BY V.J. Cast

Challenging the Black Dog:

A Creative Outlet for Tackling Depression

Journal (6×9)

Are you looking for a way to put your inner critic in time-out while toilet-training your Black Dog?

Challenging the Black Dog makes starting your recovery from depression as simple as breaking out some well-chewed pens and a blank journal, because sometimes when you’re afraid of something it helps to cover the nightmare with glitter and doodles.

Other Books by VJ Cast

Journal (6×9)

Journal (6×9)

Journal (6×9)

Looking to decompress?

Now, while colouring stuff in obviously won’t save us from COVID-19, it might possibly help save a little bit of our sanity while we’re all forced to self-isolate.

So, from me to you in this surreal and scary moment of history:


Feel free to share some sanity with your friends, family and followers on social media!


V.J. Cast

VJ is a non-fiction author, colouring book creator, introvert, and co-parent of a home-schooled teen on the spectrum.

She’s has put over two decades of experience with depression, social anxiety, trichotillomania, non-suicidal self-harm, disordered eating, and bipolar II into her mental health books. Fibromyalgia also enjoys kicking her ass regularly, so she’s close friends with numerous hot water bottles.

She lives on a small island off the coast of South-East Queensland, Australia, with an abundance of pets, wildlife and far too many friendly mosquitoes in summer.

Her hair colours, like her medications, are subject to change.


Challenging the Black Dog is a resource for depression sufferers by a depression sufferer. VJ’s approach provides a very specific type of compassion and understanding that’s only available from lived experience, yet still manages to get across the idea of personal accountability for recovery. It is a treasure trove of ideas, strategies and bite-sized prompts which can be added to by the reader. An experimental approach is encouraged! Importantly it provides hope and will complement professional expertise.

Patrick McGorry AO MD PhD FRANZCP (@PatMcGorry)

Professor of Youth Mental Health, Orygen (National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health) and the University of Melbourne

Challenging the Black Dog presents a refreshingly original approach to grappling with depression. The exercises here spark a creative process that simultaneously grounds and explores. I wish I’d had this book in my teens and twenties.

Mark Pelligrino (@MarkRPellegrino)

Actor, Supernatural & 13 Reasons Why

What a brilliant idea — Challenging the Black Dog is a creative resource, designed to support personal reflection and insight into the experience of depression. And why shouldn’t the exploration of depression be creative, stimulating and ultimately uplifting? Challenging the Black Dog effectively takes the currently popular, designer “happiness journal” to a new level and depth, confronting the reality of living with depression in a format that can be both pleasurable and relatable.

Professor Jill Bennett (@thebiganxiety)

Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, UNSW AUSTRALIA & Director of The Big Anxiety: festival of arts + science + people

Similar to training our muscles to become stronger, our minds can be trained to be strong and content. We can train our ‘Black Dog,’ all we need is a little bit of guidance to get there. This book is a resource that you can use as a guide to psychological well-being. You can write in it, draw, vent, scribble random things that are important and inspire you. Treat it as your companion. It’s here to help and encourage you. It’s a support crew in your own corner, there to use anytime, anywhere.

Belle Brockhoff (@bellebrockhoff)

Professional Snowboarder, 2x Olympian + 4x World Cup Gold Medalist


Matthew Revert

“Old Books”
Cover Designer

Patmai De Vera


Dr Travis Gee


Patrick Knowles

cover designer



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Frequently Asked Questions

Are the journals available worldwide?
YES, except for countries restricted by various retailers or postal services. The journals are POD and will (usually) be printed at the nearest printer to your location.
Why are the journals self-published?
Self-publishing has given me the opportunity to work on all aspects of the book myself with an illustrator of my own choosing and within the time frames that worked around both my health issues and home-schooling by aspie teen.
Also, the POD and distribution company I’ve chosen provides the specs I need for the book and allows me to keep the price of the book and shipping costs as reasonable as possible.
Do you sell mainly to individuals or organizations?

Sales for have been roughly split 30/70 between individuals and organizations.

Is there an option to bulk order?

