Happy thoughts

Last month I saw a play at the Malthouse Theatre called Every Brilliant Thing.  It plots a life affected by depression and haunted by suicide, and yet it was a comedy.  I still don't know how this play made me laugh and cry at the same time, feel joy and heartache, experience the beauty in life and the searing pain of loss.  It tells the story of a young boy whose Mother tries to commit suicide.  Her first attempt fails and with little understanding of depression he thinks he can make her happy by creating a list of all the wonderful things in life.  Every brilliant thing that we should live for.

The smell of grass, ice creams, sunshine in winter.  He continues the list throughout his life adding wonderful things like Christopher Walken's voice, the crackling sound of vinyl records, finding someone who shares your love of books, and who adds her own brilliant things to the list.  We follow his awkward attempts of asking this woman out and the highs of marrying someone he adores.  The list gets put aside in life many times and is almost thrown out.  His wife, understanding the importance of the thousands of brilliant things salvages the box containing the list.

Somehow, without noticing, the depression that plagued his Mother has made it's way into his own life.  So much so his wife moves out, leaving a note inside a vinyl record sleeve.  She loves him but cannot cope unless he gets help.  The note is not found for years.  His Mother is finally successful in her attempts to kill herself and we feel this loss with our protagonist.  He realises that as a child he was filled with hope.  It was this that made him begin the list in the first place.  He digs the box containing scraps of papers, randomly listing brilliant things, and he finally makes it to a million things.

The audience was asked to participate, reading brilliant things from the list handed to them before the play began.  Other audience members played additional characters and we cheered their participation.  I spent much of the play smiling at it's beauty and honesty, but also biting the inside of my lip to stop myself from sobbing.  Perhaps my emotions were running high as I was seated next to an empty chair.  Peter was supposed to come with me, but a wave of anxiety hit him an hour before we needed to leave the house.  I left him alone, curled up foetal in bed.  I sat alone after the play drinking a glass of wine in the darkness of the night, with tears running down my cheeks.  This play had hit a nerve.  With a sledge hammer.  I do think there need to be a name for an emotion that is joy and heartache together.  Perhaps there already is.  It's probably a German word.  (A book by Goethe was mentioned in the play 'The sorrows of young Werther' - on his reading list at Uni he was told this book could induce suicidal thoughts).

I have written many times about trying to focus on the small joys in life, the things that give me hope that things will get better.  I've been wondering recently if I've been practicing my own DIY version of positive psychology.  I smiled watching the end of Mockingjay 2 (the last movie in the Hunger Games series) as Katniss tells her baby that she has nightmares.  But to combat these she makes lists in her head of all the good things in life.  All the things that bring her happiness and steer her focus from the trauma of what would understandably be post traumatic stress.

The reality is that the good things don't cancel out the bad, and vice versa.  Life does continue to be a roller coaster at times.  Highs with lows. And yesterday I had a low day.  I needed a good old sob to let the pressure valve pop.  A good friend and I have talked about how we compartmentalise everything.  In order to get up each day and go to work we park the hard stuff and focus on what is in front of us.  It's a good coping mechanism, but eventually that box you've shoved to the corner of your head with all the difficult, hard, awful, stressful crap rears it's head.

I haven't really found a coping mechanism for this, apart from having a really good cry every so often.  Luckily Peter came and hugged me, stroked my face and said he understood.  Some days you just really need a hug, something which can become a future happy thought.







Every Brilliant Thing the book is available.  I've ordered my copy!

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