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Crazy Joy: Finding Wild Happiness in a World That’s Upside Down

Crazy Joy: Finding Wild Happiness in a World That’s Upside Down PDF

Author: Mary Katherine Backstrom

Publisher: Worthy Books


Publish Date: August 30, 2022

ISBN-10: 154601554X

Pages: 240

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface


When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

—The House at Pooh Corner

As we set off together on this journey to joy, there’s something you need to know.

I’m just a little bit… crazy.

Which is the not-so-politically-correct way of saying that I suffer from mental illness. I’ve been going to therapy for roughly two decades, and in that time have collected more diagnoses than my son has Pokémon cards. Not that I’m showing off my collection, but (leans in and whispers): It’s impressive.

Have you ever bought a package of Pokémon cards? You never know what you’re going to get. You grab a little blind bag, open the package, and congratulations, friend. You are the proud new owner of ten random monsters. Some are cute and some are scary, some are outright weird. And at the top of each card, there’s a number that indicates how much damage the monster can do. Me? I have bipolar 2, OCD, PTSD, and some run-of-the-mill ADHD, too. A solid little stable of personal monsters. Damage potential: high.

Some days, I wake up and feel like Eeyore, all mopey and clinically depressed. I feel my friendship is a burden to everyone and I’d rather just stay in my house. Other days I wake up bouncing-off-the-walls manic like Tigger, and there’s no telling what I might do. I’ve applied for a job at Medieval Times and bleached the tips of my hair. I’ve adopted a wild mustang who was aptly named “Trigger” and tore my rotator cuff trying to wrangle him. Mania is a wild ride, but it’s kinda-sorta my favorite. There are two polarizing forces competing for space in my head, and mania sure beats the alternative.

If you have no experience with mental illness, this is probably hard to understand. So let me help you out… Imagine you have no choice but to live your life as a character from Winnie the Pooh. After weighing the quirks and struggles of each character, would there honestly be any competition?

Nobody would choose to be Mr. Rabbit. He’s a narcissistic old coot. Piglet is a porky little anxious mess who needs some Prozac, stat. Maybe you think you would choose to be Pooh, but trust me: That would be a mistake. That whole OCD counting of honey pots would get exhausting pretty darn quick. I assume you’ve reached the same conclusion as me—that there’s only one choice in this game: the bubbliest ray of sunshine in the Hundred Acre Wood. Bouncy, pouncy Tigger.

Tigger is happy. Tigger has energy. Tigger is manic as hell.

It seems all of Christopher Robin’s friends are in dire need of a therapist.

But hey, who isn’t these days?

It was a typical Tuesday therapy session. Me in a cushy leather chair, Dr. C at his mahogany desk. The previous week, I had forgotten my meds, which was a one-way ticket to Tigger Town. Y’all, when I tell you this episode was bad… it damn near ruined my career.

The whole mess started when I fired off a tweet to a local politician. He professes to be a Christian, which I obviously don’t hate. But his actions were completely opposite of the gospel, and that is something I do hate. The whole thing just infuriated me, so I reached out and told him so. To my surprise, he responded. And his response straight pissed me off.

I worked all night and through lunch the next day, making plans to end his career. By one o’clock the next afternoon, I’d chosen a campaign manager. By three o’clock I’d launched my website. Momma wasn’t playing around. Less than a day after our initial exchange, I returned to my Twitter account.

“Good morning, Mr. Congressman. Enjoy your job while it lasts. Your seat comes up in 18 months and I am running to take it.”

Yes! This is a great idea, my mania cheered me on. Mentally, my cup was overflowing with ideas and hope and potential. Physically, I had the energy of a thousand suns. Not a single part of me doubted the absolute brilliance of this plan. I sent that tweet out into the universe, then closed the app on my screen.

The tweet went viral, and perhaps I would have cared… but I was no longer interested in politics. I had a newer, shinier plan: I was gonna start a food truck. One that sold buttermilk biscuits. Only buttermilk biscuits. Biscuit sandwiches, biscuit potpies, biscuit shortcake desserts. I didn’t need to run for Congress; this boss babe was gonna make millions.

Dr. C listened to all of this quietly, until my story ran out of steam.

“And how did this all work out for you?” he asked. The question was obviously rhetorical.

