I read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, so I knew Jenny Lawson’s follow-up would be, well, not good before-bed reading due to the giggle fits my husband compares to a sneezing squirrel. Lawson makes me laugh — a lot — partially because she’s crazy, and I’m crazy, too.
I’m not talking straightjacket crazy (although some days, it’s a close call). I’m talking depressive-anxiety disorder crazy — mental illnesses Lawson and I both share. She’s been diagnosed with both for most of her life. My own problems didn’t show up in full force until after college, but they’re here now and they’re not going anywhere.
Furiously Happy is a collection of Lawson’s essays, inspired by a blog post she wrote in 2010 in which she demanded she would not just be happy but “FURIOUSLY happy… VEHEMENTLY happy” to combat her depression and live life to the happy point of possible irresponsibility — in a good way. Her blog post hit home, and not long after, “furiously happy” became a trending hashtag on Twitter. Ergo, a book.
Lawson warns at the beginning that Furiously Happy is “A Funny Book About Horrible Things” — those “horrible things” being mental illness. And there are sections of the book that are horrible because, as a fellow sufferer, I felt Lawson’s pain, terror and utter despair.
When she delved into self-harm, she explained to her therapist, “I just hurt… inside. And when I tear at the outside, it makes me feel less torn on the inside.” As a recovering cutter, I get it. I get it so much that it does hurt.
She discusses the uncontrollable anxiety she suffered on her first book tour, during which she sometimes hid in her hotel room, unable to function. I get it, since I sometimes have to leave restaurants because I think everyone is staring at me, judging me. See how crazy that sounds? Yet, this is what people with mental illness live with every day.
True to form, Lawson takes things almost too far, including but not limited to her discussion of taxidermy (featuring Rory, the dead raccoon) and long interludes with her husband, the long-suffering Victor. Yet, when she goes too far, I was still laughing — furiously.
See, Lawson is so right when she says, “With honesty comes empowerment.” When we own up to our weirdness, our quirks, our terrible habits and, yes, our mental illnesses, we take away the power of the dark side. And no, I’m not talking about Star Wars.
Depression is horrible. Anxiety is horrible. Mix them together and you have the worst cocktail ever. In Furiously Happy, Lawson willingly puts herself out there and admits to all her embarrassing and often misunderstood moments of terror. Her book is for anyone who suffers from mental illness or knows someone who does. I even made my (equally long-suffering) husband read segments so I could point and shout, “See! It’s not just me!”
Whether exploring the brilliant spoon theory or the empowering realization that she was once the youngest person in the entire world, Lawson treats mental illness with a tender, witty hand and makes me want to embrace the weird and thrive in life with a cackle and hoot.