Brand building through storytelling

Got the blues? Give thanks for something good

When I was climbing out of chronic depression more than 20 years ago, I read somewhere about a bedtime ritual that was said to nudge the weariest of hearts toward hope. You were to lie in the dark and give thanks to whatever gods there be for the best moment of your day. How simplistic, I thought. How impossibly naive. What about all the days when nothing good happened?

All my life I’d been a cynic and proud of it. Yet I found myself desperate enough to give this gratitude stuff my best shot (fact is, I’d have papered my walls with happy-face stickers if someone had assured me it would help). Lo and behold, I could always think of at least one small marvel, if not several. My son made me a Mother’s Day card. A friend called to suggest an impromptu lunch. The ice cream parlour had a fresh tub of Oreo on offer (the owner just knew I’d be in for a heaping bowl of my favourite flavour). By pausing to honour everyday pleasures, I came to understand their importance. Each one was a stake in the ground, tethering my depression-bruised wisp of a self to this inconstant, imperfect world that’s still the only world we’ve got.

Maynard RonaPaul 1970sIt’s been more than 20 years since I recovered from full-blown depression—that grindingly desolate state that robs the sky of its colour and beloved voices of their music. But I still contend with times of profound, unavoidable sorrow—now more than ever, as colleagues and friends are swept away by the illnesses that strike more often in mid-life. I’m told by the oldest of my friends, a woman approaching 90, that this is the way it’s going to be from now on. And it will never be anything but sad. All the more reason to cultivate the habit of gratitude.

I could simply lie in the dark at bedtime, meditating on the marvels in my life. But the tulips are in bloom, I’ve packed my down coat off to the cleaner’s and I feel like celebrating out loud. Here, then, a gratitude list of recent smile-worthy developments, one for every day of the week:

* My 12-year-old grandson bounded out of bed on an overnight with us and offered to cook me scrambled eggs. Anything tastes better when it’s served by a guy who simply wants to make me happy.

* A friend is about to receive an award, for which I was proud to recommend her. (I’d tell you her name but the news is still under wraps.)

* Wild leeks are in season—delicious in a fragrant pesto smeared over roast chicken breasts.

* My sister-in-law Linda, who shares my conviction that A Fine Balance is among the novels of a lifetime, to be urged on all fans of the sweeping old-fashioned moral saga, has assured me that I’ll also enjoy The White Tiger (a more sardonic take on corruption in India). Better yet, she’s lent me her copy. Don’t you love a recommendation from someone who knows your tastes?

* My virtual friendship with writer/artist Franke James, whom I met on Twitter (and whose mother/daughter story appears on this site) has just crossed the border into real life. Over lunch on a bright Friday, we celebrated her new and eminently gift-able book, Bothered by My Green Consciencea charmingly illustrated account of “how an SUV-driving, imported-strawberry-eating urban dweller can go green.” Holding onto my inscribed copy proved something of a challenge: other lunchers, attracted by the cover, kept picking it up for a flip-through.

* I’ve been shopping for books and music to enjoy on our flight to Hong Kong this Thursday. My picks so far: Still Alice (in which the heroine faces my greatest fear, erasure by Alzheimer’s); Foreskin’s Lament (memoir of escape from isolating religious orthodoxy, in this case Jewish); Sweet and Low (true story of intrigue, strife and disinheritance in an immigrant family that struck it rich making artificial sweeteners); and the new Bob Dylan CD, mordantly titled Together Through Life. Come to think of it, “together through life” is how I feel about Dylan and me.

* We didn’t see our new grandson today, which would have been lovely. But why brood about what might have been? We took a walking tour of our downtown Toronto neighbourhood, and sun poured down on us as we learned the hidden stories of the places we pass every day. That inviting park beside the Anglican cathedral? Some 2000 people are buried there in unmarked graves. No one knows their names, let alone their stories. But the Victorian garden bursts with daffodils and tulips, and I look forward to eating my lunch there when we’re back from our travels. As my mother used to say, until she could no longer speak, “Life goes on.”

What are you grateful for? I’d love to know. Bet I’m not the only one.

Photo: with my husband in the dark years. Note the braless look.

For more of my writing about depression, go to “Letters from Rona” and click “mental health” in the topic list at the left of your screen.


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