On Humor

Without humor, I'd be dead.

That's not some dramatic declaration. The people I've loved most and who have brought me through the hardest times in my life have also been among the funniest people I've ever met.

I managed to make it through a horrifying childhood and yet have a part of me that stayed relatively happy, almost blissful at times. Without a doubt, I believe dissociating and being in my own world because of Asperger's contributed. I also believe if it had not been for my best childhood friend, I probably would have checked out a long time ago. In short, he was one of the few people I knew I could count on, not only to make me laugh but to look out for me and care for me.

Tragically, he committed suicide 20 years ago; his family now believes he may have had undiagnosed bipolar. His autopsy revealed he had no serotonin in his blood when he died. Part of the tragedy and irony in that is in the way his humor kept me from despair, while he used it to mask his own suffering.

A few years after my friend died, I saw a man who looked remarkably like him at work. When his job later crossed paths with mine, I would learn that he also had a similar sense of humor.

After I got past my "back from the dead" flipout, I started getting to know him better. One thing led to another, and long story short, we'll be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this summer. He still makes me laugh, and truth be told, that's one of the reasons I'm still here, in addition to his support and compassion. He saw me through one of the lowest points of my life, when my mind began surfacing and releasing many emotions and memories that were previously unsafe to address.

My children have also brought me a lot of laughter. Both are special needs; one is grown and lives with her father, while the other is in his tweens. Raising special needs children can be very challenging, for sure... and it means getting to know and appreciate their unique perspectives and their often-times funny ways of responding to the world.

My daughter once told my husband after a trip to get some ice cream while we were dating that his driving reminded her of the Pizza Planet delivery driver from Toy Story. Another time, she asked me to heat up a sandwich by handing it to me and saying the stove's brand name that she'd read on the front in a questioning tone.

My son has a few more impulse control issues than his sister because of his conditions in particular. This means we get treated to blurted out comments that take a second to register because you wonder if he really said that... and when you realize he did, you end up laughing pretty hard. It also defeats the ability to scold him for being inappropriate or swearing, such as when he said Woody the cowboy was in Card Hell during one of the opening scenes in Toy Story 2.

Humor is a multi-faceted pathway. Some use it to channel anger - look at how many standup comedians make big bucks these days off that venue, who use "shock humor." It certainly is popular, especially with how crazy our world can be today. In essence, that's expressing anger through humor, and when under stress, that can be a good outlet.

We can experience relief when we find something funny in a situation infuriates us. Laughter boosts  "feel good" hormones, such as endorphins, and I have learned being able to laugh at a situation can help change my perspective so I no longer feel stuck. It can create the energy needed to comprise a solution or simply move on and outlive the situation. So, don't feel guilty if you find yourself chuckling in the midst of your frustration. It may help you resolve something that's been bothering you for a while.

We have to be careful in using humor this way, however. The word sarcasm translates from the Greek word sarkazein, which means to tear the flesh or bite the lip in rage. We risk biting others in the lip in our own rage by turning sarcastic remarks into weapons and using humor at another person's expense if we do not use discretion.

As I outlined with my friend's tragic situation, humor can also be a mask to cover up discomfort, despair, or any number of other issues bothering us. Our society has taught us that anger, fear, and sadness are "bad" feelings, something we desperately need to change. I've heard terrible stories about people receiving prescriptions for antidepressants after only grieving the loss of a loved one for a few weeks or months. Many experts state it can take many months, or even years, to process all the stages of grief.

I am not against using medication to treat chemical depression and other mental health conditions when it is necessary; however, why are we pumping medication into people for experiencing the normal? Talk about an extreme case of telling someone to "get over it" so as to please others.

It is no wonder, then, that we feel so much pressure to put on a smile or force a laugh to make others happy. I've struggled with being a people-pleaser much of my life, and while the tendency has worn off as I've gotten older and have continued healing from my past, it still creeps up, especially when I am feeling down or insecure or vulnerable in times of stress. It is these times in which I have to stop myself and examine if how I'm responding to others is to allay their discomfort or my own.

Again, humor can be great to relieve stress and shift perspectives, but if it's not bringing any benefit in the long run, it's time to ask yourself what's going on with the "happy happy, joy joy" act. Be honest with yourself about your feelings.

Source: YouTube

Conversely, we need to be careful about using humor and not inadvertently pressure others to wear a mask. Sometimes we may encounter the temptation to tell a joke for levity when someone is down or frustrated. In some cases, that may be okay; however, if what you get in return is silence, a look as if you have two heads, or the other person quickly excuses themselves, then you've trespassed that person's boundaries. In those cases, it is best to backtrack with an apology and offer empathic support instead. Meet the other person where they need, and not where you would like them to be.

I know that is common sense in a lot of cases, but we are all human and can have our moments of being insensitive. We must be mindful and gauge where the other person is to avoid such painful missteps.

Finally, the most common way we use humor is to bring joy. Sometimes it happens by design. Most of the time, though, that occurs through happy accidents. Life can be hilarious, let's face it. The statement "Children say the darndest things" contains a lot of truth. How often do you share the same story about your own children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc., to as many people who will listen, just because you know it will bring a smile to someone's face? Raise your hand if you find yourself wandering onto social media sites and get lost for an hour (or more) looking at photos and videos of mishaps, cute animals, or even reading snarky comments (super guilty here!).

Life can be just as funny as it can be tragic because we live in a world that isn't perfect. This world can sow tears and joy. In our own state of humanity, we have the ability to use humor to inflict suffering as a tool of malice, or we can bring kindness, light, and hope by using it in the right context by alleviating tension and sharing joy.

Humor is a powerful tool. How will you choose to use it today?

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