Dolly Parton on Depression

As I’ve been reviewing Dolly Parton’s discography the book ‘Not Dumb, Not Blonde: Dolly in Conversation’ which contains interviews spanning across her whole career, has become a valuable resource and reference point in helping me understand both her astonishing career and the psychology of what made her a legend.

Across these series of conversations one unlikely theme recurs often: depression. People may have the misconception that everything is butterflies, rainbows and rhinestones in Dolly’s world but that is simply not the case. In fact her insights and advice on dealing with dark moods and motivating yourself after failures are as inspiring as her songs.

During the early eighties Dolly faced a widely reported health crisis – both physical and emotional. She discusses her struggles with her health in a 1984 interview with Cindy Adams of Ladies Home Journal and her thoughts on depression in general.

Depression is a part of life. If you never get depressed you’re never ever getting deep down enough to think about things. Nobody’s up all the time unless they’re liars, phonies, hypocrites or unless something in their brain ain’t working.’

Dolly goes on to discuss how she recovers from such episodes of darkness:

‘But I won’t stay depressed. I won’t allow myself to be depressed more than three days in a row. When it happens I say ‘Now you look here. You set yourself down with a piece of paper and write down all the good things you have to be grateful for. Then you get your butt up and get the hell out of here, fix yourself up. Talk to someone. Better still, do something nice for someone.’

Such self-care advice is eternal. We sometimes forget the simple things that soothe and save us: gratitude journal, exercise, put your make on, communicate, help someone other than yourself.

In a 1995 interview with the same magazine Dolly again discussed how she copes with stressful and difficult moments in life:

‘I cry, I pray, I kick, I piss and moan and cuss and write and sing my songs and it goes away. I almost feel God puts me through heartaches so I will have more to write about. I don’t need a psychiatrist. I blurt out everything that I feel.’

What else I found interesting and inspiring in these interviews was how Dolly managed to build resilience and cope with disappointment and failure. She explains:

My desire to do things was always greater than my fear of it. If I make five mistakes and do one great thing well I’m not going to worry about the five mistakes I’ve made. I’m going to waller in the glory of the one great thing I did in the hopes that it brought some joy to somebody else.’

And Dolly’s career is actually littered with songs and projects that some may see as ‘mistakes’ but the key thing is she never dwelt on them. In her darkest moment she vowed to never let the bad overtake the good, to work hard to enlighten and enrich the lives of others.

Dolly’s example and wisdom is something we can all be grateful for.

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