Saturday, May 9, 2009

the pursuit of happiness

My happiness is a work in progress. I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager, hit rock bottom in my early 20s just when life seemed to be giving me everything I’d ever wanted, used medication, found it didn’t have all the answers, had a baby and teetered on the edge of the abyss again, used medication again just to keep my head above water, had another baby and fell so far into the abyss I thought I might never get out, used medication as a lifeline and eventually realised that there had to be more to it than that.

So here I am, more than 18 months after pushing aside the medication option and putting everything I had into the alternative. I’ve learned more about myself in that time than I knew going into it, and while I still have my bad days, they are much less frequent and when they come I am ready for them.

I work at my happiness now, but as time goes on it takes less and less conscious effort. There are things that I know will make me happy, and not in a superficial way. They make my soul happy, and stave off the blackness. It feels like the happier my soul is, the more resistant it is to the blackness. It’s multiple coats of Teflon, every colour of the rainbow. Sometimes it helps to make a list:

1. Go outside. Feel the sun, or the wind or the rain as the case may be, on your face. It’s called nature and some days it’s your best friend.
2. Put some music on. Dance. Sing if you know the words.
3. Learn the words. To anything - Somewhere Over the Rainbow, My Favourite Things, Morningtown Ride - and sing them. Loud.
4. Write it down. All of it.

Next week I’m going to a conference in Sydney called Happiness and Its Causes, mainly because when I saw the flyer for it some months ago I just knew I had to get there somehow. So now I’m going, and I don't want to leave my family for two days and two nights but I have a feeling I will not regret it. Part of me is still frightened by the world out there but I’m on the journey now and there is no going back. Enduring stress to find happiness? Let’s just say it’s par for the course.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The older I get, the more my childhood seems to be like another country. I have the photos to prove I've been there, the crystal-clear memories that allow me to recreate whole days down to the smell and the fabric on the lounge cushions. But I can never go back there, and I will always want to, if only for a few minutes, until the day I die.
The place I really long for is my grandmother's house at Lennox Head, and when I say it was on the beach I mean the front yard was sand. It's not there any more, there's a row of millionaires' beach pads where the nasturtiums used to be, but then I'm not 5 any more either, unless I really concentrate. Then I'm back there, summer holidays, long walks on the beach with the dogs every morning and afternoon, classical music on the radio, storms at sea, Enid Blyton books, pumice stones in the shower, wooden floorboards dusted with sand, shells and driftwood drying on the timber deck. The smell of old books and seagrass matting. The calm.
We've just spent a few days on the south coast, somewhere I had never been before. I found a B&B on the internet and booked it because it looked beautiful and something about it felt right. And because they had a labrador and two cats - the clincher. We have a labrador named Sunday, and I figured we'd be missing him so it might be nice to have another one around as a stand-in. She was chocolate. Her name? Sundae. Universal sign number one, you might say. Turned out this little B&B was probably the closest thing I'll ever get to revisiting my grandmother's beach house, and thus my own childhood. The bookshelves were packed, the matting was seagrass. Shells and driftwood on every flat surface. And calm.
We walked on Hyams Beach on a beautiful sunny day, and I could have kept walking for hours. I only wished I'd had a labrador or two with me. That would have made it beyond perfect. But I was revelling anyway in the knowledge that sometimes roads lead you somewhere you've never been before, and it's as though you never left.