Because this book is an extension of Jenny’s blog, The Blogess, it reads less like a novel and more like a collection of ridiculously funny stories — interspersed with some real-af moments as she battles her depression and associated illnesses. In the author’s own words: “Some of it is very serious and some of it is very funny, but I hope you’ll find that all of it is honest, baffling and relatable in ways that may make you question your own sanity.”
We usually do a chapter-by-chapter guide to our book club picks. This time we’ll just give you excerpts from the funny parts, and highlight some of the points Jenny makes when addressing how we understand and treat mental illness. If you’re sensitive, be forewarned: The following will probably make you clutch your pearls.
On Her Tendency to Pass Out in Semi-Scary Situations:
“Forced narcolepsy is pretty much the worst defense ever.”
Page 3: “I’ve always been naturally anxious, to ridiculous degrees. My earliest school memory is of a field trip to a hospital, when a doctor pulled out some blood samples and I immediately passed out right into a wall of (thankfully empty) bedpans. …Then my head started bleeding and the doctor cracked open an ammonia capsule under my nose, which is a lot like being punched in the face by an invisible fist of stink.”
Page 4: “The really bad part about passing out at the gynecologist’s is that you occasionally regain consciousness with an unexpected speculum inside your vagina, which is essentially the third-worst way to wake up. The second-worst way to wake up is at the gynecologist’s without a speculum inside of you because the gynecologist took it out when you were passed out and now you have to start all over again. … The first-worst way to wake up is to find bears eating you because your body thought it’s safest defense was to sleep in front of bears.”
On Her Various Fears:
Page 236: “When I’m having a bad spell [of social anxiety] I can’t make myself interact with the outside world. I even find myself hiding in my own home, my panicked heartbeat in my ears when someone comes to the door.”
Page 237: “Some people are afraid of flying and I am too, but not in the way you think. I’m afraid of getting stuck, or lost, and paralyzed every single step of the way from my house to the plane. .. Your body isn’t made to deal with that much fear for that long so when when I travel a lot I get sick, mentally and emotionally.”
On Her Propensity For Self-Harm:
Page 80: “I picked at my cuticles until they bled, but so what? So do lots of people. I picked at scabs when I was nervous. It’s gross but not unusual. I pulled my hair. Out. By the roots. And I wouldn’t stop until large handfuls were on my lap. I scratched by scalp and forehead. Deeply. With nails specially filed for slicing. Victor would grab my hands while we lay in bed to keep me from doing it, but I couldn’t stop myself. … It’s like there’s someone else inside of me who needs to physically peel those bad thoughts out of my head and there’s no other way to get in there. The physical pain distracts me from the mental pain.”
For Discussion: Has Jenny’s discussion about the manifestation of her illnesses given you any insight into those who suffer from similar ailments?
Notes Written While Jenny Waits for Sleeping Pills to Kick In:
Page 13: “The phrase ‘Rest in Peace’ seems incredibly self-serving. It basically means ‘Stay in Your Grave — Don’t Haunt Me.’ The opposite would be ‘Fitfully Toss’ or ‘Go Jogging.'”
Page 22: “I’m allergic to latex and it makes me break out in a rash so most condoms are out for me because the last thing any of us wants is a vagina rash. The alternative is the ones made of sheepskin, but it always creeps me out because does that mean Victor and I are having sex with a sheep? A dead sheep, actually. So its bestiality and necrophilia. And a three-way, I think. I actually mentioned that to Victor and he immediately booked a vasectomy.”
On Taking Medication for Her Mental Illness:
Page 56: “This might seem silly but when you go to the pharmacy and you’re standing in line with twenty germy people sneezing all over the place you can honestly say, ‘Would you mind if I went first? I have to pick up my antipsychotic meds and I REALLY needed them yesterday.’ This tactic also works for grocery lines, the DMV, and some buffets.”
Page 57: “Being on medication for mental illness is not fun, nor is it easy, and no one I’ve ever known does it just for kicks. … The side effects and troubles with taking medication are very real and (if you have a chronic mental illness) are something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. … And then you have to deal with the side effects of the new drug, which can include ‘feeling excessively stabby’ when coupled with some asshole telling you that ‘your medication not working is just proof that you don’t really need medication at all.’ I just can’t think of another type of illness where the sufferer is made to feel guilty and question their self-care when their medication needs to be changed.”
For discussion: Do you think people suffering from mental illness are not taken seriously, or blamed for their own illness? Is taking medication for mental illness taboo?
On Her Relationship With Her Daughter, Hailey:
In her self-aware style, Jenny describes Hailey as being gregarious, outgoing and well-adjusted: Not at all like her mother.
Page 303: “Last week I sat in my usual corner and as another mom sat down next to me and struck up a light conversation I slightly congratulated myself on being a normal person. A few seconds later Hailey looked up from across the room with the other Girl Scouts and, smiling widely, exclaimed ‘MOMMY! You made a friend! Good for you!‘ And then I fell through the floor because being embarrassed by your child when you’re an adult is much like being embarrassed by your parents when you’re a teenager, but worse, because you can’t roll your eyes at them and pretend that they just don’t understand you. Kids totally understand you. So much more than you want them to.”
For Discussion: Ah, nature vs . nurture. Do you worry about your kid picking up traits you view as negative?
On Her Relationship With Her Husband, Victor:
Victor serves as the “straight man” in Jenny’s book, aka the voice of reason when she’s being ridiculous, which is always. An example:
Page 75: Victor buys Jenny a taxidermied bear head/neck, which Jenny finds very sweet because her father is a taxidermist and she has developed a love for animals stuffed in quirky positions. Jenny celebrates by putting the bear head on Victor’s pillow and telling him it’s because the bed was juuuust right. Basically, these few pages are filled with bad bear jokes and taunting via taxidermy.
But, he’s also her rock when things go bad. The main point is here:
Page 318: “Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest [after a medical episode] I told him that sometimes life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, ‘It might be easier. But it wouldn’t be better.'”
Jenny equates Victor’s statement with her own willingness to wave her banner of “f*d up and proud of it,” to help others. Being so open about her struggles isn’t easy, but she believes it helps other people who are battling similar things.
The Folder of 24:
Page 319: Jenny has a folder in which she keeps letters from 24 people who were in the process of planning their suicide but didn’t follow through because of the supportive community she built on her blog. When she began talking about her mental illness, she expected silence. Instead, a rush of people came forward, eager to talk about their own struggles in a safe space.
In summary, Jenny’s mental illnesses make life harder, but she has learned to cope with it via humor, and help some others along the way.
For discussion: What did you think of how Jenny approached her illness? Has her book altered your view of people who suffer from mental illness? Do you think her work is effective at chipping away the stigmas surrounding mental health?