Rupert’s Black Dog08 Jun 2020
My name is Arwen Valks and I am a wife, a mummy, a creator, a dreamer and a rainbow. The life that has lead to each of these titles has been an adventure, to say the least.
In particular, the journey to becoming a mum was a long hard one. Years of infertility issues meant that when I was finally pregnant I could not relax to enjoy it. I knew at any point the dream growing within me could be extinguished at any time. I also knew that with my history of anxiety and depression that it was entirely possible these could reappear at any point of this journey. We made it through the pregnancy but then with the birth, a few difficulties arose. In conjunction with these and the stress, exhaustion and challenge of being a new mum, sure enough, the depression and anxiety returned. I had a really difficult time with postnatal depression and then learning how to manage life with my husband’s new head injury after an accident. I was struggling in a big way. I knew that ‘checking out’ was not an option. I had not survived everything so far, to fight to get to this point, just to walk away now. So the focus became how do I get through this? In going through this process for myself, in learning some new tricks and in reflecting upon what I already knew from years of experience managing my black dog, I knew I had to share what I knew.
I have always felt very strongly about how awful our youth suicide numbers are. Many years ago a friend and I made a list of our dream jobs if time, money and skill were irrelevant. One of my dream jobs was to end or at the very least have a significant impact on the rate of youth suicide in our country. There have been a couple of times in life that I was really ready to ‘check out’, but thankfully I am still here now and am so grateful for that.
So much of this story I wish I had known much earlier in life. So I wanted to write it in a way that not only children could read and understand, but that was also simple enough for grown-ups. I think we all know that grown-ups can tend to overthink or complicate things unnecessarily. This story came out much bigger in a few ways than I had anticipated and initially I was concerned about that. But to me, each part had its place in the story and held a certain value. There are so many lessons and so many wonderful mental health habits that we can teach and instil in our children at an early age. This way as they grow up and come across challenges, they are better equipped to face them, to deal with them and to know that it is okay to ask for help. We all need help sometimes. Even if we can just teach a child that it is okay to talk about these things and know that everybody struggles sometimes, that in itself has a huge power.
After receiving rejections from a few publishers I was dismayed, but it felt so important to me to get the book made that I had to self publish. I fundraised and did everything I could to keep the costs down and be able to print as many as I could. It meant compromises but it was more important to me to print plenty and keep the book at a level that most people could still afford to buy. If it was unobtainable it would be useless.
So was created, Rupert’s black dog. This story follows the journey of a young boy who discovers that what he is thinking and feeling is the result of a black dog. This black dog lives within all of us and changes in size. Some people never even notice their black dog while others become completely overwhelmed by them. Throughout the story, Rupert sees the changes in size and engages in the battle to shrink his black dog. He learns lots of tips, tricks, discovers a support crew already around him and gets a surprise incredible gift. As a result of this gift, he is able to encourage conversation with others, to share what he has learned and begin to normalize anxiety and depression.
Upon completion of the story, I sent it to a particular classroom of Year 9 students. Among these was Neksha Juneja. Some of the students did illustrations based on their understanding of the story. When I saw Neksha’s and read her explanation, I burst into tears. She had understood it exactly as I had intended. So I decided to use her image as the cover of the book.
I wrote this for my inner child, for all of the children battling their own black dogs, and for all the support crews of those children. The more we can talk about this and ask questions, the better we can support those struggling. It is my hope that with more support, kindness, love and understanding that our youth suicide rate can be drastically reduced. We need these little people to hear our support over the voice of their black dogs. We need to give them the tools to be able to put up a fight and to know that they hold the power to do that.
"It is clear that it was written with a keen understanding of people dealing with anxiety and depression, as well as with an eye towards the specific concerns held by children. I commend you for wanting to help children struggling with mental health issues along with spreading awareness of these issues."
Hon. Julie Anne Genter (Associate Minister of Health)
"Wow, what a massive piece of work and such a gift to others - the ending where he discovers and uses his 'gift' is just perfect. It has a touch of magic and hope and generosity. I appreciate that was a massive undertaking and has so much of you in it. I hope you proceed with getting it 'out there' in the world for others to benefit from."
Jacqueline Harris - Psychologist (Mothers and Babies CHCH)
"To think my son could read something like this if he ever goes through, or even just at an age where he wants to understand how other people think, it's just priceless. I can't remember being more moved by a piece of literary work. I told my husband about your story a few days ago, didn't read the whole thing just explained the concept and stuff, didn't know how much he listened to... tonight I had a total meltdown, I couldn't talk because of the tears and he just said "tell me what the black dog is saying", I was floored, it changed the whole conversation about what was going on in my head, I am smiling now... you have changed lives."
A mum, experiencing postnatal depression
"I think it is really f*&$kin good. Having been diagnosed bipolar recently, it’s an absolutely fantastic description of the little voice you can't control but want to so bad. I loved it."
"Saved Byron's life. Literally. After reading it he stopped talking about killing himself and started asking for help."
The Mother of a fighter
"Should be compulsory reading in schools, very relevant to everyone."