Dear Stranger is a collection of inspirational, honest and heartfelt letters from authors, bloggers and Mind ambassadors to an imagined stranger. Insightful and uplifting, Dear Stranger is a humbling glimpse into different interpretations of happiness, and how despite sometimes seeming unobtainable happiness can, in the smallest of ways, become an achievable goal. Here’s a letter written by Rowan Coleman, author of We Are All Made of Stars.
You don’t know me, but here I am writing to you anyway, which is an idea that I rather like. You and I, we have never met and yet there is this common bond between us that makes it possible for us to connect in this way. We are both Human Beings, and because of that we each face the same struggle, the same desire to be happy, to be contented, to feel successful. But although life is a journey that we both have to travel, all too often it feels like we have to travel it alone. It may feel like that, but we don’t have to. There is always someone out there who is ready to take our hand.
Two summers ago, I was lying on my office floor crying, when I suddenly thought, ‘Hang on, this isn’t right. This isn’t how a person is supposed to live their life.’ It was on that bright, summer morning that I realised I hadn’t been able to feel actually, truly happy for a very long time.
I was a happy child, my mum used to say. I’d laugh to see a pudding roll, and for the most part I’ve been a reasonably happy adult, or, at least, about the same as anyone, with ups and downs, highs and lows. And then suddenly, for no reason particularly at all, those two summers ago, it all became too much. It felt like my world had turned into a constant night.
The sun could be shining, the sky could be blue, but still, all around me, I felt the darkness, pressing in, invading my lungs, weighing heavy on my chest, pushingme down. And when you are in that place it’s impossible to try and imagine a sunrise, it just is.
Other people might tell you to snap out of it, or pull your socks up, or think about everyone in your life who needs you, and honestly those people are trying to help. It’s just I don’t think they understand what depression is, how all-invasive it is, like a weed that will not stop growing in your heart and mind. No one who suffers from depression wants it, or gets it because they can’t be bothered to try hard enough to be happy. It chooses you, not the other way around.
But here’s the thing, the very, very important thing.
It will pass. And you will feel happiness again.
Happiness, in all its bright, beautiful glory, is on the way, travelling steadily towards you, just as surely as you fight every morning to get out of bed.
If you just know that happiness is something you will feel again, then the sadness becomes bearable, treatable, endurable. Because all you need to be able to live through those periods of seemingly endless dark is to know for certain that the sun will rise, it always rises, eventually. It’s not optimism you need; don’t feel bad if you are not one of those people who can see a glass half full. It’s not
No, what you need, what we all can have, is that certainty. We can be certain that when things feel entirely and eternally terrible, they will get better. Happiness is inevitable.
The trick is learning to recognise it when it comes.
Maybe it’s the feeling of your child resting their head on your chest. Perhaps it’s seeing your dog chase a gaggle of geese into the canal, as if she were the world’s greatest warrior – and then, moments later, running away from the swans. It might be some really nice freshly baked bread and butter, or an afternoon on the sofa watching Brief Encounter. Happiness can come when you are crying your eyes out, when you are at work. It creeps up on you, surprises you, suddenly fills your heart with purpose.
For me, happiness isn’t a full orchestra of noisy joy. It isn’t being rich, or being famous, or being popular or successful. For me, happiness comes in tiny, nebulous bursts of gloom- piercing sunbeams.
And when those moments of happiness come, live them, breathe them. Reach out and hold them, recognise them, in those precious moments make sure you take note of every aspect of how you feel and remember it.
Experience it, embody it, memorise every little detail of it, write it down if you have to, so you have evidence, so that you know for sure that happiness, however fleeting, can be yours, just as surely as it can be anyone’s. That you have been happy, and you will be again.
Even though life is a journey we mostly take on our own, it’s our very humanness that means we are part of something much bigger than just ourselves. We are part of a huge crazy wonderful family that, even though it has a mass of faults, will never ever stop taking care of us, as long as we let it. It’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to need it. Needing other people is part of what makes us capable of being happy.
With best wishes,
Author Rowan Coleman lives with her husband and five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. Despite being dyslexic, Rowan loves writing, and has written eleven novels. She juggles writing with raising her family, which includes a very lively set of toddler twins whose main hobby is going in the opposite directions. When she gets the chance, Rowan enjoys sleeping, sitting and loves watching films; she is also attempting to learn how to bake.
Dear Stranger, Various (Penguin Random House) is out now. No one should face a mental health problem alone. Whether it’s on a doorstep, on the end of a telephone or online, Mind is there for everyone who is experiencing a mental health problem. All profits from the sale of this book (at least £3 for every copy sold) will be donated to Mind, a registered charity number 219830.