If you survived today, you won. And that's the greatest gift of Jenny Lawson
I've had one anxiety attack in my entire life. I've been diagnosed with clinical depression three times.
My therapist tells me that I should be really proud of the way I've turned out, considering my personal history.
Considering my personal history.
That's like a consolation prize. What she's really saying: you never stood much of a chance but you did well with what you've got.
That's the equivalent of a participation certificate you got at a fancy dress competition for wearing a sari and pretending it's a costume. Knowing that a saree is not a fancy dress costume.
But my therapist has also told me to be kinder to myself. So I will graciously accept her compliment. I should be proud of myself.
Most days, I am proud. And I have a long list of things to be proud of.
For starters, I'm not a drug addict. I have a steady job I can hold. I never miss therapy. Most nights I catalogue my thoughts in a Thought Diary. This Thought Diary has four columns - Date, Situation, Thought, Feelings. Exactly like Name, Place, Animal, Thing. And at the end of every week, I go over those thoughts line-by-line with my therapist.
I swim when I suspect the onset of mania. I go for a walk when I find myself making too many bad jokes that no one is laughing at. Or when I can hear myself being the center of attention.
When I have bouts of insomnia, I walk up and down my living room for hours and yell at people who are not present, till I'm spent. Sometimes I'll compose an email and resist hitting Send.
When I need happy-hormones, I ask my husband to cuddle. We call it "choto-time". (Choto roughly translates to cuddle in Gujarati. I know, it's embarrassing. Apologies to husband). Often, I'll demand it at 2pm in the afternoon and he's on a conference call. But we find our ways around it.
I practice mindfulness. I do Progressive Muscle Relaxation. I recently acquired and occasionally use adult colouring books. Twitter and Facebook sometimes make me feel manic, at which point I close those tabs.
If a nightmare recurs, I delve deep into the roots of the fear that caused it and then read up and dissect those fears and spend another hour discussing them with my therapist. I go to great pains to ensure that the particular nightmare doesn't come back again.
All of this is to say that a large portion of my conscious energy is expended trying to keep my subconscious and unconscious happy. I'm always on the alert - hawkishly waiting to detect minor chinks in my thoughts that, unresolved, can become full blown meltdowns. Or months wasted away in a cloud of misery.
It's a hide and seek game. I seek. The depression hides. My task is to sniff it out and stamp all over it before it gets cozy in its hiding spot. And on most days, I win.
But it's always a task. An every-day task. I understand that I'm vulnerable to depression. (If I was a child I'd be described as "at-risk"). So I can't let my defenses down. I cannot afford to ever not be conscientious about my mental health. I have to always, actively, keep the darkness at bay.
I cannot experiment with substances, because I will become an addict. I cannot spend a day binge-watching television, because one day might become two.
And then a week. And a month. And if I'm not careful, it'll slip right back. And climbing out of the trenches after I've slipped into it, is very, very hard.
To always be en-garde
Jenny Lawson struggles with depression. And with Impulse Control disorder. Also Trichotillomania. And Dermatillomania. Plus anxiety disorder. And avoidant personality disorder. Not to mention, arthritis.
In her own words, she's "f**ked up enough to require an assload of meds."
She's also written two best-selling books, "Let's Pretend this Never Happened" and more recently, "Furiously Happy". She has a wildly successful blog, The Bloggess. She has 465 thousand followers on Twitter.
She's made a living out of writing about the process of surviving all her disorders. The every day, hello-guys, here's what I did today, sort of survival. And her defense mechanism is humour.
It works marvellously. Here's a taste of what she reads like when she's feeling manic:
"The amount of money I would pay for people to stop f**king up grammar is only slightly lower than the amount I'd give to ensure I never have grammatical errors in statements I make calling others out on their grammatical errors."
"You might be thinking that girls can totally wear cargo pants if they want to, but I disagree. Skinny girls might be able to wear those things, but girls like me look like they're wearing pants with a bunch of purses stapled to them, and that's really the last thing you need when you're looking for something slimming in the plus size section. In fact, most of the pockets you see on women's pants are just illusions made to taunt you. Or sometimes they really are pockets but they're intentionally sewn closed, as if to say, "I'm letting you have these pockets but I'm sewing them shut for your own good." And most of us leave them sewn shut because we'd rather look thin than have pockets."
But when she's feeling too sad to fake happiness, or feels inclined towards self-harm, she'll reveal another side of her. With sketches like this:
When she isn't dropping well-timed wisdom, she'll take you on adventures through her living room. And also Australia (a junket, courtesy Australian tourism). She'll share with you her experience of petting a koala while dressed in a koala costume. (You'll have to buy the book for a photograph of that). And with a kangaroo in a kangaroo costume. She will describe what her favourite thing about therapy is. She will also narrate her cat's failed attempts at eating a voodoo vagina.
She will simultaneously, intermittently, share with you her lowest. Her uninspired. Her too-damn-pathetic-to-show-anybody. When she cried from arthritic pain in a hotel lobby. When she was scared that her medication was no longer working. When she wanted to tear out her scalp and her skin.
The book's USP may be that it's funny. But she will also admit that her humour is an attempt to deflect from the real issues she's grappling with. She will brandish from the rooftops her decision to be "furiously happy", but won't disguise the fact that it's her way of coping with her pain.
And there lies the most compelling power of Lawson's body of work. Her humour is blood, sweat and tears. Her laughter is a constant, deliberate, painful effort to keep the dark clouds at bay. Her jokes are how she survives her self-destructive impulses. Her decision to be furiously happy, (when in fact she is being unabashedly manic) is her only manner of survival.
And she fights hard
Lawson is a warrior princess. To read her is to be inspired. It is to watch, as every page of her book unfolds, one more victory. Then one more victory. Then one more.
It is to embrace that too many of us will continue to fight mental illness everyday. There are no weekends and no holidays. But every day survived is another win.
To see her resilience is to appreciate in myself, something similar. Resilience, sometimes. And on days I don't self-combust, victory.
Then one more victory. Then one more.
To read Jenny Lawson is to look at my own Thought Diary with more love. To recognize the ingenuity in choto-time. And to see, in the deepest, truest way, that my therapist is right.
If I'm in awe of Jenny Lawson, I should be in awe of myself too.
Considering my personal history, I should be proud of the way I've turned out. And if I can laugh, that's a bonus.