Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Laughter Is Essential When Living with a Chronic Illness
Sometimes feeling crummy and being overwhelmed makes a person forget to do things that didn’t take any thought when they felt well. It’s natural to focus on what’s wrong and stop thinking things are funny. It’s easy to let the hard things override any impulse to be lighthearted.
I haven’t really found a way to laugh at my MS symptoms. They’re inconvenient and sometimes debilitating, they’re an indicator of how much damage my MS has done, and they’re scary for the damage that may be yet to come.
I can be angry, resentful and sad; I can also laugh. And I laugh a lot. I mean a lot. It helps me to approach adversity with resilience, rebellion and humor. Seeing the ridiculous in everyday life helps build compassion for our natural human reactions and build a kinship to others. We’re all complex in our feelings, reactions and beliefs, and when we laugh together we’re bound together in that moment.
It’s interesting how something said by someone who loves and admires us can be seen as hilarious, and the same words said by someone who doesn’t respect us or isn’t rooting for us is a slam. It all depends on the context and person behind it.
What’s my self-talk? That’s as important or maybe even more important than what our friends and family say to us.
Am I doing the equivalent of humble bragging when I poke fun at myself? Am I genuinely finding my condition or behavior funny from a place of compassion and love, or am I putting myself down and hoping someone will reassure me? If I resent my body or condition, it ends up being sad and not funny.
I think jokes about our physical appearances, limitations and things we really have no control over usually fall flat. Jokes about our behaviors that we have control over can be hilarious, but they need to come from someone who is clearly a fan. Otherwise it’s a dig and uncomfortable.
It’s occurred to me that if I have too long a span between belly laughs, I better find a way to do it. Not because it changes my situation, but because it feels like it changes things. A belly laugh is an immense boost. Letting loose, guffawing and snorting with laughter makes everything seem better. Laughter has been shown to relieve stress and help us tolerate pain better.
Gratitude is a wonderful action for feeling better, and it gets a lot of air time. But sometimes sincere gratitude doesn’t make me feel better. Laughter can be hard to drum up, but it’s usually easier to trigger.
We don’t need to laugh at ourselves or our illnesses to feel better. Give me babies giggling, clever wordplay and ridiculous situations that show how goofy we can be. Being silly, dancing or singing karaoke can make my stomach sore from laughing so hard.
It doesn’t remove my fears or change my future, but it distracts me, bonds me to others, reminds me how fun life can be, and just makes me feel good. Laughter is among the things that make life worth living, and when living with a chronic illness we can use all the help we can get.