The reason I did it is that I wanted to do what I could to help remove the stigma of mental illness. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain; it is not my fault, nor is it something that I could fix by "thinking positive thoughts" or "going for a walk in the woods" or "looking at the wonderful things in life." As far as the last one goes, for the last fifteen years especially, I've had a pretty great life. I'm married to a wonderful woman, my kids are doing well, I've got a nice home in a place I love, a steady job that (despite its frustrations) is important and rewarding, and finally -- a dream of forty years' duration -- my fiction is being published (nine novels and counting!).
None of that affected the depression in the least. The good things didn't lift me up; the depression pulled me down despite everything that was going right. Worse, it made those things seem unimportant, worthless, or (worst of all) temporary. Okay, things are pretty good now, my depression said. Just wait. It'll end soon.
My depression is now being managed by an antidepressant and has been ameliorated by therapy, but the truth is, I'm never going to be cured of it. Accepting that has brought a kind of peace, and a determination that other people suffering the same way come to the same understanding -- and get help.
So when I picked up Jenny Lawson's book Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, I knew I was going to relate to it. Lawson is a fellow sufferer from depression and anxiety, and the similarity of her experience to mine was apparent from the second page of the foreword:
[A] few years ago... I fell into a severe bout of depression so terrific I couldn't see any way out of it. The depression wasn't anything new. I've struggled with many forms of mental illness since I was a kid, but clinical depression is a semiregular visitor and anxiety disorder is my long-term abusive boyfriend. Sometimes the depression is solid enough that I mistake it for the flu or mono, but this instance was one of the extreme cases. One where I didn't necessarily want my life to end, I just wanted it to stop being such a bastard. I reminded myself that depression lies, because it does. I told myself that things would get better. I did all of the normal things that sometimes help, but I still felt hopeless and suddenly I found myself really angry. Angry that life can through such curveballs at you. Angry at the seeming unfairness of how tragedy is handed out. Angry because I had no other emotions left to give.So Lawson went to her blog, The Bloggess, and started writing about what she was going through.
The result was an outpouring of support and "me toos" from her readers. Ultimately, that experience led to her writing Furiously Happy -- a poignant, brilliant, and often hysterically funny account of one woman's life of dealing with mental illness. (If you doubt the last bit, I can tell you that I was sitting in bed reading, and kept guffawing so much my wife finally said, "What on earth are you reading?" I told her -- and when I was done, gave it to her to read. The result was many muffled snorts of laughter when she thought I wasn't listening.)
[Click the image above if you'd like to purchase the book from Amazon]
Let me put this bluntly: you need to read this book. Even if you do not have depression or anxiety yourself, someone you know does. Current statistics are that 7% of Americans have experienced one or more bouts of serious depression in a given year.
Lawson's decision to write this book was a major act of courage -- and a gift to the rest of us. There are episodes in it that will have you howling with laughter (the footnotes alone were enough for me to have that reaction more than once), and chances are, there'll be a couple of scenes that will have you reaching for the kleenex.
As for me: I said "amen" more than once while reading this book. Its description of what people with depression and anxiety go through is spot-on. It's time we remove the stigma from mental illness -- and Jenny Lawson has taken a huge step toward realizing that goal.