“Normal is boring. Weird is better. Goats are awesome, but only in small quantities.”
I’d heard of Jenny Lawson’s memoir, Furiously Happy, more than a year ago. I don’t exactly remember how I discovered it, but it had been on my to-read list ever since. Then a few months ago, I came across her blog, The Bloggess, while reading an interview on Discover, and I found the kind of crazy people I would like to hang out with. Jenny’s blog is followed by thousands of people who are just like her (or maybe not) and love her for who she is. Everybody on the blog supports her, and each other, and I got to be the recipient of their love and sharing last month when Jenny hosted the second annual Booksgiving, where everyone asked for and/or gave out books to strangers as an act of thanks and kindness. I was not in the position to gift anyone a book, so I shyly and shamelessly posted my wish list on her comments. Several hours later, an anonymous person informed me that she had just purchased Furiously Happy for me. She (as I later discovered her to be) said she had been in my position the previous year and had wanted to pay it forward. I was really touched and pledged to buy a stranger a book during the next annual Booksgiving.
“I can’t think of another type of illness where the sufferer is made to feel guilty and question their self-care when their medications need to be changed.”
Furiously Happy, as the subtitle says, is a funny book about horrible things. In her free style essays about a myriad of topics, Jenny talks about the one thing that’s sometimes in the background and sometime at center stage: her mental illness. She explores her various mental disorders but with loads of humor and a layer of hope beneath them all.
There’s a guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse, and running away from swans wanting to kill you. There’s fishing car keys out of trash cans in a zoo and an exploration of why cats yawn silently and the countless (but extremely cute and funny) arguments Jenny has with her husband every week. And then there’s the horror of wanting to peel your skin off and thinking you’re a burden on others and hoping that your child doesn’t inherit this darker side of you.
Through her writing – on her blog and her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (now on my to-read list) – Jenny has found enormous support and continues to do so every single day. She’s lucky in that she has a family who understands her condition and supports her in every way possible.
However, not everyone is as lucky as her. Not everyone can afford therapy or antidepressants; many are left undiagnosed. The worst thing they have to deal with is being constantly told to get over it, when it’s not easy. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. are very different from sadness and cannot be cured by simply getting over them because that’s not possible. It’s important to show empathy and give the other person space and an ear to listen.
“I can tell you that “Just cheer up” is almost universally looked at as the most unhelpful depression cure ever. It’s pretty much the equivalent of telling someone who just had their legs amputated to “just walk it off.”
It’s so strange that in today’s world people find hope online rather than from the people sitting right next to them. We’re so busy with our smart phones, talking to strangers continents away, that we fail to take care of ourselves and those around us. If we abstained from pulling out our phones in the company of others and remained in the present, there would not be so many people dealing with depression and loneliness. Most of them would not need a therapist. There’s so much we can do to help each other, yet we chose our Facebook over our loved ones and leave them to be rescued by strangers.
“When we share our struggles we let others know it’s okay to share theirs. And suddenly we realize that the things we were ashamed of are the same things everyone deals with at one time or another. We are so much less alone than we think.”
It’s important to read this book because mental illness is seen differently by the one prescribing it and the one suffering from it. It’s important to see and understand it from patient’s point of view. Jenny offers the simplest advice on how you can help someone with mental illness, and it’s not hard to do it. She describes her illness as best as she can to her readers, but being a good listener for those we know who are suffering from mental illness is still important, because everyone experiences it differently.
Jenny talks about depression, but she also talks about life in general, and how the littlest things can lead to disappointment, like measuring your life’s worth through someone’s else idea of a good life, and also to beautiful moments like walking barefoot in fresh snow outside a hotel in New York City. Furiously Happy is a pack of the happy, the sad, the wise, the funny, the horrific, the real and the strange. It is everything, and definitely worth reading.
“You can’t grow without acknowledging that we are all made up from the weirdness that we try to hide from the rest of the world.”