Unlisted: Humor: Turning Negative into Positive

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Several months ago, I was in a group text chat with my girlfriends. We were talking about dealing with “young” folks as old ladies. One friend mentioned yelling at kids to stay off her lawn. As a runner, I joked about being the old lady chasing them onto her lawn so she could yell at them.

I then took it a step further, into a dark place relating to my MS.

You know what,” I started, “if my MS turns into Secondary-Progressive, instead of just running them off your lawn, I could chase them with my mobility scooter while trying to sweep their feet with my cane.

It got a few “laugh” reactions. Fortunately, no one felt obligated to say I won’t get worse, as is the normal reaction to such a comment. I am lucky to have these women as friends from that lack of response alone.

But I didn’t say it for them to laugh. I was saying it for myself.

Benefits to Humor

I learned to deal with pain and difficult situations with humor. It is a great way to defuse a potentially tense situation if the other party is receptive. Ash learned long ago that I was not invalidating his concerns, but trying to get us to calm down enough so we could talk rationally.

I am someone who responds to awkward situations with a nervous laugh. I went to a haunted house last year for the first time, and I expected to be the type of person to punch when frightened. Instead, I spent the entire time laughing. I am not sure if the entertainers appreciated it, but a few played with it. I was intrigued by my response to fear with laughter, but not entirely surprised.

It made sense. And biologically, it’s a valid coping mechanism.

Humor can help re-frame potentially traumatic and disturbing scenarios into something more manageable so we might cope. In a situation where my fear is elevated, laughing at the scary clown jumping out at me is my body’s response to the stressful scenario to get me to calm down.

For a long time, I’ve dealt with my pain with humor as part of my stress-management. Especially my MS.

Gallows Humor

I love to laugh. I also love to laugh at my own jokes. I don’t care if it’s considered poor taste to laugh at your own jokes. I wouldn’t make them if I didn’t think they were funny.

I’ve used gallows humor as a form of coping with my MS before. And each time I do that, I laugh.

Let me be clear: when I make a joke about my MS, it’s seldom for someone else to laugh at. If I get a chuckle or laugh from the person hearing it, that’s fine. But the joke is only for me to find funny. I will laugh at the moment, and laugh again when I reflect on it at a later time.

When I engage in dark humor, and humor surrounding a chronic illness tends to be dark, it’s meant to make light of a serious situation. It’s not to invalidate how I feel or what I am going through, but a means to relieve some of the tension and the feeling of losing control.

I do believe in the concept of, “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.” So often I’ve cried or felt taken down by my MS, that I find laughing about it feels better. It makes the weight of my reality more manageable.

Learning to Laugh

This week, try to find ways to engage with your sense of humor. Find things that make you laugh and distract you from the negative in a healthy way. If you aren’t one for making jokes, consider cracking a few.

Know your audience though, there are some people I cannot make MS jokes around because our humor does not overlap.

Find ways to laugh about your illness, but try to keep the self-deprecating humor healthy. You don’t want to feed into negative thoughts or feelings about yourself, you want to make light of them.

Embrace the humor that can surround your illness. You may find that it helps set others at ease, but it’s not your responsibility to make others feel better. Learn what your lines are with your illness and let others know not to cross it. Respect yourself in your humor, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Break down your barriers and turn your negative experience into something positive.

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