furiously happyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson is the story of one woman’s journey through mental illness and the many places she finds herself. Jenny has been battling mental illness her entire life, so she considers herself to be an expert at how she handles her crippling depression and anxiety. She’s an expert at terrible ideas and writing a funny book about horrible things may be her best terrible idea yet.

Jenny believes in living her life furiously happy. Her depression, anxiety, and other myriad mental illnesses may run her life at certain moments, but she has decided that in the moments when she is not hiding in her bedroom, she’s going to live furiously happy. She’s going to do anything that pops into her head, anything stupid or irresponsible like having a raccoon rodeo with your cats or trying to convince your husband that having kangaroos would be a good idea. This book is packed full of stories of Jenny turning moments when things are just fine into amazing moments for herself, her daughter, and her husband. Because she doesn’t know exactly when her next down swing may happen, Jenny chooses to LIVE her life and not just survive it.

Jenny has written this book as a way to show the rest of the people in the world that the best way to live our lives is to embrace our weirdness 100%. She wants to show that by building up furiously happy moments in our okay moments, we are arming our brain with positive moments when those same brains decide to fight against us and try to kill us. Her moments of hilarity are paired with moments of such brutal honesty that you’ll find yourself on one page in the kitchen with Jenny as she plays with her taxidermied raccoons and then a few pages later sitting in the bathroom with her as she cries and pulls out her hair until she bleeds. The dichotomy between those beautiful, loving moments of happiness and the flawed, immensely overflowing, just trying to survive moments is where Jenny thrives. She encourages you to embrace yourself no matter what label you’re given and to find ways to find joy and happiness no matter what.

This book is also available in the following formats:

marblesCartoonist Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me is an honest, funny graphic memoir that explores her life following her diagnosis with bi-polar disorder.  As an artist, Forney had mixed emotions about her diagnosis, ranging from excitement over joining what she called “Club Van Gogh” (the idea that creativity and great art come from mania) to frustration over the long road to recovery and finding the most effective drug cocktail.  Forney never holds back in both words and illustrations, letting the reader join her in her head and get an idea of what it is to be an artist with bi-polar disorder.

Forney uses a combination of new illustrations and samples of the sketches that came from different times during her journey to recovery.  The illustrations from her lowest depressive times are detailed, darker, and incredibly different than the cheery, simple cartoon illustrations that populate the rest of the book.  While the book can come off as a tad self-indulgent and Forney’s journey is obviously her own, this is an excellent read for anyone that is looking for insight into what the recovery journey may look like for a person diagnosed as having manic depression.  Even if it is just to help you feel like you’re a part of Club Van Gogh and no longer alone.  When you’ve finished Marbles, I would suggest picking up the beautifully illustrated graphic memoir, Stitches: A Memoir by David Small or the unsettling account of a high school relationship with Jeffery Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf.

Naomi Levy wrote Hope Will Find You as she was in the midst of her daughter’s health crisis. Spending much of her time in doctor’s waiting rooms, and trying to deal with the uncertainty of the diagnosis, Naomi began, unsurprisingly, to show signs of depression. She’d suspended her enjoyment of life and her career as a rabbi.

This book is a series of very short chapters that chronicle her climb out of that despair. She gains wisdom from other rabbis, mentors and, most of all, Noa, her daughter. Noa suffers from learning and physical disabilities, that may or may not be fatal. She is incredibly positive and energetic, and she is the one who actually comes up with the title.

One of Naomi’s breakthroughs is a realization that she can’t let her fear of the unknown destroy the happiness she can enjoy with her family and friends now. As Naomi lets go of her crippling fear, she is able to go back to work and even starts a new congregation.

Not only is her story inspirational, the book is a fascinating glimpse into Judaism and the Jewish principles of faith.

Overwhelmed by mounting pressures from school, home and life, 16-year-old Craig contemplates suicide. Planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, at the last minute he detours to the local mental health clinic hoping for a simple solution. What he finds instead, after a minimum five-day stay, is that there are no simple answers, just the support of family and friends and the belief in your own true self.

Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a charming, witty and heartfelt movie. Craig finds himself surrounded – and accepted – by a colorful cast of characters. His fellow patients are all struggling with their own personal demons but pull together and support each other, sometimes in surprising ways. There are a lot of funny scenes and quiet moments, and there are heartbreaking insights. It’s a story not so much about mental illness as it’s about finding a way to live again.

If you liked the movie Secretariat and have  been following Zenyatta’s career as an undefeated filly (up till her last race),  you may want to check out more horse movies and books.

Seabiscuit stars another underdog, so-to-speak, who becomes an incredible crowd-pleaser.  The movie is based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand. This true, Depression-era story stars  Toby Maguire as the teenage jockey whose destitute parents left him with a horse trainer.  Jeff Bridges is the owner whose son is killed in a car accident, and  Chris Cooper as a homeless, former cowboy. He  discovers Seabiscuit and becomes his trainer.  They all form a unique team, as Seabiscuit becomes a celebrated winner, giving hope to a nation of down-and-outers.

Like Secretariat,  both horses are dismissed early on as losers, but they loved nothing so much as to come from behind and win races in a nail-biting, dramatic fashion.

dust-bowl_photoWhen times are tough, it helps to read about those who have gone through even more desperate times – with grace and courage.

Early settlers and homesteaders lived near the margin; they felt fortunate if they had the very basics of life (in the face of drought, pestilence, and economic collapse). Books like Nothing to Do But Stay by Carrie Young and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books immerse the reader in the hard life of the pioneer on the plains.

Books with a  documentary slant are Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich and Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel. Both made an important societal  impact and yet are highly  readable.

Poverty was a fact of life at the turn of the century; poor families lived without any kind of safety net.  This was a common theme in early American childrens’ literature. Two tight-knit families who lived in “ramshackle cottages” and faced eviction, illness and other disasters with humor are the Five Little Peppers series by Margaret Sidney and Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch by Alice Rice.

All these books provide context and role models for today’s tough times.

Also recommended:


Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

DVDs (adapted from books):

Grapes of Wrath

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl


then-we-came-to-the-end1Seems like there is a novel for every situation. We can take some comfort from the fact that people have gone through layoffs and recession before.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is the devastating tale of an ad agency, where, one by one, workers carry their box of belongings out of their office during the dot-com bust of the late ’90’s. Ferris captures exactly the love/hate relationship we have with our cubicles and our co-workers. He depicts how painful it is to lose the community, the gossip , the petty resentments, and the infantile behavior that make up our work lives.

Described  as “The Office meets Kafka,” (Nick Hornby) the characters are written with compassion and depth by Ferris,  a University of Iowa graduate.

I’m amazed how many folks haven’t read this yet. I guarantee you will not be anything but fascinated and thoroughly entertained by Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.

This story is about young Jacob’s interlude with the circus during the Depression and Prohibition. Fascinating are the circus days of old – truly a culture in and of itself. Entertaining are the diverse characters – from ringmasters and those in the side shows to the roustabouts and the star of the circus – Rosie the elephant. The story is reminisced by Jacob in his elder years. Gruen’s descriptions and story developments are fantastic. You can feel Jacob’s passion in youth and fearful frustration in old age. There is romance and murder; tragedy and hope. Best of all, it has a great ending.