“Furiously Happy” author discusses her mental illnesses

Sarah Jane Chrysler, Co-editor in chief

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These days it has become taboo to talk about issues of mental health. Award winning author, Jenny Lawson, has taken that taboo and thrown it out the window. She struggles with multiple mental disorders and has still been able to successfully write two best-selling books. In one of these, “Furiously Happy”, she tells the world what it is like to live life through her eyes and how her multiple mental disorders change her views and ideas about everything from sandwiches to politics. Lawson sits down and discusses how she lives with and conquers her disorders.

Do you remember a time when you picked up on the fact that you deal with anxiety?
I always knew that it was something more than just stress or being shy because it made me physically ill just to be around people sometimes. I was afraid of everything. It wasn’t until I was a mother though that I realized anxiety was affecting my ability to do the basic things that I wanted out of life.

How did you deal with this? Were your parents supportive or just tried to blow it off?
When I was a kid people didn’t really talk about anxiety disorders so neither my parents nor I were able to recognize it. My parents didn’t understand but they did understand that I wasn’t doing it on purpose and that it was just the way I was. I was lucky that they were so caring even when they didn’t understand. I hid a lot. I read constantly and mainly avoided people, trips, life.

What do you do to cope with panic attacks and feeling overwhelmed? Do you have suggestions for high schoolers?
There are several things that I do but I think it depends on the person so try different things and see what works for you. For me, I do the 4-7-8 thing. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breathe for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat. I also imagine that I’m surrounded by an invisible igloo that covers my body and keeps me separate from the world. It’s like an imaginary hide-out. I try to stay hydrated and walk and get enough sun.  If none of that works then I use medication designed to treat anxiety.

Did you go to college? If so how did you deal with the stress?
I did. I got my degree in journalism. It was actually in college that I first saw a therapist because colleges often have them available for students. He helped me a lot with some control issues I had. I was afraid of losing control so I obsessively counted calories because I felt if I couldn’t control my emotions I could at least control my calories. It was a bad coping mechanism and I developed an eating disorder I had to work through.

When did you decide to really focus on your writing? Why?
I’ve always written because when you’re afraid of people it’s the best way you can communicate. It’s like writing messages to a friend. But that friend is you.

If you could go back and talk to your high school self what would you say, and why? Do you have any advice that you would give to high schoolers today?
I’d tell myself not to worry. I’d say that everything I’m worried about right now is not going to be a concern but that worrying about it will make me the person that I’ll become so it’s okay to worry because otherwise I’ll worry about worrying. That sounds like bad advice but it boils down to “Everything is happening for a reason and there will be a positive outcome if you look for it and keep going. Depression lies. Don’t listen to those lies. You are worthwhile and important. There is a reason for you.”  

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