Hysterical: Humor and Mental Illness

Hysterical: Humor and Mental Illness

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

Erma Bombeck

hu·mor/ˈ(h)yo͞omər/

noun
1.the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.”his tales are full of humor”
2.a mood or state of mind.”her good humor vanished”
verb
comply with the wishes of (someone) in order to keep them content, however unreasonable such wishes might be.”she was always humoring him to prevent trouble”

Wanna hear a joke?

Why did the pony have to gargle?

*imagining all of you looking at me puzzled and ready for the punchline*

Because he was A LITTLE HORSE!!!!!

*cue giant hook to pull me off stage*

close-up photography of brown horse humor

Humor As A Coping Mechanism

Over the years, humor has kept me from tumbling over the edge, no matter how far down the rabbit hole I’d gone. My sense of humor kept me afloat in a sea of mental illness and untreated ADHD. Even in my worst moments, I could always find a laugh with a good friend; sometimes we’d sit around and laugh until tears streamed down our faces and our bellies ached. It is one of the best coping mechanisms that I’ve ever found.

Humor is the ability to express or perceive what is funny and what isn’t. Humor is a source of entertainment and can be an excellent coping skill for when life gets hard and in awkward situations. It can be instrumental in forming friendships, releasing tension during social interaction, and can even make you more attractive to love interests. I find that I often ease other people’s discomfort with my mental illness by cracking a joke; just to let them know I don’t take myself too seriously.

There are many types of humor, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Physical
  • Self-Deprecating
  • Surreal
  • Improvisation
  • Wordplay (think puns)
  • Topical
  • Observational
  • Bodily (think fart jokes)
  • Dark

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It would take me all day to list all the different ways to make people laugh. Aside from humor that hurts people (we’ll talk more about that in a minute), I really enjoy all sorts of humor. My friends tease me because I love a good dad joke and I’m a sucker for a joke from anyone under the age of 10. Alas, there are dozens of different forms of humor.

There are four types of humor that I want to put a focus on today, two considered positive and two that are not. Positive humor is ideal for people who have mental illness and their recovery. That said, I hate to tell anyone what kind of humor is right for them, so I’m not a big fan of the positive and negative labels. Let’s take a look.

  • Self-enhancing: maintaining a humorous outlook on life, even when you’re alone. I love to watch stand-up and comedy specials, as well as reading funny books and watching funning TV shows/movies. I often laugh to myself and, once or twice, have found myself alone, laughing so hard that tears were flowing. This is considered a positive and beneficial form of humor.
  • Affiliate: sharing humor with other people; telling jokes and funny stories. (WARNING: Golden Girls reference ahead!!) My friends often joke with me that I’m like Rose Nylund from the Golden Girls because I always have a “St. Olaf” story. Honestly, it’s the ADHD and empathetic listening. That said, I often try to put a humorous spin on my stories and, if it’s naturally funny, I’ll pull out all the stops to make others laugh. This is the other positive form of humor.
  • Self-defeating: self-disparaging humor; making jokes at your own expense. This is the first negative form of humor on the list. That said, I’m not sure that I agree. I have heard, and mostly agree with, the reasons why self-deprecating humor is bad for us and I fully support the people who no longer want to use it. That said, I use it often and after searching myself I realize that I’m not going to stop using it. I find that it puts people at ease around me, the fact that I can joke about my flaws. Also, I feel protected by my jokes. A stranger calling me crazy doesn’t sting as much if I’ve already picked up the mantel and made it my own.
  • Aggressive: using humor to put down or manipulate others; ridicule, sexist, or racist jokes. This is the other negative form of humor on the list and the one that I disagree with the most. I know there is a market out there for “mean” humor, but I want no part in it. Humor should make people feel good about themselves. Using humor to hurt people seems like such a low form. It’s definitely a no from me.

How Humor Saved Me

two brown and white horses

For me, humor puts things into perspective. At the end of the day, I can laugh about the absurdity of a life lived with mental illness or I can cry about it. Six days out of seven, I’m choosing to laugh. The crying is important too. Don’t forget to let yourself cry. As soon as you get done, though, watch a video of people falling or cats jumping away from cucumbers and make yourself smile again.

Positive humor has known effects on depression and anxiety and can improve symptoms. I remember a particularly intense period that I went through in my 20’s. It was a weird time for me because things in my life were going pretty well, in retrospect. As most 20-somethings, finances were tight and I hated my job, but my friendships were so rich and full. I saw my family often and we weren’t as spread apart and far away from each other. Things were good back then.

Except when they weren’t. Despite all the love that I had in my life back then, my depression was roaring to life, for the second time in my adult life. Sometimes I wonder if those wonderful friendships and my strong bond with my family were the only things that kept me alive. No matter how dire my mental circumstances got, one group (my family) made me loved, accepted, and safe and the other (my friends, an adopted family) made me feel loved, accepted and understood to my core. One thing they both had in common: They made me laugh.

Despite the odds. Despite the darkness that was chipping away at me from the inside, they made me laugh until my belly ached. My silly families. I would be in my room, really close to the edge with suicidal thoughts, and they’d coax me out. Before I knew it, my misery would take a back seat. I would forget that I was in agony and I would be a normal 24-year-old, watching MXC with my friends. Humor brought me back from the edge, over and over. Humor and love.

I also often use humor in a crisis. Maybe not right away, but it is not unusual for me to crack a joke through tears. I was once leaving a bar in tears, probably over a boy, and I stopped in the middle of my fit to take an inappropriate picture with a statue. Every time I see that picture, I marvel at my ability to find humor even when I felt like my heart was breaking. It just makes life a little more bearable to find humor in any situation.

Using humor this way, to cope with a difficult situation is a way of regaining control when you feel helpless. It’s your way of saying, “This sucks and I can feel that, but it’s a little ridiculous too, so I’m going to laugh a little while I feel it.” In a way, humor gives you your power back. “You’ll never take me, depression!”

So Many Benefits

long-coated brown animal

Laughter is a natural muscle relaxer, but it also releases all of the good and happy chemicals in your brain…which people with brain disorders like mental illnesses and ADHD tend to lack in abundance. At the end of the day, it just feels good. Some of the psychological benefits of good humor include:

  • helps to build resiliency during times of stress
  • improves emotional health
  • contributes to the bonds we create with others
  • helps to put things in perspective
  • helps to normalize your experience
  • keeps your existing relationships strong

But laughter isn’t just good for your mind, it’s good for your body too! It stimulates your organs, activates and relieves the stress response, increases circulation and heart rate. It’s a great workout! Good humor can improve the immune system, relieve pain, and increase your satisfaction with yourself and with your life.

These days, my life is much different. My social circle is much smaller. Both of my parents live out of state, completely different states just to make it especially difficult. Most of my friends have moved out of state; we were all transplants here, to begin with. We talk every day thanks to the magic of the internet, but I need to find more local friends. Due to the pandemic, this has proven hard, but I’ve made some meaningful connections that I hope to nurture when things are safer. I hope they’re ready to laugh; I know I am.

I hope that you all found something to laugh about today and I hope that it was much more amusing that my pony joke!

Be sure to subscribe by email so you never miss a post! Also, I’ve been working on my Buy Me A Coffee page. I’ve included different membership levels that include shout-outs, never-before-published writing, and behind-the-scenes action. Plus, you can now book Zoom sessions with me to talk about a plethora of different things. You can also follow me on Twitter and join our private Facebook group The Winter Of My Discontent: ADHD and Mental Illness Community.

Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight! 💜💜

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