I loved everything about this book. You’ve probably heard of Jenny Lawson by now, but if you haven’t, she writes a blog as The Blogess and a couple of years ago published her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Lawson’s writing is really unique; it’s humor combined with memoir, but that description doesn’t really cut it.
In recent years Lawson has discovered that it’s not just her humor that moves people, it’s being honest about her difficulties with depression and anxiety. She’s discovered that telling her own story means people don’t feel like they’re struggling alone, which is how most people with depression and anxiety feel.
And louder than all of that were the whispers that became stronger every day from thousands and thousands of people creeping to the edge and quietly admitting, “Me too. I thought it was just me.” And the whispers became a roar. And the roar became an anthem tot carried me through some of my darkest moments. I did not ride that wave alone.
Lawson’s book shines a light on mental illness, something so stigmatized that Lawson explains that it’s one of the few disorders where we completely blame the victim and really don’t want to hear about it. So she makes a point of using the term “mental illness” frequently. It’s not something to be ashamed of.
So what is Furiously Happy, besides a read that is both laugh-out-loud-on-the-Metro funny and also full of thoughtful insights about life?
Furiously Happy is Lawson’s determination to accept the days when she’s down, but to make the most of the days she isn’t. She describes it as pushing herself to say yes to anything ridiculous, and as a movement for people to “take back their lives from the monster of depression.”
This didn’t mean that I wasn’t still depressed or anxious or mentally ill. I still spent my share of weeks in bed when I simply couldn’t get up. I still hid under my office desk whenever the anxiety got too heavy to battle standing up. The difference was that I had a storeroom in the back of my mind filled with moments of tightrope walking, snorkeling in long-forgotten caves, and running barefoot through cemeteries with a red ball gown trailing behind me. And I could remind myself that as soon as I had the strength to get up out of bed I would again turn my hand to being furiously happy. Not just to save my life, but to make my life.
I want Lawson to know (on the off-off-chance she reads this) that her book really made me think about my own life. Maybe I don’t suffer from depression or anxiety, but that doesn’t mean I don’t experience irrational fear and worry and sadness. I do, and it’s all the worse because I can’t justify and explain it, it just is. And I blame myself for it. I think of all the people that are truly suffering, and how good my life is, and it doesn’t help. I just feel like a jerk.
Lawson isn’t giving us permission to hide or to give in, but to accept the physical and mental limitations we may have been handed. She also reminds us that we’re not always the best judge of who we are, because our minds play horrible tricks on us sometimes.
She also talks about not trying to live up to others’ expectations of what makes you happy and successful. She shares a blog post where she explains that she worries about how few days a month she really feels like a successful person (she feels successful about 3-4 days a month).
I was struck by this because I’m the kind of person who wakes up on a Sunday morning, or in the middle of the night, worrying about (a) what I didn’t do the day before; and (b) what I need to accomplish that day to feel like a functional human being. And then I make myself a list and I try to get through that list. And I feel good about what I did, but in the end it’s things like laundry and blog posts and grocery shopping, but not the kind of things you’re going to remember and think, wow, I really lived my life today. And then I worry about all those people on Facebook doing exciting things, and I just did laundry.
She says to “stop judging yourself against the shiny people.” Shiny people are a lie, or when you get to know them they aren’t so shiny. I could easily call Lawson one of the “shiny people” – she’s a celebrated blogger and bestselling author who travels around the world on book tours. Her book is a fantastic reminder that no one is actually living your fantasy life, even if they seem to be.
You learn to appreciate the fact that what drives you is very different from what you’re told should make you happy. You learn that it’s okay to prefer your personal idea of heaven (live-tweeting zombie movies from under a blanket of kittens) rather than someone else’s idea that fame/fortune/parties are the pinnacle we should all reach for. And there’s something surprisingly freeing about that. 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.
I’m left thinking, how do I do what makes me happy (which is usually a book, sunlight and coffee) but also live life “furiously happy”? Lawson acknowledges there’s a conflict between these two ideas, but what works for her isn’t going to be the same for everyone. I guess it’s a matter of personal balance, challenging yourself, doing what’s healthy, but also doing what makes you happy.
I haven’t given you a sense of Lawson’s humor and I wish I could. I could tell you to go read her blog, which is awesome, but to be honest, I found her blog a little off-putting at first, because it’s like coming in in the middle of a story. I was able to get to know her in the books, and that makes the blog even better.
My favorite thing about Lawson’s writing is how she describes her husband Victor and their frequent arguments. She describes him as “the straight man in this book.” Despite their disagreements, it’s clear how much they love and support each other.
Some people might think this “furiously happy” movement is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first, because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband, Victor, says that “none” is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.
I think Jenny Lawson is amazing, and I highly recommend this book even if you’re thinking you don’t want to read about mental illness. Because this book is really beautiful and at the same time it’s crude and silly and funny. You might just see something of yourself in this book. And that’s okay.