Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: September 22nd 2015
Genres: Essays, Humor, Non-fiction
I have learned that every person in the world is on the spectrum of mental illness. Many people barely register on the scale, while others have far more than they could be expected to handle. Even specific disorders are incredibly individualized.
Jenny Lawson found her tribe through her blog, The Bloggess, and went on to write a funny memoir of her childhood called Let’s Pretend this Never Happened. In it she touches on the many mental and physical issues she has had since childhood but it is in her newest book, Furiously Happy, that she gets to the heart of the matter of her experiences with mental illness. She acknowledges that she has crippling anxiety and depression, as well as ADD. She also deals with rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune diseases. Basically, as she herself would freely admit—she is a hot mess. A hot mess that has chosen in this book to emerge from the shadows cast by mental and emotional diseases. And did I mention, she does so with humor? Wacky, profane, almost nonsensical humor.
Furiously Funny is not meant to be read straight through or at least you shouldn’t. Anymore than you would ride every ride in Disney Land in one day—it’s too much and even though it’s fun for awhile, you’ll likely end up dizzy and queasy. Lawson is a genius at kidnapping the reader into her world of crazy—which you’re allowed to say because she is the queen of self-disclosure. Part of this wackiness is a surprising love for animals of all kinds or more of a love/hate relationship with them. Pandas and ponies are love and squirrels and possums are not only hate but very likely dangerous. While details about this aspect of her life are initially funny, they are the ones that wear thin, unlike anytime she talks about her mental and emotional health. After a lifetime of input from doctors, analysts, and the pharmaceutical industry Lawson has learned lessons valuable to anyone who struggles to stay balanced in today’s world.
I know that when my anxiety attacks hit, my body isn’t actually going to kill me, in spite of how it feels. I know that when I get suicidal thoughts stuck in my head I have to tell someone else who can help because depression is a cunning manipulator. I know that depression lies to you…I know that I am crazy. And that has made all the difference.
It is this kind of self-awareness and acceptance in the form of plain and often profane speaking that make Lawson so relatable and such a hero amongst her readers. These chapters in the book strike home hard and are of the sort to be read again and again—anytime you’re feeling as she so succinctly puts it:
“I realize that I’ve accomplished a lot in life and deep down I know that, bit it doesn’t change the fact that I only have a few days a month where I actually feel like I was good at life…Please don’t tell me the things I’m good at because that’s not what this is about. It’s just that at the end of each day I usually lie in bed and think, “Shit. I’m f*ing shit up. I accomplished nothing today except the basics of existing. “I feel like I’m treading water and that I’m always another half day behind in life.
All said, Furiously Happy is a mixed bag. Lawson’s humor about her marriage, weight and being a woman is all good and well, but can negate the seriousness of her chapters on dealing with mental health issues. That she can infuse an unfunny topic with such humor and raw emotion means those chapters should get the full weight of the reader’s attention, but they can be overshadowed by too much silliness. That aside, the sense of recognition and hope in Furiously Happy will resonate, especially at this time of year and this time in our world. Lawson’s crazy can be good and that she shares it is even better.
It is an amazing gift to be able to recognize that the things that make you the happiest are so much easier to grasp than you thought. There is such freedom in being able to celebrate and appreciate the unique moments that recharge you and give you peace and joy.