By JEN WIGHT
But do you know what one of the most common things people have said to me about the book is, ‘I wasn’t expecting to laugh. Is it OK that I found some of it funny?’
The answer? Most definitely yes.
John Cleese talks about how humour is often overlooked or even taboo in some circumstances because the topic being discussed is considered too ‘serious’.
But I think humour is the best, and sometimes the only, way we can cope with the difficulties that life throws our way – from irksome to life shattering. It helps shine a light into the gloom and helps us bond with those around us who want to help. It has certainly helped me recover.
But this is one of the many reasons depression can be so hard to fight your way through. When I was ill my funny bone was well and truly broken. My life felt like a grey, joyless, painful experience to endure day by day. The very things that I needed to get myself better; my self-belief, my ability to look forward to a better possible future and my ability to laugh, were not working.
But using a variety of techniques (I pretty much tried everything anyone suggested) including therapy, exercise, healthy diet, plenty of sleep, support of friends and family, medication and yoga, I managed to survive that dreadful time. Laughter, fun and joy returned to my life.
Being able to laugh at the awful things that happen in life is a therapy of sorts as it requires you do take a step away from the awfulness and see things from an outsider’s perspective. Exactly what psychological support helps you do. Getting to the point where you can laugh about a difficult thing that happened to you is a real watershed moment.
Mums are lucky in this respect as we get plenty of opportunities to practise this, like the time my son marched around giving inappropriate military salutes (yes those ones) to the elephants at Taronga Zoo, or when my friend’s daughter announced at the school gates in her piping clear voice, ‘My mum has a hairy vagina,’ or in the brilliant How To Be A Woman when Catlin Moran has to kick her daughter’s poo across a falconry display at Regent Park Zoo. All parents have a library’s worth of these types of stories.
Cringe at the time, funny afterwards.
But if you aren’t so lucky you can also experience things that aren’t so easy to laugh off, like my beautiful friend who endured years of IVF followed by repeated miscarriages. We’d gone for dinner when she’d told me, face aglow, that she was pregnant again, though it was early days. We were at a Moroccan place I’d chosen perched on narrow, dank and deeply uncomfortable concrete seats. She emailed a few days later to tell me she had had another miscarriage. When I rang her later I told her my first thought was, ‘It’s my fault for choosing that restaurant – those f’ing seats!’ She burst out laughing. ‘It is good to laugh,’ she’d said.
Or in my case, literally going mad. One of the things that I think has caused most people to laugh (once they realised it was OK) was my delusion that I thought I was Cameron Diaz. (Oh and BTW subconscious me, way to go on the body confidence.) Having psychosis was an extremely horrible and scary experience. But bits of it were also funny in hindsight. A thing can be both in my view.
That’s not to say we should go around willy nilly laughing at other’s misfortunes, it has to be the right type of laughter, at the right time, with a close loving friend, partner, mum or sister.
It is Post Natal Depression Awareness Week this week. You may be aware that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for women with a baby or infant. All these children, dads and grandparents losing their mother, partner or daughter.
I don’t think people view PND as a potentially fatal illness in the same way as say cancer, but it is just as deadly. The thing is, just like cancer, early identification and intervention can save lives. But the taboo around PND stops some parents asking for help.
Breaking down the taboo is one of the main reason I wrote Day Six, and why was I delighted to be asked to be a spokeswoman for PND Awareness Week.
So please if you someone you know has lost the laughter in their life, if they are flat and the spark has gone from their eyes, or even if that person is you, please contact Lifeline’s 24 hour counselling phone number 13 11 14.
If you are in great pain call for emergency assistance straight away.
I am a writer, not-for-profit fundraiser and author of Day Six. In my day job I work for Cerebral Palsy Alliance. In my other day and night job I work with my husband to raise my beautiful son. I am from Hackney in east London and live in Sydney with my son, husband and our imaginary pets; Fart, Pamela, Gunnar and Chervil. You can get hold of Day Six at all good bookshops, here and here.
Find out more about Postnatal Depression Awareness Week and get involved by visiting: www.mentalhealth.asn.au.