In Furiously Happy, a humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest:
"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."
Jenny’s readings are standing room only, with fans lining up to have Jenny sign their bottles of Xanax or Prozac as often as they are to have her sign their books. Furiously Happy appeals to Jenny's core fan base but also transcends it. There are so many people out there struggling with depression and mental illness, either themselves or someone in their familyand in Furiously Happy they will find a member of their tribe offering up an uplifting message (via a taxidermied roadkill raccoon). Let's Pretend This Never Happened ostensibly was about embracing your own weirdness, but deep down it was about family. Furiously Happy is about depression and mental illness, but deep down it's about joyand who doesn't want a bit more of that?
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About the Author
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A Funny Book About Horrible Things
By Jenny Lawson
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2015 Jenny Lawson
All rights reserved.
Furiously Happy. Dangerously Sad.
"You're not crazy. STOP CALLING YOURSELF CRAZY," my mom says for the eleventy billionth time. "You're just sensitive. And ... a little ... odd."
"And fucked up enough to require an assload of meds," I add.
"That's not crazy," my mom says as she turns back to scrubbing the dishes. "You're not crazy and you need to stop saying you are. It makes you sound like a lunatic."
I laugh because this is a familiar argument. This is the same one we've had a million times before, and the same one we'll have a million times again, so I let it lie. Besides, she's technically right. I'm not technically crazy, but "crazy" is a much simpler way of labeling what I really am.
According to the many shrinks I've seen in the last two decades I am a high-functioning depressive with severe anxiety disorder, moderate clinical depression, and mild self-harm issues that stem from an impulse- control disorder. I have avoidant personality disorder (which is like social anxiety disorder on speed) and occasional depersonalization disorder (which makes me feel utterly detached from reality, but in less of a "this LSD is awesome" kind of a way and more of a "I wonder what my face is doing right now" and "It sure would be nice to feel emotions again" sort of thing). I have rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune issues. And, sprinkled in like paprika over a mentally unbalanced deviled egg, are things like mild OCD and trichotillomania — the urge to pull one's hair out — which is always nice to end on, because whenever people hear the word "mania" they automatically back off and give you more room on crowded airplanes. Probably because you're not supposed to talk about having manias when you're on a crowded airplane. This is one of the reasons why my husband, Victor, hates to fly with me. The other reason is I often fly with taxidermied creatures as anxiety service animals. Basically we don't travel a lot together because he doesn't understand awesomeness.
"You're not a maniac," my mom says in an aggravated voice. "You just like to pull your hair. You even did it when you were little. It's just soothing to you. Like ... like petting a kitten."
"I like to pull my hair out," I clarify. "It's sort of different. That's why they call it a 'mania' and not 'kitten-petting disorder.' Which would honestly suck to have because then you'd end up with a bunch of semi-bald kittens who would hate you. My God, I hope I never get overly enthusiastic kitten-fur-pulling disorder."
My mother sighs deeply, but this is exactly why I love having these conversations with her. Because she gives me perspective. It's also why she hates having these conversations with me. Because I give her details.
"You are perfectly normal," my mom says, shaking her head as if even her body won't let her get away with this sort of lie.
I laugh as I tug involuntarily at my hair. "I have never been normal and I think we both know that."
My mom pauses for a moment, trying to think up another line of defense, but it's pretty hopeless.
* * *
I've always been naturally anxious, to ridiculous degrees. My earliest school memory is of a field trip to a hospital, when a doctor pulled out some blood samples and I immediately passed out right into a wall of (thankfully empty) bedpans. According to other kids present, a teacher said, "Ignore her. She just wants attention." Then my head started bleeding and the doctor cracked open an ammonia capsule under my nose, which is a lot like being punched in the face by an invisible fist of stink.
Honestly I didn't know why I'd passed out. My baseline of anxiety remained the same but my subconscious was apparently so terrified that it had decided that the safest place for me to be was fast asleep on a floor, surrounded by bedpans. Which sort of shows why my body is an idiot, because forced narcolepsy is pretty much the worst defense ever. It's like a human version of playing possum, which is only helpful if bears are trying to eat you, because apparently if you lie down in front of bears they're all, "What a badass. I attack her and she takes a catnap? I probably shouldn't fuck with her."
