Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess…”

What makes you happy? I used to think having a home of my own, a man who loved me and with whom I’d have babies was all I wanted in life but by the time I had those things I wanted more. I married at 19, had my first child at 22, second at 25 and third at 27. My husband worked away from home so I was a single parent within a marriage and I resented his freedom to travel the world in his work. I also resented his ability to find sexual comfort wherever he was, whilst I was rationed to his weekend visits once every 6 weeks. Not being the most mature of women, I struggled to cope and ended up one day paralysed down my left side. It wasn’t a stroke and the paralysis passed, but it was the start of an illness, linked to stress, that has progressed over the years and debilitated me.

There is a theory that you are responsible for any illnesses in your life and that you hang onto those that serve you best in terms of fulfilling your own agenda eg needing attention, wanting someone to care for you etc. I’m not sure if that theory is true, but some people seem as if they are never happy, or are only happy when complaining about something. (I hope I don’t fit into that category!) However, I do know that since I let go of the image of myself as being superwoman, surrendered to taking my illness on its own terms and forged a relationship with my body that things have been a lot better, even if I have succumbed to a couple of bouts of clinical depression.

Whenever the ‘black dog’ visits me I take myself away and think about all the blessings in my life. If I’m house-bound then I watch the movement and flow of the trees outside my window, or curl up with a good book, or run a hot perfumed bath and have a long soak; if I’m able to walk I go to the woods and sit beside running water. These activities don’t magically dissipate clinical depression but they enable me to move forwards, to ask for help and take control again. Feeling connected to nature, and ultimately something bigger than me, is my salvation and I try never to take things for granted.

Bhuddists believe that everything that happens in this life is illusory and impermanent, and our attachment to people and things causes us pain. That includes happiness. I don’t necessarily disagree with them because I do form attachments, the loss of which make me unhappy. Yet I can’t be happy in a world without attachments because they anchor me when I’m in danger of disappearing. I feel most alive when I’m experiencing the highs and lows of this life of mine and those emotions are the key to my writing. I don’t believe you can really feel happiness unless you have experienced deep unhappiness as a yardsick to measure it by. We respond through contrasts – when I recover from bouts of illness everything seems to shine in technicolour, as if the volume has been turned up on all my senses and I am connected to the whole universe. And in those moments I am truly happy.

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