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Interview: Super-blogger Jenny Lawson on writing honestly about mental health


An Evening with Jenny Lawson

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center — Friday, July 8 at 8 p.m.

Not long ago, several friends messaged me: “Have you read Jenny Lawson? You HAVE to read Jenny Lawson! You’ll love her!” I did what I usually do and ignored their advice. Then one of my book clubs selected Lawson’s second book Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things this spring, and I finally drank the Kool-Aid. I read it. And I loved it. I absolutely loved it.

Illustration by Cheryl Graham
Illustration by Cheryl Graham

Through a collection of laugh-out-loud essays, Lawson depicts her struggle with depression and anxiety, giving voice to those unable to adequately express their own journeys with mental health difficulties.

Lawson tells us: “Without the dark there isn’t light. Without the pain there is no relief. And I remind myself that I’m lucky to be able to feel such great sorrow, and also such great happiness. I can grab onto each moment of joy and live in those moments because I have seen the bright contrast from dark to light and back again.” And she is right.

Lawson will speak in Cedar Rapids as part of Out Loud!, the Metro Library Network Author Series, on July 8. Details regarding Ms. Lawson’s Iowa appearance are available at metrolibrarynetwork.org/outloud.

Why did you begin sharing your journey with depression, anxiety and other disorders? Was it more for yourself and those close to you or was it always for others? Your honesty and ability to verbalize what so many of us face (on good days and bad) has made you into a de facto advocate and educator for mental illness. Was this your intention? How do you feel having been placed in that role by many of your readers?

I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I’d been blogging about my life for years and not talking about my mental illness was like hiding who I was. Not telling the truth felt like I was creating a false history. I was shocked with the response when I started sharing…with how many people felt the same. It helped convince me that depression was lying to me. To all of us. I never wrote about my impulse control issues and self-harm until this book because I was afraid that it would be too much. And for some people it is. But that’s who I am and I won’t hide it.

I’m an accidental advocate because I have no other choice but to be who I am, but in sharing my stories so many people have shared theirs with me and they’ve saved me right back. It’s a circle of help and, strangely, I feel like I get more help than I give because of the amazing people out there who understand and have my back when I write that I can’t get out of bed for days or when I tweet from a bathroom I’m hiding in because my anxiety disorder made me run away from crowds. I feel very lucky.

You’ve shared that public speaking can be especially daunting for you. Have you found you’ve become more comfortable speaking to larger groups over time? How do you prepare yourself before a speaking engagement? Do you need time to decompress when you’ve finished giving a presentation?

After my first tour I had a small nervous breakdown, so with my second one I did a ton of behavioral therapy beforehand and it helped. There are a lot of different techniques, but you have to find which works for you. I also realized that if I had a full-blown panic attack I could hide behind the podium and everyone there would understand because I’ve been honest about my issues and so many of my readers understand totally. I used to take beta-blockers but now I can usually do a talk with just anti-anxiety drugs. It drains me completely though so I can’t do anything else that day or usually the next. I have to build in a lot of time for recovery because I try to give my all when I’m with people.

“These are a few of my favorite things…” Taxidermied raccoon/cat rodeos and giant metal chickens aside, please share a few unique and unexpected things you love.

  • Building dollhouses and miniatures
  • Subtitled horror films
  • Grey Gardens
  • Eggrolls
  • Swinging (on swings — not the other kind)
  • Driving while singing show tunes at the top of my lungs
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Graphic novels
  • Blythe dolls

Who do you like to read? Favorite author(s) or blogger(s)?

Too many to remember them all. Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Allie Brosh, Samantha Irby, Luvvie Ajayi, Rainbow Rowell, Scalzi, Rothfuss, The Queso. I could go on for days. I’m a voracious reader and there is such great stuff out there right now.

Do you anticipate writing additional memoirs similar to what you’ve published? Or is there a different genre or form you are interested in exploring?

I’m working on a third memoir/essay book now but I’m a slow writer. I have a few things in the works in different genres but I’m not entirely sure which will see the light of day. Just because I want to write something doesn’t mean it’s worth reading but sometimes a story needs to be told so I can move on to the next one. There’s one I’m working on right now but I can’t talk about it because it’s a secret. That’s a terrible answer, isn’t it? Sorry. But I promise it’ll be worth it. Probably.

Susan Bednar Blind is a Cedar Rapids native and University of Iowa graduate. She enjoys writing, cult television shows and embarrassing her nine-year-old, and volunteers extensively in the community. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 202.

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Comments:

  1. It’s really good Kool-Aid, isn’t it?!

    ; )

    Don’t stop at the book; take the deep dive into her blog–just for yourself (thebloggess.com) — and her other book “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.” I promise, it’s worth it.

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