How to be Happy Again

happiness-for-freeMy latest blog post – How to be Happy Alone – seemed to strike a chord with a number of people who were going through the process of rebuilding their inner selves after the end of a long-term relationship. However, I’ve just spent the weekend with one of my oldest and dearest friends and we spent some time walking and talking and pondering this subject; and we were both able to trace the roots of our “split” with our true selves way back past the beginning of our most significant romantic relationship.

Both my friend and I lost a parent at a young age but we also had to deal with other issues – issues that traumatized us and affected the way we related to the world as children and – as an extension of that – affected our relationship with our growing selves.  We adapted and adjusted our personalities to fit with our situation and parts of our true selves were lost in the process.

One of the common consequences of this kind of “splitting off” of a part of yourself is depression. I have been fortunate in that I have never really suffered (at least not long-term) with this illness but I know many people that have, and instead of looking in at it from the outside as many do and wondering what it’s all about, I have always felt close to sufferers and felt that “there but for the grace of God go I”.

In the past few days the British media has been full of stories about British actor and comedian Stephen Fry, whose well-publicised battle with bipolar disorder culminated in a suicide bid last week. I was pleased to see that the media reported this with sensitivity and that it did much to raise awareness of this debilitating disease. One of the things that is so misunderstood is what such fortunate and famous people such as Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Robbie Williams – people who would appear to have everything going for them – have to feel miserable about. One of the myths about depression is that there has to be a reason for feeling down. There doesn’t.  At least not a tangible one – one to do with material success, having loved ones, fame or fortune. And that’s the point.  Because if it was as simple as that you’d be able to do something about it. For many it’s a clinical disease which is triggered by hormonal changes in the body and/or brain chemistry.

For many more people, though, the disease will have its roots in something that has happened in the past, and treatment of the symptoms with drugs alone will not eliminate the cause. That’s where counselling comes in, and this is a treatment that continues to be overlooked and under-funded in Britain, with waiting lists of up to a year on the NHS.

This is tragic. Because I truly believe that, with help, it’s possible to recover from a difficult or traumatic childhood or traumatic event that has left you scarred. I know, because I’ve done it. It takes time and effort and courage and it doesn’t happen overnight.  But for me, it was well worth the time, the pain and the effort that I invested.

I mentioned in my latest blog post – How to be Happy Alone – that as part of my “recovery” I had also read a lot of self-help books and one of my readers asked what they were. So here are just some of the books that I can think of that have helped and inspired me over the years:

Toxic Parents – Susan Forward

Feel the Fear and do it Anyway – Susan Jeffers

The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton

Women Who Love too Much – Robin Norwood

The Cinderella Complex – Colette Dowling

The Road Less Travelled – M. Scott Peck

The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran

Families and How to Survive Them – John Cleese and Robin Skinner

Life and How to Survive it – John Cleese and Robin Skinner

If anyone has read any other inspirational or enlightening books then I would love to have your recommendations.

14 Comments

  1. Brian V. Menard, Author June 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm .

    Great article, Ruth! Learning how to be happy alone can be quite the challenge for people. It’s nice to see that the media is beginning to understand that they should show some compassion for those who are suffering from depression and the difficulties that many face from this disease. I’m no stranger to depression. When my wife passed away from cancer and I was left to raise my children alone, it was the most horrible time of my life. I can easily understand why some people don’t survive severe depression. In my case, I had no choice but to be strong for my kids but it was still a difficult ordeal. I found a book that ultimately proved to be my salvation while struggling with depression. It’s called “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by Dr. Joseph Murphy. It’s a wonderful book and I’d highly recommend it to anyone going through difficult times in their lives. I still read it to this day. Don’t let the title scare you. It’s very well written and there is one chapter about “happiness” that is particularly useful. Thanks for posting this blog. I really enjoyed it and will be following it in the future. :)

  2. Ruth Mancini June 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm .

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment here Brian and for your recomendation. I have just downloaded it from Amazon! I’ve never heard of it or of the author but I can see it’s got a lot of good reviews. I am so sorry to hear about your loss and full of admiration for you for battling your way through depression for the sake of your children. I believe that depression that arises out of a life event is referred to as “reactive” (the implication being that it’s not a permanent condition – fortunately) and i think that I too succumbed to it after my second son was born and I faced up to the reality of my first son’s disability. I had been trying to kid myself that he was just “behind” even though it was obvious that it was much more than that and that he had a severe learning disability. Fortunately I got through it, as you did. (I’ve written all about that on my first blog post, actually). Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  3. Brian V. Menard, Author June 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm .

