It has been a long time since I’ve started and completed a book in less than 4 days. This is Happy by Camilla Gibb is one book that had me captivated from the first few pages right until the acknowledgements at the end of the book.
I don’t know where to start with my review of this book, except to say that it is simple yet profound all at the same time. In 270 odd pages she manages to tell the story of her entire life, from her early childhood to her current life. It seems like a short amount of space to dedicate to almost 40 years of a person’s life. However, she manages to capture everything that is meaningful, powerful, emotional, and human while succinctly conveying the struggles and triumphs of her life.
I feel like the biggest reason I was so captivated by the simple and straightforward writing in this book was because sometimes I felt like she was describing the exact same emotional and mental struggles that I, myself have had throughout my life. Camilla Gibb shamelessly recounts her multiple struggles with depression, including her hospitalizations. She discusses the mental health struggles of her family members, the rise and fall of her relationship and marriage to her wife, her sudden and unpredictable desire to have a child, her failed pregnancy, and then her successful pregnancy… all that and more.
What I found most profound was her struggles with pregnancy and parenthood; specifically, how she felt so drawn towards having a child and then spent her entire pregnancy wondering how she was going to love and care for her child. After the birth of her daughter, she continues this emotional journey and expresses her fear of having to “be alone” with her daughter – like she doesn’t know if her version of parenthood and the emotions she feels towards to role are proper and acceptable. Yet, she feels compelled to try again for another child.
For the first time I feel I have finally read an expression of parenthood that is similar to how I can feel at various moments in my life. Instead of the overwhelming “Mommy Wars” that I see happening everywhere around me, I have found someone who expresses their fears, uncertainties, and truths associated with parenting: Am I doing this right? Am I doing it for the right reasons? And, is it okay to feel like I’m not doing it right?
Camilla Gibb’s recollection of her struggles with parenthood is only one of the moments that seemed to parallel my life. It seems most pronounced now, given my recently new pregnancy and all the uncertainty I feel around a decision that I thought I was happy to make. Some other important parallels I found including the sudden and somewhat unexplained loss of an important relationship in her life. While she desribes the rise and fall of her relationship with her wife, I can claim a similar emotional experience in the rise and fall of my relationship with my old friend and mentor, Kay. Another area that is overwhelmingly familiar: the constant struggle from an early age with the dark and unpredictable tendrils of depression. Camilla’s rendition of her multiple struggles with depression throughout her life seemed to echo strongly inside of me.
And yet, with all of this difficult times written out on paper and shared with the harsh and unforgiving world, she made the decision to title her book, “This is Happy.” This is Happy: struggles with depression, anxieties and uncertainties around parenthood, loss of relationships, mental illness… But there is also the beauty of her life that shines though: Her Daughter. Those unexpected relationships that she formed in her life and became the most meaningful and influential. Her success in life, academically and as a writer. She is someone who made her life what she wanted it to be, despite everything that she struggled to overcome.
This book resonated with me in ways that I am still discovering, even as I write this review. Life is messy, unforgiving, full of struggle and heartache. Despite all of that, however, life is beautiful, meaningful, rewarding… and Happy.