Broken: A (Funny) Tale of Mental Illness

Book Review: Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson writes with honesty, vulnerability, and power. She brings truth to the page as she explains what it’s like to be in the dark hole of depression and anxiety while you lose shards of your soul. She brings levity to the story as she shares her wild experiences at the dentist, in Puerto Rico, and in her backyard. Her love of taxidermy — including Allie McGraw the alligator and Daenerys Targaryen the prairie dog/squirrel — as well as her late night Twitter sessions and her insistence that her missing phone is in the floorboards (really in her pocket) are just a few of the laugh-out-loud instances from Broken.

But it’s so much more than that. Jenny is helping to end the stigma of mental illness. She is open about her dark days and shares what of feels like to walk into the light — to be unsettled when you have good days because you’re not sure when the dark will come again. There’s a reason I used up nearly all my sticky tabs and almost an entire highlighter while reading this book. Because it’s that good. And because it’s that real.

Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns

I’m a negative thinker. From what I understand, negative thinking patterns are pretty common for people with depression and anxiety. It makes sense, really. My thought patterns feed me. I want to get healthier, so I’m working on identifying and rebutting these negative thinking patterns. Frankly, I’m struggling with it all.

Negative Thinking Patterns

According to an article on VeryWellMind.com, negative thinking patterns occur when you face a situation and cause stress. In my life, I imagine these thoughts creating sneak attacks on my brain when I’m vulnerable. These attacks have been occurring for so long that I’m actually accustomed to their warfare and no longer recognize what is false and what is truth.

For example, one negative thinking pattern (also called a cognitive distortion) that I battle is mind-reading. I might tell my husband about an event in my day. He’ll be occupied with some happening in his own day, and he might not react to me in the way that I expect him to. That leads me to think that he isn’t listening, he isn’t interested, he doesn’t care, and he clearly thinks I’m stupid.

See what I did there? In reality, if I stopped for a moment and asked myself, “What is the truth in this situation?” I would have been able to figure out that my dear, loving husband was actually just busy at the moment and would have been more than happy to talk about my day at a time that was more convenient. He’s proven this again and again. The truth is that he is kind and willing to listen at nearly any moment.

Stop. Rebut. Find the truth. It would save so much time and decrease my anxiety and stress – my husband’s too.

Another cognitive distortion is catastrophizing. This means that I assume that because X happened today, then it will happen tomorrow as well, and on and on until the world ends because X happened on October 31, 2020. In fact, the world ending will solely be caused by X happening to me on this date.

Do I sound crazy yet? I think I do. But, I’m being raw and honest here. I think catastrophic thoughts regularly. I use words like “always” and “never” to describe stressful events and interactions. I assume that because a coworker criticized my work on one project, that she hates everything I do and that I’m always going to be a target of her criticism, and she’s out to get me fired.

Again, fully acknowledging the crazy here.

When I type out these examples of my own cognitive distortions, I see how ridiculous I sound. So, I guess I need to continue to write about them. To make sense of them and understand what I’m doing when I have these thoughts. And, remember: Stop. Rebut. Find the truth.

4 Truths About Mental Illness

I have a mental illness.

Those five words are stark on the page. Despite so much growth in mental health awareness, a powerful stigma remains against mental illness. Is she psychotic? Is she dangerous? Why can’t she just get over it? Just a few of the questions that are bounced around when people come to conversations about mental illness and aren’t familiar with what being mentally ill really looks like.

Having had mental health battles for nearly 28 years and having been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, and re-diagnosed, I have some experience with what mental illness means. I’m not a doctor or a licensed therapist, but I live in the darkness much of the time. Here are four truths I’ve come to realize about mental illness.

1. My mind lies to me.

Depression and anxiety are pretty little liars. Because of my brain chemistry and thought patterns, I’ve set up a nice home for these liars in my mind. Improving my life means I have to rebut those lies on a daily basis and start evicting them.

2. Nature and nurture play roles in my mental health.

It’s not an either/or situation. My heredity and my lifestyle impact my mental illness. I’m predisposed to having a different brain chemistry because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. Life events have caused me to be more depressed, anxious, and to even battle manic episodes at times. We’ll talk more about those at another time. Also? I haven’t done myself any favors by feeding into negative thought patterns, digging deeper trenches in my neural pathways to feed into the depression and anxiety.

3. Taking medicine does not make me weak.

This truth has been a long time coming for me. I have been under a psychiatrist’s care for more than two decades, but I’ve fought the idea of treating my mental health like an actual illness for about just as long. As my dear father once told me, “If you had diabetes, you’d take insulin. Taking care of your brain, and taking medicine for your mental health is just as important.” He was a smart man (I miss him so), and I’ve finally come to understand that using medication to help treat depression and anxiety is not wrong.

4. I’m not a bad person.

My severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder do not control my conscience or my character. They are liars. (See Statement 1.) I need to improve in different areas — as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a human being — but I’m not innately bad because of my mental health.

I know there are more truths here, but these are the four most powerful ones that I’ve realized to date. What would you add?