This would be the start of a long and ridiculous period of my life, which shrinks label "white coat syndrome." My family referred to it as "What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Jenny syndrome." I think my family was more accurate in their assessment because passing out when you see doctors' coats is just damn ridiculous and more than slightly embarrassing, especially later when you have to say, "Sorry that I passed out on you. Apparently I'm afraid of coats." To make things even worse, when I pass out I tend to flail about on the floor and apparently I moan gutturally. "Like a Frankenstein," according to my mom, who has witnessed this on several occasions.
Other people might battle a subconscious fear of adversity, failure, or being stoned to death, but my hidden phobia makes me faint at the sight of outerwear. I've passed out once at the optometrist's, twice at the dentist's office, and two horrifying times at the gynecologist's. The nice thing about passing out at the gynecologist's, though, is that if you're already in the stirrups you don't have far to fall — unless of course you're like me, and you flail about wildly while you're moaning and unconscious. It's pretty much the worst way to pass out with someone in your vagina. It's like having a really unattractive orgasm that you're not even awake for. I always remind my gynecologist that I might rather loudly pass out during a Pap smear and then she usually grimly informs me that she didn't need me to remind her at all. "Probably," my sister says, "because most people don't make as much of a theatrical show about fainting."
The really bad part about passing out at the gynecologist's is that you occasionally regain consciousness with an unexpected speculum inside your vagina, which is essentially the third-worst way to wake up. (The second-worst way to wake up is at the gynecologist's without a speculum inside of you because the gynecologist took it out when you passed out and now you have to start all over again, which is why I always tell gynecologists that if I pass out when they're in my vagina they should just take that opportunity to get everything out of the way while I'm out.
The first-worst way to wake up is to find bears eating you because your body thought its safest defense was to sleep in front of bears. That "playing possum" bullshit almost never works. Not that I know, because I'd never pass out in front of bears, because that would be ridiculous. In fact I've actually been known to run at bears to get a good picture of them. Instead, I pass out in front of coats, which — according to my brain — are the things that you really need to be concerned around.)
One time I loudly lost consciousness at my veterinarian's office when he called my name. Apparently my subconscious freaked out when I saw blood on the vet's coat and then I abruptly passed out right on my cat. (That's not a euphemism.) I woke up shirtless in the lobby with a bunch of strangers and dogs looking down at me. Evidently when I started moaning the vet called an ambulance and when the EMTs arrived they claimed they couldn't find my heartbeat so they ripped open my shirt. Personally I think they just wanted a cheap thrill. I think the dogs looking down on me agreed, as they seemed slightly embarrassed for me after watching the whole spectacle unfold. But you really can't blame the dogs because, first of all, who can look away from a train wreck like that, and secondly, dogs have no concept of modesty.
"Waking up shirtless with a bunch of concerned dogs staring at your bra because you're afraid of coats is about the seventh-worst way to wake up," I mutter aloud to my mother.
"Hmm," my mom replies noncommittally, raising a single eyebrow. "Well, okay, maybe you're not normal normal," she says grudgingly, "but who wants to be normal? You're fine. You are perfectly fine. Better than normal even, because you're so aware of what's wrong with you that you can recognize it and ... sort of ... fix it."
I nod. She has a point, although the rest of the world might disagree with our definition of "fixing it."
When I was little I "fixed it" by hiding from the world in my empty toy box whenever my undiagnosed anxiety got too unbearable. In high school I fixed it by isolating myself from other people. In college I fixed it with eating disorders, controlling what I ate to compensate for the lack of control I felt with my emotions. Now, as an adult, I control it with medication and with shrink visits and with behavioral therapy. I control it by being painfully honest about just how crazy I am. I control it by allowing myself to hide in bathrooms and under tables during important events. And sometimes I control it by letting it control me, because I have no other choice.
