Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review of "Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things" by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson - born and raised in Texas - is a journalist, blogger, author, and humorist who suffers from mental illness. Lawson describes herself as having clinical depression, severe anxiety disorder, impulse control disorder, avoidance personality disorder, and depersonalization disorder (which makes her feel detached from reality). She also has rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune problems, self-harm issues, trichotillomania (she pulls out her hair), mild obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic attacks. This makes Lawson's life challenging but - in spite of it all - she's a very funny lady!

This is Lawson's second book and, like the first, it provides encouragement to people with mental health issues.....and to everyone else whose life isn't perfect. Lawson's motivational observations are scattered among many amusing anecdotes that make gentle fun of everything and everyone, including herself.

Lawson describes one of her troubling behaviors as follows: She was in the bathroom, blood flowing from the scratches on her head that she'd made with her nails. Lawson describes how this made her feel: "The pressure in my head was gone. The pain in me was floating away. Panic was fading slowly." In short, the physical pain distracted from the mental pain. For Lawson, these kinds of self-destructive actions led to behavioral therapy, various medications, learning to redirect her thoughts, snapping rubber bands on her wrist, and squeezing ice until her hands burned. Lawson's basic philosophy - reiterated in different ways throughout the book - is: "Without the dark there isn't light, without pain there isn't relief."

In spite of these low periods Lawson has the gift of seeing (and creating) the funny all around her. For instance:

Lawson is picking up her meds at a Texas pharmacy and sees a box of Milk Bone dog biscuits beside the cash register. She thinks maybe someone returned them until - while ringing her up - the pharmacist casually reaches into the box and scarfs down some broken biscuits. Lawson is aghast, wondering if she's high....or if Milk Bones are actually delicious and the pharmacist is a genius who discovered really cheap cookies.

Lawson loves her stuffed raccoon, Rory. Rory is posed standing up on his hind legs with his arms stretched wide and a huge smile on his face (see book cover). Late one night Lawson decides Rory should ride, rodeo style, on her cats - Ferris Mewler, Hunter S. Tomcat, and Rolly - for a photo montage. So Lawson tries to mount Rory on the kitties, who flop over before she can get the shot, "like a bunch of ingrates that don't understand art." At one point, Lawson's husband Victor, woken by the racket at 2 A.M., peeks out of the bedroom just as Ferris Mewler is streaking across the room with Rory on board. "What the hell is that?" cries Victor. (Can you imagine? LOL)

Speaking of cats, Lawson thinks an awesome name for a cat would be "The President" because you'd find yourself saying things like: The President will not stop sitting on my keyboard; The President just threw up on the new rug; I love sleeping with The President. When Lawson mentioned this to Victor, he yelled "You can't have any more cats. I have to clean up after them. And I'll be damned if I have to scoop The President's shit too." (ha ha ha).

For Lawson, one of the difficulties of being a successful author is the inevitable promotional tour and attendant parties. Lawson gets so anxious at events like these that she sometimes hides behind the podium, cowers under a table, or takes shelter in the bathroom.....and occasionally she can't leave her hotel room at all. At one stop, in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, the crowded streets forced Lawson to stay in her room and - lacking room service - eat peanut butter crackers (that she'd brought along) for days.

For her last book tour Lawson had to fly constantly. According to the author, "it really fucked wtih my anxiety disorder to the point where I had a mild nervous breakdown." Lawson's shrink advised her to get a service animal, which provides support to people with these difficulties. Lawson thought of training Ferris Mewler, but his explosive diarrhea during trips put him out of the running. So Lawson looked into other animals, including a pony. She notes, "Pony Danza would make a great support animal on a plane.....but Victor got all shitty about having an indoor pony pet." (Lawson's a genius at naming animals! )

Lawson counsels the reader that, "Even when everything's going your way you can still be sad, or anxious, or numb.....because you can't always control your brain or your emotions. It's terrifying but you learn that it's okay to prefer your idea of heaven - like live tweeting zombie movies from under a blanket of kittens - rather than someone else's idea, like fame, fortune, or parties." She advises, "Appreciate the unique moments that recharge you. I want banana popsicles dipped in Malibu rum." (Sounds good to me!)

In one entry, Lawson lists things she may have accidently blurted out during uncomfortable silences at her psychiatrist's office:
"I need to find a skilled arsonist, not necessarily to burn anything down. I just want to have the option. I need an arsonist on retainer. I'm pretty sure that's legal as long as I don't use it."
"My primary thoughts during holidays are stab stab stab, run away."
"I hate it when it's too hot for a blanket because I have this phobia that I'll float up to the ceiling without it and then I'll get chopped up by the celing fan."
"On the way here I saw a cloud that looked like a skull and my first thought, Death Eaters."
Of course the psychiatrist just responds, " How does that make you feel? Tell me more."

In one funny anecdote Lawson talks about a visit to her beauty salon. The beautician suggests, "We should get you a Brazilian blowout. It's not bad. You just have to be extra careful for the first day or two. You can't put your hair in a ponytail or anything, or it could compromise the treatment." To which Lawson reponds, "What the shit. Who puts their pubic hair in a ponytail?" And the beautician explains that this is a blow drying treatment for the hair on your head - that straightens it out and makes it less frizzy. "Ohhhh...Yeahhhhh" responds a sheepish Lawson. :)

In another wry entry Lawson talks about moving into a new house, chosen in part, because of the safe area. "The house seemed perfect..... the gated community seemed perfect." However, in short order: Lawson got attacked by swans at the local pond; a man in the neighborhood had a full on shoot out with the police in his driveway (and got arrested); and a flyer was circulated saying that a cougar had come down from the mountain nearby and eaten a lady's dog WHILE SHE WAS WALKING IT! Lawson notes, "I just assume the sewers are filled with panthers because this seems to be the direction things are taking."

Lawson also describes a trip to Japan with Victor, where a small gang broke into their hotel room (a misunderstanding); and a journey to Australia with a friend - where she wanted to hug a koala dressed as a koala, and tried to see a kangaroo's three vaginas (these is a real thing, but not visible on the outside).

The writer also describes more of her mental health battles, in an effort to give hope to people who struggle along with her. Lawson's message comes across loud and clear: 'you can go on; you can make it; medication helps; twitter (where lots of 'nuts' hang out) helps; the bad times will pass'..... and so on. 'Just hang in there and appreciate the good times.' The author expresses deep appreciation to her fans, and is profoundly touched by messages from troubled souls who have been brought back from the brink by her writing.

On the downside, the book's humor is a little uneven, and some stories fall flat or feel forced, as if Lawson engaged in an activity just to have something to write about (and it didn't turn out to be that hilarious).

I'd recommend the book to anyone who wants a laugh or needs a boost on occasion (which, I suspect, is everyone). I listened to the audio version, narrated by the author, and was treated to a 'bonus chapter.' So consider getting that version if you can.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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