Wednesday 28 December 2011

"Happiness Is a Warm Puppy"

While Christmas shopping this year I made a special trip to Urban Outfitters to find a particular item from my mom's Christmas list: Rosebud Salve. As I entered the store my eye was immediately drawn to a square, thin, bright pink book entitled, "Happiness Is a Warm Puppy." For those of us who were children in the '60's and '70's and grew up with the Peanuts gang, this book, with it's classic cover illustration of Lucy hugging Snoopy, is iconic. When I saw it I was instantly transported back to my childhood visits to my Grandparents' home where I would always pick up their dog-eared copy and flip through it. It was an immediate, comforting, happy, and loving memory.

So why is this important? Why am I writing about this in my first blog entry? As a person who has waged a war on depression for the better part of 20 years I have, at times, forgotten that I was loved. Or loveable. I have often forgotten how to laugh and smile. I have many times lost my ability to take comfort in the little things in life, like a good book or happy memory.

And yet depression has also taught me much. I have learned empathy. It has shown me the strength and resilience of the human spirit. It has allowed me to connect with people on a meaningful level. I have learned to truly savour the little things in life like a really good cup of coffee, a belly-laugh with a friend until you are both in tears, or a hug from someone you love who you know loves you back. To live in the moment.

There is so much that we don't know or understand about mental illness. Stigma and misconceptions abound. As an unofficial expert (!) after 20 years, even I don't have all the answers or a complete understanding of my own story. I am still growing, learning and hoping. I hope for greater understanding in the world but I also hope that I won't have a recurrence.

So why start a blog? Because I made a choice 19 years and 364 days ago (well, approximately!). When I was first diagnosed with depression I decided that it was my secret and that I would keep it to myself - it was nobody's business. Well, that lasted all of 24 hours, if that. Because that's not who I am. I made a pledge to myself then, without quite realizing it, that I would be as open as I could be about this illness. I have always been comforted through talking about things and as I shared my experience a couple of things happened. First, I realized that I was not alone. Secondly, I was able to give others comfort by listening to their stories. Since then I have kept that pledge.

Over the years many people have opened up to me about their own struggles with depression and anxiety. I know people who have tried suicide and those who have been touched by depression and suicide. The only shame in any of this, in my mind, is that we still don't feel comfprtable enough in our society to ask for help or really stand up and share our stories.

When we were kids and someone came to school with a broken arm we all asked to sign the cast - how cool to have a cast! We have breast cancer survivors - we're proud of what these women have overcome, and so we should be. But what about mental illness? No, we're not there yet. So there's your answer - that's why I need to do this.

I am committing myself to starting conversation, offering comfort when I can and sharing my experiences in an open and honest manner. And, just maybe, I'll show that there is hope - after the darkness comes light.

Oh, the book! Of course I bought it (alas, the Rosebud Salve was not to be found!). Today I am happy with my life and I am optimistic about the future. But the next time that I feel blue (and there will be days) I will pull out my treasured Peanuts book, flip to my favourite page, and read, "Happiness is a warm puppy." Thanks Charles Schultz!

1 comment:

  1. What a fitting start to the season of Epiphany .... bringing light into the darkness. Way to go! Joanne


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