Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

It took me a little longer than it should have to finish this book. St. Patty’s weekend really took a toll on my reading progress, along with my liver and dignity. But I did learn a valuable lesson to not drink whiskey/beer/etc in the same night. Some might say I learned that lesson a few weeks ago (and also that I have no dignity left to lose), but I just really wanted to be sure.

Anyways, I have finished my next book, Furiously Happy, a memoir by Jenny Lawson. It is described on Goodreads as “a hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety.” Sounds about right. While I enjoyed most of Jenny’s storytelling, I think I am ready for a book that isn’t about mental illness, or even written by someone with mental illness (@ Sylvia Plath) since they can tend to be all over the place. In a mostly good way, but still. (I say this even though my writing is also all over the place as well. Hypocrisy at it’s finest.)

While I cannot relate to the mental illness Jenny suffers from, I can entirely relate to dealing with any sort of problem/emotion through humor. That is how my family handles everything. It may come across as avoidance or maybe immaturity? But that’s just how we deal, and it’s far more fun than getting super sentimental all the time. For instance, Christmas Eve every year is spent with my cousins and aunts and uncles. The adults participate in a “Chinese gift exchange” – if you aren’t familiar the rules are: each couple brings a gift; each couple draws a number out of a hat; #1 chooses a gift and opens it; #2 can either open a new gift or steal from #1; and so on. There are always gifts that are more desirable than others, also gifts that are more awkward than others (think sex toys, no I’m not joking, welcome to family Christmas). A few years ago, multiple people wanted the same gift (I forget what it was, not sex toys this time though). So the aunts and uncles yelled at each other to try to convince them not to steal their gift. Such things included, “Feel bad for me, I got cancer this year.” Or, my father, “But I have MS, so pity me.” Or my cousin, “I’m pregnant.” If I recall correctly, pregnancy trumped Cancer and MS, naturally. Welcome to the Monks family.

Yet, somehow Jenny’s story made my family seem almost, normal? Nevertheless, still very relatable. I have a number of sections I highlighted, so I’ll go through some of them. First one on a more serious note,

“When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We wear ribbons to celebrate their fight. We call them survivors. Because they are.

When depression sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark… ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness… afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.

When you come out of the grips of depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive.”

I love this. It further emphasizes the point I tried making in my post on The Bell Jar. We need to be more open about mental illness, otherwise those suffering feel even more isolated and alone. One reason I think people who suffer from mental illness don’t speak up about it is because they don’t want that stigma tied to them for the rest of their life. We can see when physical illnesses heal, but it is not so easy to tell when someone has recovered from mental illness. And how do we know when to believe that they have? Some of the people who are struggling the most from mental illness are the best at putting on a happy appearance. It’s a tough problem to solve, but the more we talk about the struggles people face, the more people will not feel alone in their illness. I suppose that’s the best we can do for now.

To lighten the mood, here’s a quote that made me think of my mom because it is her exact sense of humor. The kind that has me rolling my eyes on the outside and quietly giggling on the inside (don’t tell her that, though (just kidding she subscribes to my blog and will read this anyways – secrets out)) –

“My grandmother used to say, “Those are not the kind of underwear you want to get hit by a bus in,” but I don’t think the underwear has been invented that would make me want to get hit by a bus.”

My mom has said the same thing (that the grandmother said). And every time my mom travels she makes sure her house is immaculate in case she is killed and the police go through her things. She would never want to be seen as messy, even if she was too dead to care. Anyways, she thinks way too much about death.

The more I write things about my mother and my family, the more I think Jenny and I have more in common than I would care to admit…

In fact, I’m realizing that I probably do come across as mentally insane just based on the amount of times in my last two posts I’ve said I’m not mentally ill. Probably a red flag? No, I swear I’m fine, I think. The thing is, I think my subconscious is not at all fine. Seriously, if I went to one of those dream psychologist people they would think I am insane. I have anxiety dreams regularly and I only just recently realized that isn’t normal. A friend of mine told me this “awful” anxiety dream she had where she was late for class. “And?” I asked. There’s got to be more to it, right? Like you were late and you were naked and you didn’t have your schedule so you didn’t even know what class to go to AND this is the same dream you’ve had every week for a year? Did I get too specific there? Well, Jenny understands…

“You fall asleep for eight minutes and you have that dream where you’ve missed a semester of classes and don’t know where you’re supposed to be and when you wake up you realize that even in sleep you’re fucking up your life.”

