Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘Jenny Lawson’

Bad Thoughts and Tattoos

Sometimes I have bad thoughts. We all do. I find that mine fall into three groups.

The first kind of bad thoughts are when I want to snap or snipe or snark at my husband, despite the fact that he is indispensable to me. He takes care of me, understands me, helps me, hugs me, feeds me in ways I can’t begin to describe.

When those bad thoughts arise, I have a brief internal chat with myself. (It looks like I’m thinking what to say because that’s exactly what I’m doing.) Then I choose not to say the nasty thing or I think of a less-nasty way of saying it. (I’ve written about the phenomenon before in “Managing My Anger”

The skills involved are impulse control, the use of “I statements,” and the ability to rephrase. I try to say something that will get my point across without hurting or making things worse. These are techniques I have learned over the years, which makes me think they are things that can be developed with a little practice.

Learning to restrain myself has prevented many a fight. Some people find this style of communication inauthentic or wishy-washy – that I am tiptoeing around my husband instead of saying what I really think. All I can say to that is that it works for me and for our marriage.

The next kind of bad thought is the kind that comes with depression: I’m useless. I’m pathetic. I can’t do anything right. I’m worthless. Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) talks about these thoughts in her book Furiously Happy, and she has one thing to say about them: Depression lies. These are the thoughts of a biochemically influenced brain that makes you miserable and sometimes wants to kill you, or at least kill your possibility of happiness.

Fortunately, my husband has read Jenny Lawson too. When I express these bad self-thoughts – and it’s best if you have a safe person to tell them to – he reminds me. He doesn’t try to deny the thoughts (You know you’re not worthless. You do lots of things right). He tells me, “That’s depression lying to you.” I used to get stuck in these cycles a lot before I was properly medicated and before I had his help and that of my therapist.

Then there are the really bad thoughts, those of self-harm or worse. Most of the time I don’t have these anymore, but when I do, there is one thing I can do. (Actually, there are more things I can do, but this is one that works for me.) I look at my tattoos.

The one on the right wrist is a symbol for bipolar disorder made up of punctuation : ) :  in the form of a smiley face/frowny face. This reminds me that my brain isn’t working right and is sometimes out to get me.

The other is on my left wrist, near my scars from self-harm. It is a semicolon. You may have heard about the Semicolon Project or seen the semicolon symbol on t-shirts or jewelry.

The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark. It comes at the place in a sentence where a writer could choose to put a period and stop; instead, she continues the sentence. The semicolon says, “My story isn’t over,” something you’ll also see on t-shirts and such. (I’m thinking of making that sentence my third tattoo.)

Recently I had a bout of those really bad thoughts. But I looked at my tattoos and told myself, “My story isn’t over yet. I still have things I need to do.” One of them is to tell my story, in this blog and in a book I’m trying to write.

My tattoos helped me get over the bad thoughts. They have paid for themselves many times over. I never regret getting them. They may have saved my life.

The Bloggess and Mental Health

I met the Bloggess (aka Jenny Lawson) recently at a book signing for Furiously Happy, her second book. (Her first book was Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.)

Back row: Rory, the Furiously Happy Raccoon; middle row: me, Jenny Lawson; front row: Erma the Armadillo

Back row: Rory, the Furiously Happy Raccoon; middle row: me, Jenny Lawson; front row: Erma the Armadillo

The space at the bookstore was full to overflowing. (People had driven for as much as five hours to see her.) Jenny read two chapters of her new book to riotous laughter and applause. There was a brief Q&A session. (I figured she got the same questions all the time and wanted to ask her something that no one else had. I imagine that writers on tour need a little variety.So I asked: If you could be any animal, what would you be and why? Her answer: A tapeworm, because I could just not move and have people feed me.)

I joined the signing line (#17). She signed my copy of her book (“Our story is not over.”) and I showed her the semicolon tattoo that goes with that saying. She also signed my armadillo purse (Erma) and a piece of glass for my husband, who wants to put it over a picture of her or of a vagina; he hasn’t decided which. She laughed. He was one of the many that ask for perhaps her most famous – or at least most quoted – phrase, “Knock knock, motherfucker.” (It comes from her story about leaving a giant metal chicken on someone’s doorstep. There were also a lot of metal chickens she was asked to sign.) The bookstore personnel made sure that everyone knew it was okay to ask for that. In fact, they announced it just before the signings, reassuring the shy or inhibited.

The title of her new book, Furiously Happy, is Lawson’s way of telling depression to fuck off: If part of her life is misery and pain, she’s going to damn well make the most of the parts that aren’t. And while she’s at it, she’ll spread the word that mental illness is not a thing to be hidden or ashamed of.

This is not to say that her mental disorders are cured or that she no longer suffers from them. She was clearly anxious when reading aloud the two chapters, and visibly relieved when that part of the evening was done. Her strategy is to laugh at mental illness, joke about her meds, and speak bluntly to those in the audience who also suffer or have a person in their life who does.

Furious Happiness is a worthy goal, and her out-there enjoyment of life leads her into some of the hysterical situations she has written about in both books. These are the stories that make you say – only you, Jenny! Then she turns around and tells you that you are just like her in the ways that count.

The readers of her books and her blog – – have formed an odd mutual support community. Although we may feel alone, Jenny rallies us to be alone together. Since one of the major difficulties with being a psychiatric patient is the feeling that no one else understands or experiences the same feelings, bringing people together in the virtual world or between the covers of a book is a valuable form of networking, especially for those who can’t network any other way.

Myself, I can’t manage the Furious Happiness. Too long dealing with the black dog and relatively little experience of even the mild highs of hypomania have left me depleted. Jenny will just have to do it for both of us. This is not to say I don’t love her or her work. I do, despite the blog post that I wrote, “Seven Reasons I Hate the Bloggess” ( I can see myself in her and her in me, but for the moment I’m not able to follow her exuberant example. But she gives me hope. And I’m sure that’s one of her most important goals.

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