Book review: In pursuit of happiness

If you’re feeling like your life’s a mess – mayhem all around, not enough money to pay the bills and mental health hanging by a hair’s breadth – then In Pursuit of Happiness will chime with you.

Written by fashion journalist Stacey Duguid, it’s an unflinching account of her battles with self-esteem. Starting with her unsettled childhood, complete with crushing rejections from both biological dad and step-dad. And ending with her life as a newly minted single mum, learning to manage a new way of being.

Duguid’s joking, chatty writing style, obscures the severity of her challenges. But if you can peer beyond the puns, then Duguid’s story is at the sharper, more complex, end of mental health. She struggles with behaviours, beliefs and feelings that are all so overwhelming, it takes years, and many hours of counselling, before she can stop repressing them

Attachment, ADD and alcohol

Reflecting oh her childhood, Stacey traces back the impact of her step dad’s careless words on her sense of self worth. She recalls being at his wedding, after his split from her mum, as he unthinkingly informs her that he’s no longer technically her dad. Later that evening she’s falling over drunk to numb the pain. And this paves the way for a dependence on alcohol continuing to the present day.

Stacey Duguid, photographed in a black designer outfit.

It soothes her feelings, provides escapism and helps her maintain the energy that a job in fashion demands. A separate, yet dual, addiction to romance, helps fill the void where her self-esteem would be. She writes: “Before meeting my husband I never allowed myself to be with the ‘nice’ guy, preferring instead the distant guy, the game playing guy, the drug addicted guy.”

As a fashion journalist, outfits and design houses play a big part in Stacey’s life. But rather than fashion as a source of self expression or art it seems Duguid employs it as a suit of armour. A prop to bolster her sliding self-esteem. Barely a page goes by In Pursuit of Happiness without a description of a pricey outfit, or the namedrop of the prestigious designer who created it.

For me, this book wasn’t easy reading. I found her writing chaotic and long winded. Off on tangents before circling back round to the original point. It seemed to me as though her brain was frantic, and her lifestyle was frenetic as well. Interestingly though, at the end of the book she states that she has received a diagnosis of ADHD. This didn’t entirely surprise me, and I doubt it shocked Duguid either. But I am left wondering if the book would have benefitted more from the ruthless pruning of the editor’s pen.

A Counsellor’s perspective of In Pursuit of Happiness

Ultimately In Pursuit of Happiness, despite the mayhem, leaves me with a feeling of hope. Duguid has worked so hard to overcome her challenges. She has shopped, dance, drugged, fucked and married in a bid to out manoeuvre them. But it hasn’t worked. So by the end we see her finally facing her feelings, and working through them as an adult. And an accomplished one at that. She manages her money and learns to save. Make a success of single parenting, handles her ADHD diagnosis and holds down roles as both a brand consultant and columnist. It’s a success story. But at times this book was bleak. And her symptoms were as complex as anything I’ve seen in the counselling room. So take courage, if you’re where Stacey was. And know that through counselling, behaviour changes and hard work it can flourish into a masterpiece any fashion designer would be proud of.

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