I feel like I’m in a mud puddle.
Breaking news this morning on CBC was the shocking to some; saddening to others; heartening to yet others; and completely nonplussing news to many that Robert Munsch, beloved Canadian children’s author, admitted to mental illness and drug addictions.
At first I was shocked, and then I was saddened, and now… now I feel like I’m in a mud puddle.
The first burble in the mud puddle was the thought that addictions and illness have absolutely nothing to do with this man’s art. He’s not writing self-help books on battling cocaine abuse. He’s writing quirky tales of paper-bag princesses and sleep-walking fathers. If the end result is a satisfactorily tongue-twistingly chewy bedtime story, should the personal process that may have accompanied the writing really matter?
The second blip in my puddle was the realisation that today’s CBC story was not, in fact, a shocking new discovery. Munsch has talked about his battle with mental illness before, in interviews in The Globe & Mail and Global Television Network. In fact, I would far more readily describe the story in G&M as beautiful and inspiring instead of “shocking.”
Excerpt: How Robert Munsch grabbed a lifeline (The Globe & Mail, October 09 2009)
“ Purple, Green and Yellow is my take on depression,” the real-life Mr. Munsch says in an interview. “That’s what it was like for me: You want to kill yourself, but you have to be funny. You colour yourself for the world.”
Known as much for his hyperkinetic performances as his funny-with-an-edge children’s books, Mr. Munsch, 64, has struggled his entire life with bipolar disorder.
From his “wild and wonky” behaviour as a teenager, through to his years studying to be a priest, then as a daycare worker with a gift for storytelling, he largely suffered in silence and accepted the wild mood swings: “When you grow up with it, it seems like the way life is,” he says.
But the bouts of depression and related alcoholism grew ever worse, and Mr. Munsch finally got help – therapy and antidepressants – when he was close to 50.
While many artists fear that treatment for mental illness will rob them of their magical je ne sais quoi , Mr. Munsch had the opposite result: “Taking antidepressants didn’t interfere with my creativity, the depression interfered with my creativity.”
Better still, instead of having to paint himself happy, he actually began to enjoy the performances. “After treatment, it became more fun to do the shows – it made me better.”
And yet, the question must be asked…
What was Mr. Munsch attempting to accomplish by posting the following “Note to Parents” on his website?
And was it accomplished?
NOTE TO PARENTS
I am a storyteller. I write books for kids, I talk to kids, and I listen to kids.
But that is not all that I am. Several years ago I was diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive. Those challenges have led me to make some big mistakes.
I have worked hard to overcome my problems, and I have done my best. I have attended twelve-step recovery meetings for more than 25 years.
My mental health and addiction problems are not a secret to my friends and family. They have been a big support to me over the years, and I would not have been able to do this without their love and understanding.
I hope that others will also understand. I hope that everyone will talk to their kids honestly, listen to them, and help them do their best with their own challenges.