Sometimes I'm unable to get out of bed for a week at a time. Anxiety attacks are still an uncomfortable and terrifying part of my life. But after my furiously happy epiphany, I've learned the importance of pushing through, knowing that one day soon I'll be happy again. (If this sentence seems confusing it's probably because you skipped over the author's note at the beginning like everyone else in the world does. Go back and read it because it's important and also because you might find money in there.)
This is why I sneak into other people's bathrooms in haunted hotels and once accepted a job as a political czar who reports directly to the stray cat that sleeps at city hall. I have staged live zombie apocalypse drills in crowded ballrooms and I've landed on aircraft carriers at sea. I once crowdfunded enough money to buy a taxidermied Pegasus. I am furiously happy. It's not a cure for mental illness ... it's a weapon, designed to counter it. It's a way to take back some of the joy that's robbed from you when you're crazy.
"Aaaaah! You're not crazy," my mom says again, waving a wet plate at me. "Stop saying you're crazy. People will think you're a lunatic."
And it's true. They will. I Google the word "lunatic" on my phone and read her one of the definitions.
Lunatic: (noun) Wildly or giddily foolish.
My mom pauses, stares at me, and finally sighs in resignation, recognizing way too much of me in that definition. "Huh," she says, shrugging thoughtfully as she turns back to the sink. "So maybe 'crazy' isn't so bad after all."
Sometimes crazy is just right.CHAPTER 2
I've Found a Kindred Soul and He Has a Very Healthy Coat
A few weeks ago I was at the pharmacy picking up my meds and I was staring into the drive-through window and thinking about how awesome it is that we live in a world where you can pick up drugs in a drive-through, and that's when I noticed something strange next to the pharmacist's register:
And I thought, "Well, that's ... odd. But maybe someone returned them because they were stale or something?" And then I thought it was even odder that someone could realize that dog biscuits had gone stale because dogs aren't usually very good at not eating cookies even if they're fairly shitty. I mean, dogs eat used diapers if you let them, so I'm pretty sure none of them are saying no to cookies. But then the pharmacist came back and while he was ringing me up he reached over and picked up a handful of broken dog biscuits ...
And then I thought, "Wait. Am I high right now? Is he high? Am I being tested? Should I say something?" But I didn't, because I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to accuse the man giving you drugs of eating dog food. And then I signed for the drugs and drove away and I thought to myself, "Is it possible that he accidentally ate the dog biscuits? Or maybe someone is always stealing his food at work so he decided to put his tasty human cookies (made for humans, not from humans) in a Milk-Bone box to keep them safe? Or maybe he just likes to entertain himself by seeing if people will tell him that he's eating dog food. Those would be good people, probably."
I'm not one of those people.
But then I spent all day thinking, "WHY THE DOG BISCUITS?" and so I went back today to ask, but the dog biscuits were gone and the dog-biscuit-eating guy was also gone and I thought, "Can I ask this pharmacist if the other pharmacist who eats dog food is around, because I need to know the story?" And the answer is "No. No, I can't." But I really want to know because I suspect that I would be great friends with this guy because anyone who would hide crackers in a dog-food box seems like someone I'd like to hang out with. Although, someone who just eats dog food for fun seems slightly more questionable. Except now I'm wondering if maybe Milk-Bones are really delicious and he's just a genius who's discovered really cheap cookies. Cookies that you don't have to call your judgmental vet about when your dog gets in the pantry and eats all of them. You still have to call the vet though when your cat has eaten a toy consisting of a tinkle bell and a feather and a poof ball all tied together with twine. That actually happened once and it was really the worst because the vet told me that I'd have to ply the cat with laxatives to make the toy pass easily through and that I'd need to inspect the poop to make sure the toy passed because otherwise they'd have to do open-cat surgery. And then it finally did start to pass, but just the first part with the tinkle bell, and the cat was freaked out because he was running away from the tinkle bell hanging out of his butthole and when I called the vet he said to definitely NOT pull on the twine because it could pull out his intestines, which would be the grossest piñata ever, and so I just ran after the cat with some scissors to cut off the tinkle bell (which, impressively, was still tinkling after seeing things no tinkle bell should ever see). Probably the cat was running away because of the tinkle bell and because I was chasing it with scissors screaming, "LET ME HELP YOU."