“Uh… not so great,” I replied, which was a bit of an understatement. That week was one continuous cringe. Just remembering it still gives me heartburn. First, a business colleague called a meeting to discuss some “serious concerns.” They had valid questions about the direction of my career. Was I suddenly making a change? Was I becoming a divisive political figure? When I signed a contract with this faith-based publisher, they believed my dream was different. The understanding was that I wanted to share hope and laughter and Jesus—not kick political anthills on the internet.

Then, my husband called from work. I’ll leave that conversation off the page. Suffice it to say this: If you decide to run for the United States Congress, you should probably tell your life partner first.

“A lot of people were confused and upset,” I continued. “And I was honestly humiliated. I deleted the post and cried in bed. I was depressed the whole next week.”

Dr. C nodded quietly. “It sounds like your manic episodes are happening more and more.” He was right. Even before I skipped my meds, I’d been manic more and more frequently. “Perhaps it’s time to consider a mood stabilizer. It could help you balance things out.”

I knew this was a reasonable suggestion, but something inside me balked.

“I dunno,” I replied. Dr. C raised an eyebrow. “It’s hard to explain,” I continued. “I know my mania is destructive, but I like the way it makes me feel. I don’t want it to go away. It’s almost like a drug. For a few days, I believe that everything’s possible. I have all the energy in the world. Nobody and nothing can steal my sunshine. It’s like I’m high on happiness.”

“I understand you want to feel happy,” said Dr. C. “But at what cost?”

The other day I was digging through an heirloom chest that contained all sorts of memories. Shuffling through yellowed photographs and beat-up Broadway Playbills, I discovered a folded-up note. Turning it over in my hands, I felt a pang of nostalgia. Kids nowadays send text messages, DMs, or snaps that disappear after opening. The art of the paper “pull here” tab will die with my generation. It’s a shame, too, because there’s nothing as hilarious as a love letter written in middle school. But this wasn’t a ballad from my childhood sweetheart. And it didn’t seem to be from a friend. In fact, the way it was addressed was odd. It said:

To: Me

From: Me

I pulled the tab and unfolded the note; its contents were short and sweet. Inside a glittery silver box was the blueprint for my future:

At the ripe age of twelve, my path to happiness was boiled down to a bullet-point list. Bless my little sixth-grade heart, I believed it’d all come true. Mary Katherine Sawa: astronaut, equestrian, and farm-owning mother of three. Somehow, I managed to muck it all up. I wonder what middle school me would say. I imagine she’d be so disappointed.

Where did everything go wrong? We don’t have Arabian horses. We are thirty-eight and not even retired. What happened to our plans?

Honestly, I don’t know how I’d answer her questions. The truth is—our plans just kept changing. I fell out of love with Devon Sawa and fell in love with Gavin Rossdale. I fell out of love with Gavin and fell in love with Heath Ledger. I lost interest in going to the moon; I wanted to join the FBI. Even now, the list continues to evolve. My ideal life, my road map to happiness, is a target that keeps on moving.

Congresswoman. Biscuit Truck Owner. What I need is a little more money. Okay, money isn’t doing it—what I need is a bit of rest. Add “beach vacation” to the list. And since I’ll be wearing a bathing suit, and currently feel like a marshmallow, let’s add a weight loss goal to the list. That sure adds an element of fun!

I lose five pounds; I gain fifteen. The Biscuit Truck is a bust. The vacation was awesome until it was over. Happiness comes, then it slips out of my grasp. The high of happiness remains short-lived, but it’s enough to keep me in pursuit.

When I was five years old, Santa Claus delivered the most epic present to my family. It was the last present my siblings and I opened, and we were beyond ecstatic. Poor Teddy Ruxpin and the Cabbage Patch Kids. They just couldn’t compete with Nintendo. I was wide-eyed enraptured when my older sister finally gave me a turn. Placing the gray plastic gun in my hand she pointed to the screen and coached me.

It was my first official foray into hunting moving targets.

“Don’t worry—it’s easy, sis! Just point and shoot all the ducks!”

The ducks started flying, and at first, I did fine. I just kept shooting and shooting at the screen. But then the ducks started flying faster. More and more filled up the screen. Panicked, I fired at everything that moved. But there were just too many targets. In less than a minute, the game was over. I ran to my room and cried.

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