“Finding humor in the circumstances of life can lift moods with laughter and help people to better deal with and overcome difficult experiences”
Mental Health Month explores multiple topics underneath their 2019 theme of #4Mind4Body, including humor.
Finding humor in the circumstances of life can lift moods with laughter and help people to better deal with and overcome difficult experiences.
This article contains personal experiences from two members of the UNCrushed team of how they incorporate humor and laughter into their life, supporting their overall mental health.
“Humor gives us a way to shift anything negative to a more positive light”
Humor has always been part of my human brand. I have always found joy in making others laugh. Laughter is universal. One of my favorite quotes is from, Brother Ali “What language do you laugh in?” There’s a ton of power in that. The power comes from everyone’s ability to experience humor. When you’re going through something that’s traumatizing, and will likely stick with you forever, laughing about it lessens the blow. In almost every terrible scenario I have gone through, I can point to a time during that trial where I laughed about it and pressed on.
My father was an aggressive man in my early years. I could tell you stories of abuse and fear that would make you cringe, but I’ll spare him that embarrassment. When my mother left, he was forced to look at himself and make some changes. He did, but wasn’t able to get my mother back as she had moved on by then. However, he was able to gain the love, respect. and support of his children. When he died, I was destroyed. By the time the end came, ALS (Lou Gherig’s) had crippled him, and he had become my best friend. Imagine, a man I feared for so long becoming my everything. Then, in what seemed like a flash, he was gone.
My sisters and I drove to the ceremony in Mount Pleasant in North Carolina to drop his ashes in the ocean as this was his wish. True to our Irish roots, we drank, told great stories about my dad, and laughed out loud through the evening with the rest of our family. In the emotional turmoil, we found the humor and it saved us from the sadness. You see, despite the fact that Jim Buckley Sr. constantly struggled with anger and aggression, he was also one of the funniest men I ever knew and brought joy and laughter to my whole family throughout his life. We found that humorous nature of his to be all that mattered in this time of loss for my family. Smiles were seen far more than frowns at this incredibly moving celebration of his life. Laughter for the win!
It wasn’t until dealing with my own demons that I realized humor was my mask and it was the way I dealt with anything uncomfortable. People would confront me about my drug use and I’d laugh at them and say things like “I’ve had worse problems” as if to minimize my issue. What I realize now is that humor can be used in so many facets. It disarms people, provides a sense of comfort, makes light of a bad situation, and even fills a void that sometimes leaves us feeling empty inside.
I realize this article about humor is not very funny. It’s rather sad, actually. The good news? I find that funny. Humor gives us a way to make shift anything negative to a more positive light. That’s why it’s my pleasure to provide a good chuckle to anyone and everyone I meet in this world as often as possible. In the world of mental health, humor provides a moment of relief in what is otherwise an overwhelming status.
MARYVILLE, TN, USA
“That child-like belly laughter and that smile that could light up a room”
I come from a large Catholic family- my mom is the oldest of 13 and I learned at a very young age to laugh. I was a happy child and was often laughing with friends and family and was smiling more than not. I am not sure when humor and smiling became my coping mechanism, but it is long before I can remember. Perhaps it was to get through troubled and confusing family issues, when I got held back and lost a bit of confidence, or when I was bullied as a middle schooler. All typical occurrences, yet I found myself masking any pain with a bright-eyed smile and sarcasm. Perfectionism on the outside became intensely important to me and when I smiled and laughed, it seemed to show everyone around me that I was happy. It’s really no wonder why an eating disorder became my core addiction at a young age- it went along with the outside perfectionism I had prioritized for so long, and I did it all with a beaming smile.
When my husband passed in 2014, I continued to smile and use humor to get through some of my toughest days. Although, I would have to say the humor took a slight, dark, cynical turn, and there wasn’t much soul behind the laughter I forced out of my mouth. I remember that I often forced myself to smile, even when I was alone- trying to trick even myself that I was happy and that I was ok. On dark days like anniversaries, I would make a joke out of the day to make it less painful. On my husband and I’s wedding anniversary sometime after he passed, I said “we have the best marriage of anyone I know, we hardly ever disagree or fight.” Darkly making fun of the situation, somehow made me feel a little bit better about just how angry and sad I had become.