If I was good friends with that dog-food-eating pharmacist I would've called him to tell him all about the tinkle bell issue because he'd probably appreciate it, but I never found him again because I was worried that if I ever asked to see the dog-food-eating pharmacist the other pharmacists would stop giving me drugs.
This feels a bit discriminatory, but I can't explain exactly why.CHAPTER 3
My Phone Is More Fun to Hang Out with Than Me
When I wake up in the morning I often find messages left to me on my phone. Then I read the messages and I suspect that I'm being stalked by a madwoman. And I am. That madwoman is me. The calls are coming from inside the house.
Some of these notes are written while I'm waiting for my sleeping pills to kick in, but most are written at two a.m., when I'm convinced that I've come up with something brilliant that I'll forget if I don't jot it down immediately. Then in the morning I congratulate myself because I have forgotten what it was and am a little disappointed that the messages are less world-shattering and more just plain confusing. These missives from my brain are baffling, but I never delete them because it's nice to have a pen pal I don't have to write back to, and also because I can look at the strange notes and think, "Finally someone gets me."
These are a few of those notes:
"I'm not going to say I told you so" is pretty much the same thing as saying "I told you so." Except worse because you're saying "I told you so" and congratulating yourself for your restraint in not saying what you totally just said.
* * *
Are asparaguses just artichokes that haven't grown properly? Like they started smoking and got really skinny, like supermodels?
* * *
I bet marmalade was invented by the laziest person in the world.
* * *
Eating a peach is like eating a newborn baby's head. In that it's all soft and fuzzy. Not that peaches taste like babies. I don't eat babies. Or peaches, actually. Because they remind me of eating babies. Vicious circle, really.
Excerpted from Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Copyright © 2015 Jenny Lawson. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsA Series of Unfortunate Disclaimers
Note from the Author
Furiously Happy. Dangerously Sad.
I've Found a Kindred Soul and He Has a Very Healthy Coat
My Phone Is More Fun to Hang Out with Than Me
I Have a Sleep Disorder and It's Probably Going to Kill Me or Someone Else
How Many Carbs are in a Foot?
Pretend You're Good at It
George Washington's Dildo
I'm Not Psychotic. I Just Need to Get in Front of You in Line.
Why Would I Want to Do More When I'm Already Doing So Well at Nothing?
What I Say to My Shrink vs. What I Mean
LOOK AT THIS GIRAFFE
Skinterventions and Bangtox
It's Like Your Pants Are Bragging at Me
It's Hard to Tell Which of Us Is Mentally Ill
I Left My Heart in San Francisco. (But Replace "San Francisco" with "Near the Lemur House" and Replace "Heart" with a Sad Question Mark.)
Stock up on Snow Globes. The Zombie Apocalypse Is Coming.
Appendix: An Interview with the Author
I'm Turning into a Zombie One Organ at a Time
Cats Are Selfish Yawners and They're Totally Getting Away with It
Koalas Are Full of Chlamydia
The World Needs to Go on a Diet. Literally.
Crazy Like a Reverse Fox
An Essay on Parsley, Wasabi, Cream Cheese, and Soup
And Then I Got Three Dead Cats in the Mail
Things I May Have Accidentally Said During Uncomfortable Silences
My Skeleton Is Potaterrific
It's Called "Catouflage"
We're Better Than Galileo. Because He's Dead.
Things My Father Taught Me
I'm Going to Die. Eventually.
And This Is Why I Prefer to Cut My Own Hair
It's All in How You Look at It (The Book of Nelda)
Well at Least Your Nipples Are Covered
Death by Swans Is Not as Glamorous as You'd Expect
The Big Quiz
That Baby Was Delicious
These Cookies Know Nothing of My Work
It Might Be Easier. But It Wouldn't Be Better.
Epilogue: Deep in the Trenches