Everything besides the last part is super relatable. I usually just wake up and thank god I am more organized and on top of life than my subconscious. My most recurring anxiety dream is that it is late in the spring semester of my senior year of college and I have not attended a single Monday night choir rehearsal. (In real life you could only miss two or three. You were also required to perform at the concert or you didn’t get your 1 credit) So it’s almost concert time, I don’t know the music at all, and I’m afraid I won’t graduate if they notice I never attended a single rehearsal. I graduated college almost two years ago. Why, brain, why?

I really blame my mom for all my anxiety nightmares, though. She made me late for things growing up so now I’m scared of being late to anything. In real life I just overcompensate by being early to everything, but apparently in my dreams I have crippling anxiety. My mom is responsible for my other nightmares too, like the ones where I’m always being kidnapped. She led me to believe that every child was kidnapped so I have nightmares regularly where this happens. In real life, I swear I am not in constant fear for my life so I really don’t know what is going on in this brain of mine. My mom needs to get out of my subconscious. Now that I think about it, these posts are probably making my mom sound mentally unstable. Sorry, mom. You’re great.

Back to Furiously Happy

“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…. Clearly I wasn’t as sick as I said I was if the medication didn’t work for me. And that sort of makes sense, because when you have cancer the doctor gives you the best medicine and if it doesn’t shrink the tumor immediately then that’s a pretty clear sign you were just faking it for attention. I mean, cancer is a serious, often fatal disease we’ve spent billions of dollars studying and treating so obviously a patient would never have to try multiple drugs, surgeries, radiation, etc., to find what will work specifically for them. And once the cancer sufferer is in remission they’re set for life because once they’ve learned how to not have cancer they should be good. And if they let themselves get cancer again they can just do whatever they did last time. Once you find the right cancer medication you’re pretty much immune from that disease forever. And if you get it again it’s probably just a reaction to too much gluten or not praying correctly. Right?”

A+, Jenny.

And some more light humor,

“I’ve tried many tortuous techniques to make my outside fit the ridiculous standards society has set but it never ends well because my body lives in reality and it’s a reality that has too much cheese in it.”

Preach. I try to cut cheese out sometimes but then how would I eat pasta without parmesan, or a burger without blue cheese (or any type of cheese but blue cheese is best), or poutine without the cheese curds? I wouldn’t, that’s how.

Finally, something she talks about toward the end of the book is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is exactly what it sounds like, when you’re afraid people will find out you’re a fraud. Ask most women in the computer science field, a lot of us feel this way. Myself DEFINITELY included. I think most people feel imposter syndrome on some sort of level. I feel it as I enter the adult world, like were you all just faking it when I was a kid and now I’m in on the joke? Is anyone actually an adult or am I just particularly bad at it?

Well I have a ton more highlighted sections, but I can’t imagine a single person has made it this far in the post so I’ll stop there (and if you have, thank you, I will reward you by ending this long-winded post.)

Next I’m going to read Find a Way by Diana Nyad, a suggestion from one of my awesome high school teachers 🙂

Oh also, cheers to this being my 50th blog post and my tenth book so far this year! Thanks as always for reading!

2 comments

  1. This is a very insightful and honest post. I am ‘the mother’ referred to and first I want to apologize to Kat for causing such anxiety! Who knew?? (I can see the eye rolls now!) Second, I want to say how thrilled I am that you have become such a voracious reader and blogger! Because of my crazy schedule, right now I am reading vicariously through you, so I really appreciate the quotes and the insight! Keep it up!!!

    Like

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