It wasn’t until I went away to treatment, that I was made aware of how much I masked my pain with laughter and a smile. I was telling my therapist about some traumatic occurrences that had taken place during my life when she stopped me mid sentence to ask me if I knew that I was smiling. It had become such a habit to relieve others from feeling uncomfortable about my sad circumstances and to make myself (and my children) feel like nothing was wrong, that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Laughing and having a good sense of humor had gotten me through the last five years, whether it was dark humor or not- when life was so dark that the light seemed foreign. After my therapist made me aware of this tool I had been using and after months of purposefully trying to be sincere with my emotions and my facial expressions, I found that I built stronger and deeper connections with people when they saw how badly I was dying inside. Connections that support me today and that I cherish so much. I also found my true laughter and smile again. That child-like belly laughter and that smile that could light up a room. Money well spent if I do say so myself.
Since being home for the last 3 months, this idea of humor and putting more importance on perfecting the inside rather than the outside accumulated into one poignant moment for me last week.
Last week, my daughter had her Market Day at her elementary school. Each child creates a product, markets it, and sells it to their classmates on what has become a very significant day in the mind of my third grade little girl. I missed the first product creation at the beginning of the school year when I was away at treatment, so I was excited to be a part of this end of the year creation. I set my intention the moment I woke up that morning- to have fun with it and remember the experience is more important than the product. That helped, as I am still working on my creative perfectionism and the realization that a boutique owner would probably not be at the school selecting future products to sell- yet I still hold out hope. When I picked my daughter up from the bus stop, she was ecstatic that the day had finally arrived to create her product. As any mom, of course I Pinterested some ideas and my daughter selected a product she thought would rock all of market day. Little did I know- it would also rock me and my house as well. Recovery it seems does not solve all chaotic situations.
Upon hopping in the car, my daughter yelled slime at the top of her lungs waking up my six year old son in the backseat who had just fallen asleep. My son takes his naps seriously, or at least I do, as he looks as if he has just completed a marathon after each kindergarten day. Needless to say- he was unhappy and hungry from the moment he opened one eye. After tossing a cheese stick in his grumpy direction, my daughter informed me that while I was away she had conquered the art of slime making and I need not help her with this particular endeavor. And off she went- Elmer’s glue flying through the air, water splashing into the bowl with firehose strength, and Borax being poured in like measuring was for amateurs. As I sat there as the trusty assistant, I thought to myself, if this turns out I might have just raised a genius. Turns out, I won’t be using that college money for new hardwood floors anytime soon. As soon as oops left her lips, I looked down to find cement had formed in the metal bowl- not at all stretchy as she termed it. In my most calm voice, I suggested that maybe we should use a recipe. Nonsense, she said, as only a nine year old could say- she had 2 more bottles of glue and would not be deterred. Needless to say, the second batch went about as smoothly as the first. I calmly told her, suggested shall we say, while ducking under the table using my 6 year old as cover, that we might need to make a trip to Michael’s and grab some more glue. With no other options, she reluctantly agreed.
While cleaning up the second unsuccessful attempt, my daughter discovered that I had some Orbeez soaking in a large bowl because what is slime without Orbeez after all. Upon making this discovery, she tipped the bowl over and Orbeez spread across the kitchen floor as if she dumped over a paint can. Into the air conditioning vent they went, as they flew across the room. At this point, I am going to be honest, I had used just about every recovery tool in the book to remain sober and calm, cool, and collected. The Orbeez were the end of the calm, cool, and collected. I sent the kids out of the house through grinding teeth and knelt down to spend what I thought might be eternity cleaning those damn water soaked balls. During this insanely fun task of cleaning about 100 out of the vent, I thought how nice a glass of wine would be and wondered if, perhaps, Orbeez might contain alcohol in them. It was then, that I laughed out loud. I accepted that that wasn’t in the cards for me as a recovering alcoholic and that the worst that could happen was that I would need a new air conditioner in, most likely, the near future. What was important was that I was sober, I was present for this disaster, and my daughter was having a blast. How different life had become became utterly apparent. After doing some deep breathing, I might have or might not have hyperventilated during this exercise, I calmly told the kids to get in the car- we had a project to finish.
So I am sure you are on pins and needles at this point so I will not delay- we finished the product and it was a roaring success at the third grade 2019 Market Day. She was one of the first children to sell out of her product. And after spending some 29 minutes scraping Elmer’s glue off the table and getting a maintenance check on the air conditioner, I can say that the experience was 20x better than the product. I got the belly laugh and my daughter got the beaming smile. I can honestly say, we wouldn’t have gotten either without recovery.
MARIETTA, GA, USA
Humor is one of the topics explored as part of the Mental Health Month theme #4Mind4Body. Learn more about Mental Health Month in our article here.