I bought this book called Furiously Happy, devoured it in two days and spent all the time in-between laughing or crying. One of those books. Actually, the only one of those books as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve never before laughed out loud when reading a book. Do yourself an enormous favor and go buy it.
Jenny Lawson is the funniest person I’ve never met. She is also remarkable for her authenticity about the slew of mental health disorders she struggles with on a regular basis: clinical depression, anxiety attacks, periods of depersonalization, some weird disorder that means you literally rip your hair out when you become anxious, plus your garden variety physical diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to making me laugh and cry and feel like a part of something greater and meaningful, her book has the added side effect of making me feel small and insignificant and like nothing I could ever hope to say could be anywhere near as witty, concise or fierce. There is nothing I can add to the conversation. Ironic, because she spends roughly half the book describing how she suffers from impostor syndrome– a fancy way of saying she, too, feels like she has nothing valuable to offer the world and, if she lets herself, can spend buckets of time simultaneously admiring and loathing all the shiny people that seem to have their shit together. She’s one of my shiny people.
This is just one book I’m referring to. I’ve been drowning in mental health memoirs since starting my book. It’s research, and it makes my head spin every time I face the memoir section of Barnes and Noble. I go in with my sights set on a particular book and walk out with five. (I tell myself that this is a professional expense, but even if I do manage to get published, it’s unlikely these costs will ever be recouped.) Some of these books are boring and trite. But then some are Jenny Lawson. Or Betsy Lerner. Or Susanna Kaysen. They strike upon truths so hard and so distinctly that my head goes, “Well, I can’t do any better than that,” and spontaneously combusts in defeat. I stare at the shelf in Barnes and Noble having an existential crisis over A) what books to spend my husband’s hard-earned money on and B) how am I ever going to break into this market??
Let’s be real. There are billions of people on this planet and of those, at least twenty are remarkable people who have endured terrible things, honed their spirits in this refiners fire, and written about it. (That’s a joke. The number is probably closer to nineteen.)
What remains to be said?
Interestingly, as I absorb the entire market on memoirs of Dark Times, another side effect is that I actually have an answer to this question. The more I read, the more I am convinced that my story needs to be told. All of these authors are white, every single one I’ve read so far, and I’ve been digging. They are also about twice my age and describe their childhoods with a heavy dose of retrospect. My entire book is written from the perspective of a struggling nineteen-year-old.
But my age and race are peripheral concerns.
There are people who have felt pain and there are people who have described it in transcendent ways (which really shouldn’t be allowed, given how shitty pain actually feels). There are people who grasp at coping mechanisms and do their best to wield them and, all things considered, do a mind-blowingly good job given how flat-out crappy life can be. Then they share those coping methods with others.
But none of these people can offer a coherent explanation for the purpose of life and I think without that, you’re only ever scraping by. None of them can identify the underlying roots of depression, and that sucks. Even with women I admire as much as Jenny Lawson, you can feel the tension on her pages that she masks with humor, feel her desperation in staving off this beast of depression.
Of course that describes me at times (without the humor part), but I’ve been lucky enough to learn that love makes life worthwhile, both giving and receiving. It sounds simplistic and it sounds like something other people have stumbled upon– and in some ways, it is– but when we fundamentally misunderstand the nature of unconditional love, we’re screwed from the start. My book details specific anecdotes that highlight these misconceptions and illustrates how they culminate in this enveloping unhappiness that we can’t seem to shake. Then it shows you how to shake it.
This is less of a preemptive sales pitch and more of my internal pep talk to remind myself that no particular person of the eight billion people on this planet is more worthwhile than the other– no matter how humorless I may be. I draw faith from authors like Jenny Lawson because they are a standing testament to the fact that there are other people who struggle valiantly, actively engaged in the quest of becoming even more valiant and even less of a selfish asshole. I mean not just her, but also her following.
If I weren’t a selfish asshole, I’d already know that I wasn’t the only one, but I’m working with what I’ve got.
It’s not an accident that all of these authors I admire are roughly twice my age. Twice the life experience, twice the years spent honing their craft, and (possibly) twice the wisdom. Four years ago I was like starved, stray, rabid cat: high-strung and in serious need of de-clawing. I’ve got all the time to become a better person and writer. I look forward to seeing what I can create when I mellow and round out even further. Nothing that can compare to taxidermied raccoons riding on cats at 3AM (just read Furiously Happy and you’ll get it), but it will be me and it will be worth it.