bring about a some decent understanding and hope for those who might be suffering.

A good portion of the program is dedicated to understanding Resilience. The upshot of that is you can't have resilience without going through some sought of adversity. Yet if we go through it, embrace what we're going through, try to learn from it - we can come out the other side being better human beings. We can be kinder, have more empathy, have insight and a higher degree of purpose.

I'm working on getting the 140+ images turned into a book, so watch this space.

Here's few sample images:

These 1st brown coloured ones are about the pressures teens face anyway.







These next ones are some of the symptoms of a mood disorder.




The next couple of slides are about what it's like to have Bipolar.




These couple are about help seeking and looking out for others.




Here's some Resilience slides.




This in my mind is one of the most important pages of the lot.















Thursday, 3 June 2010

Living /Caring for someone with Depression by Ainsley Johnstone

Living /Caring for someone with Depression

by Ainsley Johnstone

“That’s fine, we’ll face it together” was my response when Matthew, the man I was in love with, just told me he suffered from depression. We had only begun our relationship and I could see it was a rather difficult thing for him to tell me, but I thought that’s ok we’ll just deal with it.

I really had no idea what depression was. I had no idea how it would affect me, how it would affect our relationship and how it would change our lives.

Many people have asked me what were the symptoms, what were the signs? I was lucky, Matthew being a very open and honest communicator told me when we wasn’t feeling great. He would describe what mental turmoil he was going through and I was willing to listen and try to get an understanding of what this depression or the Black Dog as we liked to call it, was all about.

It was not easy to listen to. It was hard to hear how much pain he was feeling and not be able to do anything about it. The only thing I could do was listen, support him and be patient. At first I found it difficult to believe, here was this happy, fun and possibly the most exciting person I had ever met feeling nothing what so ever. His outward appearance carefully disguised a deep despair and it became an exhausting act for him to keep up.

After getting to know the black dog I did notice subtle changes. Changes in mood and the negativity. He would sometimes be distant and I would think have I done something wrong? Why is he not enjoying all the things we typically love to do? Why is sleeping through the night such torture? It’s hard to not to take depression personally and to remember that it’s the depression talking not the person you love.

When you have a partner with depression, you are navigating a shared journey. You go into battle not with that person, but right along side them. It can be worrying, frustrating, upsetting and leave you wondering what do I do? You desperately want that person back to their lovely normal self so you can go on enjoying the life you have together. You see, often depression is a chemical imbalance so it doesn’t care if you have a loving family, good relationship, supportive friends and success. There is no apparent rhyme or reason to it.

One thing I found really helpful was talking about it. Together, we saw a doctor and I also saw his doctor on my own. This was an important step for me, to have some of my own feelings validated and supported. There were times I felt angry, guilty, sad and alone and it wasn’t until this doctor really persisted in asking me about my feelings that I actually acknowledged them. What a huge release that was!

I talked to some friends who also suffered from the Black Dog and they kindly shared their experience. Not only did they give Matthew their love and support, but me as well. Supportive friends and family can have a huge impact in the healing process.

As time has gone on Matthew and I have come to accept that depression may always be a part of our life, however it will never be the beast it once was. We have figured out many little ways to spot the triggers of depression and most importantly how to manage it. There is no quick fix or magic pill just a combination of open communication, nurturing each other through exercise and good nutrition as well as having the right mental health professional supporting you.

It was nearly 10 years ago when he first told me about his depression. Matthew is well and the future looks very positive. Even though there have been some tough times we believe our relationship is stronger and deeper for it. And even if depression pops it’s head in every now and then, together we know how to deal with it.


Ainsley Johnstone

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Creativity and the Upside of Being Down

From when I first experienced depression, to the day I received the first copy of I Had a Black Dog; it has been a long and craggy path. Not all of it good and not all of it bad.

When the mental wheels fall off the trolley of life it can take you to interesting and uncharted situations, many of which I have had, much of it with a creative monkey on my back.

In Stephen Fry’s brilliant documentary The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive he asked the people he interviewed (most of whom were artist’s, musicians and actors who suffered degrees of Bi-Polar) that if they had a magic button in front of them that would make their lives instantly ‘normal’ would they push it? The majority of them said no.

I too would say no. Yes there have been times in my life that have seemed insurmountable; where given the opportunity I may have traded in both arms for a spot of normalcy and a cup of tea; but in good old fashioned hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing.

I am a great believer in the old clich├ęs that good can come of bad and that things do happen for a reason.

I used to think that my creativity was part of madness but I’ve come to realise that it’s played a very big part in my recovery.

My dip into the dark side has been reasonably well documented in my creativity whether it be music, sculpture, drawing, writing and photography. It’s not to say that my art always reflects my good or bad mood state but it has been an essential tool in dealing with it.

PHOTOGRAPHY

My interest in photography was spurned from one of my worst depressive episodes in San Francisco. When I moved there I was single, I didn’t know that many people and the job I had gone there for was a real dud.

Photography was my way of making myself get out of the house. I began to seek beautiful images in areas you would least expect to find them like industrial wastelands, shipyards, railway lines and bad, down trodden areas in the city. I called this somewhat dangerous pastime ‘hunting’ it was all about finding the elusive gold in the ashes, the gem in the crud. Which in the abstract sense was exactly what I was trying to do with myself.

One aspect of photography that quickly became evident is that it taught me to be keenly present. Being depressed and present aren’t your typical bedfellows but photography taught me to be aware of where I was, what I was looking at and how long I had before the light changed. This is a tool I still try to use on a daily basis even when my camera isn’t present.

You can see some of my photography on www.unitedexposure.com.au

ILLUSTRATION

Where photography kept me present, illustration could set me free, it’s a download from the hard drive. It filters all that mental spam, virus’s and corrupt images.
When I allowed it my hand becomes the barometer of my mind.
I have often looked at what I’ve drawn and have had absolutely no idea how I did it but there was always a sense of peace that followed it.

Whether you like or dislike my drawings or photography is irrelevant. The point I’m trying to make is that creativity can act like a cathartic exorcism for anyone suffering from a depressive illness. You don’t have to be artistic to create. Most importantly,
no one need look at what you’ve created or know that you’re making it; it’s just for
you and the well being of your soul.

Freud called depression ‘rage turned in on itself’. Rage, anger, melancholy are all corrosive, destructive, ugly energies that need to be channeled into some sought of productive / positive outlet.

If you can put aside any self-doubt, judgment and criticism, muster some energy, pick up a pen, a brush, a crayon, a type writer, a drum, a set of bag pipes or what ever takes your fancy and channel some of that energy, it can only be a very good thing.

You never know what may become of it and where it might take you.

Woof woof !


Matthew J