ROAR

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.

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5 thoughts on “ROAR

  1. This makes me proud to be a Munsch-fan. A celebrity who talks openly about his struggles with no hint of scandal? Are you reading this, Hollywood?

  2. Yes, but why was it necessary for him to talk about his “struggles”? What did that add to his work or his art? I struggle with a lot of different things, but is it really necessary or beneficial for me to publicly announce them?

  3. Do you mean was it necessary for him to talk about his stuggles at all in the first place? Or just to put the note-to-parents on his website? For the former, maybe word got out on its own, and he just wanted to be public about it so he wasn’t hiding anything, or maybe telling the world was part of the healing process. For the latter, unfortunately, it was probably an attempt to sate the judgmental parents out there who see “bipolar” and immediately assume he’s a psycho maniac out to eat their children, rather than reading further and seeing the very mature, healthy way in which he is dealing with it.

    Qu’est-ce que tu penses?

  4. True to both former and latter statements… as I mentioned in my post, I found his comments on “Purple Green and Yellow” incredibly challenging and beautiful. I’ve always loved that book (I think it may contend with Paper Bag Princess as one of my favourites), but hearing and [unfortunately] understanding all too well the inspiration behind his writing it makes it an even more poignant read. For both adults and children.
    (I’m thinking about this more as I’m in the process of writing this… bear with me!) If someone were to write about their struggles with cancer, and perhaps even shade books written “for children” with lessons and experiences drawn from their struggles, we would commend them and probably give them some kind of humanitarian award. But mental illnesses are still stained with such negative prejudices.

  5. The note to parents could have been a disaster, but it isn’t. It’s a rather bland – perhaps measured is a better word – statement of fact. We tell each other that talking about things is much better than acting out – here’s a fellow who’s taken our advice. I say, hooray for him.

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