    Hi Ruth, I had previously read your blog post about “J”. We seem to have had some very similar experiences. I also have a son with learning disabilities (Down’s Syndrome) and we weren’t sure what was wrong for the first few months. However, it wasn’t a source of difficulty until I found myself being tasked with the challenge of needing to take care of him (and my other 7 children) alone after the passing of my wife. Learning How to be happy alone is a huge challenge when the responsibility of raising children alone is also part of the equation. I was always the type of person who “loved” a good challenge and always rose to the occasion with a genuine zeal for whatever task was at hand. However, this challenge seemed so insurmountable, I was genuinely left breathless at times. The good news is, I did eventually learn to cope with the situation. :)

  4. Laura Taylor June 15, 2013 at 4:15 am .

    Ruth – having experienced the death of my only child and his father, and then, several years later, the failure of a 2nd marriage, I recall the emotional struggle to re-order my life and to re-establish my identity. Flirting with depression was a by-product of those events. They prompted me to seek counseling, which I found incredibly helpful. It also allowed me to find the ability to re-embrace the world. I appreciate your comments on the topic and your desire to foster both care and a dialogue that is capable of transcending national borders. The human spirit is both strong and vulnerable. LT

  5. J.P. Lane June 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm .

    Great article, Ruth. What you say is so true. Many people don’t understand that depression can be a clinical thing, so advice like “go for a long walk or go out with friends” does nothing more than frustrate the person who’s depressed. Sometimes there’s nothing more depressing than being surrounded by happy people when you’re depressed. Like you and Laura, I’ve had to deal with the deaths of loved ones and the end of not two, but four marriages. In the past, I filled those empty spaces with other relationships, and work. Today, I’m alone, and very happy. Life has never been better. I’ve finally learned how to be happy alone.

  6. Primula Bond June 15, 2013 at 10:25 pm .

    I am very humbled by your post and the comments, also. I had depression years ago but although it was debilitating at the time there are degrees of severity and situation. I was a heart broken single mother and managed to get myself sorted for my little boy’s sake with medication. I didn’t have the long term issues that you and your commentators speak about so bravely. Interestingly, I remember finding some of the books you mention (Women Who Love Too Much in particular) unhelpful reading at the time, but looking back I realise that’s because they were telling me things about myself (behaviour patterns around relationships) which were true but uncomfortable. Anyway, I am still snatching moments of Swimming Upstream when I can get away from writing!

  7. Lisa C June 18, 2013 at 10:43 pm .

    Ruth, interesting you talk about tracing the roots of our ‘split’ – for me that would be the separation of my parents at the sensitive age of 13. Forced to live with my father, a very hurt man at the time so his bitterness and anger came before everything. Also, little contact with my mum, I created a ‘mask’ of happiness which remains in place today. This was my survival guide and I have learned to hide pain, almost become immune to it (not something I am proud of as I can come across as cold).
    My mum and sister have both suffered depression, I believe my dad did too in those years mentioned before. Depression is a very lonely place to be, I hope I never have to suffer with it. This s a great article, thank you.

  8. Paul Rega June 20, 2013 at 1:11 am .

    Fascinating–well done….

  9. Natalie G. Owens June 20, 2013 at 7:55 am .

    Ruth, I connect with this articles on many levels. Growing up I faced many challenges for several reasons, which included abandonment and neglect, as well as “thinking” outside my culture. Over the years I have discovered how to be happy with myself – alone – and not to depend on others for my joy. Thanks for bringing awareness to this issue. I am sure many will find great comfort through your writing. And Stephen Fry is one of my idols :).

    1. Natalie G. Owens June 20, 2013 at 7:56 am .

      “article” not “articles” :)

  10. Ruth Mancini June 20, 2013 at 7:53 pm .

    Thanks so much to you all for your replies. I hope others reading this will feel as inspired as I do by your stories and to know that it’s possible to recover from such personal tragedy and difficulties. The loss that some of you have described (Laura, Brian and Joan) would crush some people and I can totally relate to what you describe Lisa and Natalie. It really interests me that we all react so differently to the challenges that life presents and survive in different ways. Primula, congratulations on managing (like Brian) to be there for your child despite your own struggle with depression. I understand your reaction to “Women Who Love too Much” – its message is clearly one that goes against the traditional one that you usually find in the media, in romantic books and magazines and in the movies – that finding someone to love is the answer to everything. I remember that I had started reading it before I broke up with my long-term partner and he was quite annoyed by it! Obviously the book was advocating loving him less so I suppose he felt threatened… but I think it was the book that started to change my life in that it was the first time I had read anything that helped me understand why I wasn’t happy despite having someone who loved me and all the trappings of a successful life. So I suppose it was very much what prompted me to end the relationship, find out how to be happy alone and to write Swimming Upstream.

  11. Ruth Mancini June 20, 2013 at 8:13 pm .

    Not that there is anything wrong with a good romance, I should add! But I guess I am saying that finding love can make you happy but doesn’t have to be the ending!

  12. Kay J December 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm .

    Hello Ruth, such a thought provoking article! Certainly reminded me that finding love should be a beginning- though no childhood fairytale focuses on that part on the story!
    I have a book recommendation that has helped me greatly- fairly recently! Mr Unavailable and the Fallback girl by Natalie Lue- which showed me the amount of excuses I was prepared to make to defend and justify men who are simply emotionally unavailable. That I repeat the same destructive pattern in relationships- due to past experiences. And most importantly that if an unavailable man isn’t happy, there is no possibility that they can make me happy, no matter how I try to please them. She also has a wonderful website and FB page which frequently reminds me to “stay on track”.

  13. Ruth Mancini (@RuthMancini1) December 24, 2013 at 12:55 pm .

    Thanks for commenting Kay. That’s such a great name for a book. I’m definitely going to check it out as well as her website. It’s so liberating when you make that sort of discovery about your patterns of relating though of course realising what’s wrong is just the first step. It took me several years to shed myself of my old “skin” but it was worth it.

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