Books about depression are usually not even mildly amusing. And why should they be? Depression immerses its sufferers in a blackness so complete that there is no seeing out of it. There is only a waiting, a hoping that it will lift soon.
And yet, Jenny Lawson’s 2015 bestseller, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, is that rare exception. Lawson’s mental illness is at least partly responsible for the brilliant humor of the book, in the sense that she writes from a this-is-crazy-me perspective and encourages us to enjoy the show — when we can.
She also warns us of the difficult parts, such as a chapter on her dermatillomania (skin-picking disorder). Lawson confronts the “lies your brain tells you” about depression, such as you’re a drain on your family or it’s all in your head or if you were “stronger or better this wouldn’t be happening to you.” She talks about suicide.
It’s OK to Laugh
But much more of the book is just plain hysterically funny, if you don’t mind a fair amount of stream-of-consciousness silliness, cursing and discussion of genitals. Case in point: As part of a chapter about various foods, Lawson talks about going to a dinner party where waiters walk around serving canapés, which she figures is French for ‘hors d’oeuvres,’ which is, of course, also French.
Lawson’s mental illness is at least partly responsible for the brilliant humor of the book.
“Apparently the French are really into small food, which sort of makes sense because they’re very thin. That girl in Amelie is so tiny I could fit her in my vagina. Not that I would. I would have said ‘pocket’ but I don’t have a pocket in this dress. But I do have a vagina and that’s sort of like a pocket, although not one you should store paper money in. Or coins, probably. I guess it depends on how strong your vaginal muscles are. More power to you if you can keep a roll of nickels up there. My hat is off to you, my friend.”
Readers of Lawson’s popular blog, where she writes as the Bloggess, or of her previous book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, will be familiar with her style. They see her pain, laugh at the ridiculousness of life and thank her. One fan wrote in a comment on the blog that her writing “makes me feel a little less like a freak.”
A Vow to Herself
The book’s title refers to the state Lawson chooses to occupy when she is not in the throes of her illness. It came to her during a particularly deep depression. She decided that she was “f—ing done with sadness and I don’t know what’s up the ass of the universe lately but I’ve HAD IT. I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE.”
That’s not to say she believes one can simply say, “Out of here, depression!” and that’s that. On the contrary, as she says later on, you can’t just smile the illness away. Rather, “Over the next few years, I pushed myself to say yes to anything ridiculous. … 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.”
So in that context, it makes perfect sense to order a herd of kangaroos for your house without telling your husband, Lawson writes. “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.”
Different for Everyone
It’s likely that, for you or me, being furiously happy means something different than renting kangaroos. And being depressed means something different than it does for Lawson, too. No one’s experience of mental illness is the same as the next person’s, she writes.
What she finds helpful, says Lawson: “Sunlight, antidepressants, and antianxiety drugs, vitamin B shots, walking, letting myself be depressed when I need to be, drinking water, watching Doctor Who, reading, telling my husband when I need someone to watch me, making a mix tape of songs that make me feel better and not allowing myself to listen to the stuff I want to listen to but that I know will make me worse.”
What does not help her, Lawson says: Some people prescribe God, “and I think that can be really helpful for people who aren’t me.” She goes on to add that “there is nothing more annoying than having someone tell you that everything would be fine if you were just a better pray-er,” and that “‘Just cheer up’ is almost universally looked at as the most unhelpful depression cure ever. It’s pretty much the equivalent of telling someone who just had their legs amputated to ‘just walk it off.’”
So don’t just walk it off, all of you kindred souls out there. Drag yourself along, or crawl, or cry for as long as you need to. And when you are ready to laugh again, pick up a copy of Furiously Happy.