I met Janelle Hanchett in person backstage at BlogHer's Voices of the Year show, where she was preparing to read "We Don't Start Out With Needles in Our Arms."
She was also wearing a baby at the time. We spent about five minutes debating whether or not said baby should be worn onto the stage (I was a fan of the idea in theory but, having worn a baby myself in the past, not a fan of the reality of having a baby anywhere near a microphone in a room of 3,000 people).
Janelle's story is a shocker, both for its rock-bottom and for its normal. I volunteered to be on the launch team for her memoir, I'M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, because after putting out a book about mental illness myself, I get how scary that is. Not only are you sort of laying yourself bare as a writer, you're exposing to the Instagram world what mental illness really feels like. Janelle's story is one of addiction and recovery, but I recognized in her writing a lot of the same rage I've felt at times in my life and the same mental pain that is so severe it feels physical.
What I've always admired about Janelle's writing: Her beautiful sentences. While I feel confident she could turn the mundane details of life into art, she's got some pretty compelling material to work with, and the result is truly important writing. A few of my favorite quotes:
I signed my daughter out, chatted with the receptionist, held my girl's hand to the car to make sure she was safe, and all these actions felt like tiny miracles. I gave the death glare to the woman when I saw her in the parking lot, because I was sober, not Jesus.
But then I would think of the inhumanity of my former life, of the morning I woke up and realized I could not exist among humankind, of the day I couldn't use the restroom properly, of the day I woke up alone in a hospital bed, and the day I spoke in the cracked dialects of the wholly insane, and I'd think, I am only human, and that is precisely the miracle.
And then, most disturbing of all, I got sober and realized I was still an asshole. I got sober and realized I still hurt people. I even resolved my childhood issues, and I'm still fucking bored.
My story wasn't untrue. It was simply unsustainable.
When I finished reading the book, I thought about all the ways everyone tries to self-medicate when we're still bored. I'm reading THE SHALLOWS right now, which is about how the Internet is affecting our brain circuitry and making it harder to focus. As pissed as I am at Louis CK right now, his ditty on how we can't stand to be alone with ourselves for even five minutes still deeply resonates. We joke about needing chocolate or a glass of wine or a Xanax, but not about another Oxy or some heroin, because dude, that is a serious problem. But isn't the real problem that we're bored? Janelle is no different from you or me: I've met her. She was making jokes and swigging water and wearing a baby. When I was unemployed, I avoided talking about it too much with people because I'd see the fear in their eyes that what happened to me might happen to them. I remember Stacy Morrison writing in her book about how her friends acted as if divorce was catching. What's truly terrifying about others' misfortunes is how easily they could happen to us.
What's amazing is that whatever misfortune befalls us, we can be resilient. It might take a try or twelve. It might take Good News Jack to overcome our three a.m. bad ideas. It might take getting over our egos or our childhoods or learning to sit with the shitty as well as the sublime. I've given all this a lot of thought in the past year with the lay-off and the cancer. Sitting with shitty is really hard. Learning to be more resilient is really hard.
Janelle has given us a gift with her honesty. We can't understand true resilience without seeing the bottom and hearing the mental monologue. This book is that.