I mentioned a while ago that I wanted to start doing reviews on SPEAK OUT, so here’s my first attempt.
Reviews can sometimes seem like ‘fluff’ or filler, which I swore to never have on this site, but as well all know, representation in media is important. I thought that it might be a good idea to highlight some books, music, and movies in which mental illness is represented well, or that are thought-provoking in some way. My idea of a review is just to draw attention to cool things that I think you should also check out, and then talk about how I feel about it. So I guess really it’s more like a reflection.
Furiously Happy is Jenny Lawson’s second book – her first, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was probably funnier, but it sort of skirted the topic of mental illness. There were definitely parts of the book that discussed it, but the majority of it completely ignored it. (You should still definitely read it though.)
Lawson lives with depression, anxiety, trichotillomania, ADHD, and OCD, amongst a number of other things, but what she talks about the most is her depression and anxiety.
Specifically the concept that depression lies – the thoughts you might have like that you’re not really sick, that your life is just horrible, or that no one cares about you are a result of self-stigma, yes, but also depression itself. Because that’s what depression does. It lies to you for so long that you start lying to yourself.
I had never thought of it that way before. Despite the fact that I’ve been through depressive episodes and come out on the other side, I guess I still look back on those time periods and think that no one cared about me back then, and my life has drastically improved since. But maybe that’s not true. Maybe people cared all along and I just couldn’t see it or didn’t know how to ask for what I needed.
She also talks about the idea that people with mental illness are lucky in a way because we can feel emotions more deeply than most people. Our lows are so awful that we appreciate the good moments that much more.
That’s where the title comes from – her goal to be not just happy, but “furiously happy”, the kind of happy that only someone with a mental illness could ever understand.
This is my favourite part:
There’s something about depression that allows you (or sometimes forces you) to explore depths of emotion that most ‘normal’ people could never conceive of. Imagine having a disease so overwhelming that your mind causes you to want to murder yourself…Then imagine that same (often fatal) disease being one of the most misunderstood disorders…one that so few want to talk about and one that so many of us can never completely escape from.
I’ve often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal’ people also might never understand, and that’s what FURIOUSLY HAPPY is all about. It’s about taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence.
When I read that I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and thought, “It’s not just me?”
For years I’ve been told I’m too emotional, too sensitive, too dramatic, too whatever. Too much. And I love people in a way that no one else seems to be able to comprehend.
A friend said to me recently that most people’s feelings towards another person come and go in a cycle throughout the course of their relationship, like the moon waxing and waning, and I realized that I don’t do that. I don’t ‘wax and wane’; I don’t know what that’s like. I am all in, all the time.
Another friend has been telling me for a while that the reason I feel the way I do, the reason I feel so much, is because of my mental illnesses. For a while I thought that she was wrong and just didn’t get it, but maybe she was right.
And maybe that’s okay.
Feeling so deeply makes my life much more difficult, but I have also experienced beautiful moments that most other people I know have not, simply because I let myself feel. Love is a beautiful thing even if a relationship ends. I have seen both the best and the worst of people.
And of course, the book is hilarious, especially the first half. The second half isn’t as good but it picks up again towards the end. The best way I can think of to describe Lawson’s humour is “random”. Like, you know the sort of thing that you giggled with your friends about on the internet when you were like 13? This is that kind of humour. And I love it. It speaks to my soul.
So, read this book if…
- You’re looking for a fresh take on mental illness
- You use humour as a coping mechanism
- You spend a lot of time on the internet
- You have a mental illness but know that you are also so much more
- You want to feel like you’re not alone.
Thank you, Jenny, for the gift of your writing.
Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 23 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate.