Black Dogs, Black Thoughts

I’ve been working for a while now on a project, selecting stories for an anthology to raise money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. I’ve been supported by a fantastic, international team of writers and editors to pull this together, and the end is finally in sight.

But it feels strange to be promoting a new book in these odd and uncertain times. Stranger still to ask authors to donate their time and talents for free, and to ask readers to purchase a book for charity, when many of them — some who are writers themselves — have lost or seen a massive reduction in their income.

The very strangest part is feeling like all this is redundant in some way, or lacking in importance. An uncomfortable niggle that I should be focusing on what’s happening in the world right now, not spending time in front of my laptop, ignoring the outside. I will admit, these past few weeks have been very hard for me as my own black dog arrived at my door again, and I was completely unable to write or edit anything new at all.

“Black Dogs, Black Tales” began back in September 2019, when the future looked like it might be hopeful and exciting. I wanted to do good things and be productive, to support a charity that meant a great deal to me, and many of my friends. I wanted to take copies of the collection to the WorldCon, ConZealand. To talk on panels about why the project was so important. To ask authors to read their stories aloud to a captive audience. None of that will happen in quite the same way now. And I’m so bitterly disappointed about that.

It would be very easy for me to be despondent, but the truth is, while we struggle to come to terms with the new normal; while we adjust our routines and ways of working; while we do our very best to manage our fears and anxieties and stay connected with our friends and family, even though we have been forced apart, we see the benefits of services that provide support in areas of mental health more than ever.

We need the tools and the strategies, the comfort and the care. We need to know that there is somewhere we can turn to for advice, or that someone can offer a compassionate ear. Instances of common mental health disorders are very likely to increase in the future in response to how the world, and our lives, have changed. Depression, anxiety, grief and trauma — those things did not go away when COVID-19 arrived. Quite the opposite.

The word “unprecedented” has been used over and over in the media to describe the situations we are experiencing, and while many times it seems to be used to highlight the negative, I also feel like there has to be some positive too.

Now, more than ever, we need to be kind and supportive to those who need it. We need to check in with our friends and neighbours and do all that we can for those who are struggling. We also need to rest, and heal and understand that while this is a time of great uncertainly, hope and kindness will help us get through it together, just as much as physical distancing and good hygiene practices will.

All the authors, poets, editors and artists who have worked on this project have put a massive amount of time, energy and passion into doing so. They have worked together to create a collection that is often dark yet also hopeful, with many contributors creating in defiance of their own black dogs. Every cent raised will go towards the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and to supporting those who need their services the most.

I want to extend my thanks to everyone, for being a part of this, and for supporting me and the rest of the hard-working team. Right now, so many of us are hurting, in so many different ways. If “Black Dogs, Black Tales” can do anything, I hope it can shine a light of hope in the uncertain darkness, that it can spread joy via the stories it contains. That it reminds us that even when our black dogs are haunting our steps, and pacing all around us, we can tame them. We can overcome. Together, but apart. Connected, although physically distant. We’ve got this.