Yes. If you’d like to order a bulk amount, starting at a minimum of 5 copies, please email as discounts may apply.

Are you a mental health professional?

No. My ‘qualifications’ for creating these books comes from over 25 years experience with various mental disorders of my own, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and NSSI, all of which first began in my teens. However, I have regularly consulted with a qualified psychologist regarding the contents of the books during their creation and they have been used in clinical setting successfully.

Will the journals solve my problems?

I wish it was that simple…

Some depression goes away for a long time, only to sneak back up on you later in life. Some people seem to suffer from a low-level depression as their emotional ‘set point’. Other people find that with enough help that they can permanently exclude the black dog from their life. The same goes for self-injurious behaviour. PTSD and anxiety.

Everyone is different and I can’t make any claims that the journals will cure what ails you, but they can help alleviate the symptoms and guide you towards recovery if you give them time and a chance.

If I get a journal, do I still need other treatment?
Everyone is different and this isn’t something I can advise you on. I’ve known people who have relied solely on self-guided therapy and lifestyle changes who’ve improved their condition. I’ve known other people with treatment resistant depression or embedded self-injurious behaviours where nothing seems to work.

Most people find it best to go with a combination of treatments, which can include such things as: psychotherapy interventions, medication, self-therapy, exercise + diet changes, establishing routines, hypnosis, regular self-care, support groups, and medical interventions such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

The journals were written to use either as self-guided therapy (for those unable or unwilling to access medical treatment for their condition) or in conjunction with working with a therapist (as a activity workbook).

Aren’t you embarrassed about having a mental illness?
Do you recommend any specific treatment?

I’m not qualified to give medical advise and recommend you speak, at the very least, to your GP if you have concerns or questions about available treatments for your mental health issues. I will, however, recommend you (and everyone else!) practice regular self-care.

Why did you create these journals?

I’ve spent more than 25 years dealing with mental health issues, but I also ended up wasting a lot of that time to struggling and barely keeping my head above water because I was unable (and occasionally unwilling) to access appropriate mental health care and a strong support network.

Over the years I’ve lost (a lot) of friends, a marriage and numerous employment opportunities because of mental illness. Some of it to the stigma attached to having a mental illness (or more), some of it to my own inability to deal with my mental health at the time.

After painstakingly building my life back up since becoming a parent and finding out how much of a difference good mental health care can make I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch other people lose time they don’t have to with struggling, when they can, with some help and compassion, lead fulfilling lives with just as many opportunities as everyone else.

What’s Offbeat Brains about?
Offbeat Brains is the name of my publishing imprint. The name stems from not seeing mental illnesses as ‘broken’, simply a little offbeat, when compared to what is considered a neurotypical brain.
What is Trichotillomania and Fibromyalgia?

Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder. Basically it’s an urge that results in you pulling out your hair (and can include all forms of hair on the body). My tendency is to pull out my head hair (which is an improvement over my earlier years which also involved trichophagia a.k.a. hair eating) and eyebrows. For me it’s usually in response to feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated or from wrestling suppressed anger. These days I keep my hair dyed bright, unnatural colours as a form of aversion therapy because I can see the dye on my fingers if I start pulling (it’s slowly working).

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that involves chronic widespread pain and a heightened pain response to pressure. Other symptoms include extreme tiredness, memory problems and sleep issues. The cause is unknown, treatment is difficult and even though it is neither degenerative nor fatal, the chronic pain is pervasive and persistent.

What’s with your nearly non-existent social media presence?

Basically: social media or sanity. I cut back heavily on social media because it was becoming an interference in my day-to-day life. Yes, this makes it hard to get the word out about the books as an author – I breached the ‘cardinal rule’ of authors needing to create a platform before publishing. However, on the other hand I’m less distracted by ‘shiny things’ I see online.

However, if you really want to see me occasionally in my natural environment, I still sneak onto Pinterest and I used to post on Tumblr solely for providing original, creative prompts for fiction writers. Sometimes I lurk on Reddit looking at cat pictures, too.

I also respond to emails. Actually, I prefer them!

At the moment the social media accounts for Offbeat Brains are still in development.