Avert your eyes

I’ve been sick with bronchitis for the past week. All of the stress I’ve been under made mincemeat of my immune system and I was struck hard last Thursday night with it. I even got some excellent cough syrup with hydrocodone in it.  It helped me sleep and helped me not to cough so much.

But this morning I was still not feeling better so I called the doctor and got a second appointment. And as I was driving over it happened. A mama duck started bustling her brood across the busy four-lane road. The truck in front of me didn’t even stop and mowed over them, killing two of them. I slammed on my brakes in horror as the mama duck ran back into traffic. If my windows had been rolled down I am sure I would have heard her screams of terror.

My own mouth opened wide as well, though no sound came out. My eyes screwed shut and I could not see for the tears that poured forth. The violent death of the ducklings and the anguished horror of their mama triggered a full-blown panic attack in me. Behind the wheel. I could not breathe, nor see, nor, it seemed, able to do anything useful at all. Somehow I managed to pull off the road and sat in the parking lot of a church and remained quite hysterical for at least fifteen minutes.

Obviously I was not crying about the ducks.

If you’re sick of reading about my grief, I’m sorry. But this is a place I am going to sit for a while. Please skip over me if it bothers or annoys you.

I mean this sincerely.

There are some interesting things I have learned about grief and death in America in the past few weeks.

The first is that most people are uncomfortable with it. It is something they don’t understand and something they fear, therefore they avoid it. We are expected to cry at the funeral and then go on with our lives, doing more damage to our psyches than we realize.

When we have had a profound loss in our life it is quite natural to get hysterical from time to time. It is the body’s way of releasing the pressure we build inside ourselves.

The second thing I learned was something a wise man told me. He said that grief is like playing in the surf. If you stand hard against the waves it will knock you down and fill your mouth full of water and sand. But if you let the wave wash over you, you will go down, but you will bob right back up again. Best not to fight it when it comes.

So when it comes I am going to let it consume me. I will cry ugly. I will probably choke on my own snot and cough so hard I pee my pants a little. But I will not stand against the grief. I will embrace it and ride it out to the other side. Because that is the only way I am going to get through this.

And I will understand if you need to avert your eyes.

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

FuriouslyHappyJenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess) is someone who has come into my world fairly recently. Last month I read a review of this book in the library publication Booklist, and thought it sounded intriguing. Since it had not yet been published I hunted down her first book: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I read it on vacation and came to two conculsions.

The first is that Jenny Lawson is a total wingnut, swears like a truck driver with Tourrette’s, and has a family that rivals the Adams Family when it comes to weirdness.

The second is that Jenny Lawson is completely and unequivocally hysterical.

There are some misguided people in this world who are easily offended by cursing, and I feel deeply sorry for these people. I believe the time one spends taking offense is inversely proportional to the amount of fun one has. I also know that trying to explain this to someone easily offended is like trying to convince a conspiracy theorist that no, McDonald’s is not own by Satanists.

The title Furiously Happy is rather poignant. Jenny Lawson has made her writing career talking frankly about dealing with mental illness. She suffers from depression and anxiety and a host of taggers-on. She has good days and really terrible days. Her theory is that on her good days she needs to live them to the fullest–the craziest, brilliant, most memorable times she can conjure. Then, when the bad days return she will have those memories and be able to tell herself they will come again.

To quote Furiously Happy:

“When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We wear ribbons to celebrate their fight. We call them survivors. Because they are.

When depression sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark… ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness… afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.”

This.

I will admit that I have suffered from anxiety and depression. That’s not an easy thing to admit, especially when the whole purpose of this blog is to demonstrate my talents as a writer, and showcase my brilliant wit and sparkling humor. But I need to be true to who I am. Yes, I have struggled with anxiety and depression, but I would guess 99% of the people who have ever met me would never know it. I can speak in front of huge groups of people and not blink an eye. I give every impression of being warm, funny, and completely well-adjusted.

I have to say that being married has done wonders for my state of mind. My husband, who is a self-proclaimed “happy jackass,” is the best medicine. He makes me laugh every day and really helps to keep me on an even keel. True, I may get tired more easily than the average person, I may need more downtime to recuperate after social events, but I am proud of the progress I have made in the last 20 years. If you would have told me when I was 21 that I would one day be married and not be the drama queen in the relationship I would have laughed and laughed. Funny how things turn out.

I do warm to Jenny’s idea of living furiously happy when the opportunity presents itself. I already know that traveling has made the best memories I keep and I want to do as much of it with my happy jackass as I can in this lifetime.

The happiest I have been while not on the road is when I am writing, and creating stories. The worlds I create are so real to me that my husband and I speak of my characters like they live and breathe out there in the world somewhere. My greatest wish is to be able to do that as a full-time job instead of being a librarian. Don’t get me wrong, librarians are terribly important. But learn from my mistake and don’t ever expect to find fulfillment in a career you chose mostly because you needed a paycheck.

To all of you out there who are like me and have struggled with anxiety and depression, I salute you. Keeping going when all you want to do is hide in your bed is no small feat, even if compared to the rest of the world it seems small. We are working with a serious disadvantage and have to toil much harder to stay even with the rest of the pack.

I highly recommend Furiously Happy to anyone who suffers with mental illness or anyone who lives with one. It will make you understand things on a new level, give validation that you aren’t alone, and make you snort coffee out your nose.

Which is why I don’t recommend reading it with a beverage. That really hurts.