Recently one of my friends from church has suffered the loss of her father due to mental illness. I thought it was very brave of my friend to be so upfront about saying this, because it takes some of the stigma away from depression and other mental health issues.
Another family that has done an enormous public service along this vein is the Montgomery family, the heirs to Lucy Maud Montgomery who was the author of Anne of Green Gables and other beloved classics. When Canadian television ran a documentary about suicide and depression, the Montgomery family released their long held family secret in the hope of helping others. LM Montgomery had succumbed to a life-long battle with depression and ended her own life.
When I read this as an adult I was truly shocked. My two favorite authors growing up were LM Montgomery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. As it turns out, The Little House on the Prairie series was most likely written by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s brilliant and unhappy daughter who also suffered from depression. So now it turns out that the entire body of work (exclusive of the Bible), that was critical to my identity formation as a young tween was written by two women who suffered from mental illness.
In retrospect, the revelation about LM Montgomery makes a lot of sense. If you have read any of her work you know that she often described what she called “white nights”. These were times when her characters work up at 3AM and brooded; worrying so much that they were unable to fall asleep. As an adult I can see that sure, everyone goes through tough times at one point or another and has trouble sleeping, but to actually have this happen to you so often that you name it, could be a sign of mental distress.
Another common element of LM Montgomery’s work was her characters expressing the point of view that there was only one path for them, towards happiness. In the Emily of New Moon series, this was termed “the Alpine Path”. As a child, I took this a gospel truth; that smart, brilliant people were hard-core and pursued their goals single mindedly whatever the cost. Now as an adult, I can see how psychologically detrimental that narrative can be. Happiness is a choice, not a state of being, and there are many avenues towards achieving a happy life. When I was 18 I got turned down by Harvard, but I went to Stanford instead and that ended up being okay!
I still absolutely love all of LM Montgomery’s work. Plot-lines, creativity, passion, scenic descriptions… To this day, she remains one of my top five favorite authors of all time. I would be devastated if my either of my children did not love her work as much as I do. But when Bruce and Jenna do read Montgomery’s books someday, I’m going to have a lot of new talking points to discuss with them. I am also saddened that LM Montgoemery did not live in a time where modern medicine could have done more to help her.