Tragedy is often absurd. Sadness, too. We all have our ways of dealing with hardship, but one tool has proven more helpful to me than any other. Humour.
An example. Last spring, I had my lung fall flat, taking a chunk of chest lining with it. Blood and oxygen filled my plural cavity, a collision of life’s two essential elements in a place where neither had any right to be. All I could think about was how dang funny it all was.
It was funny that gravity, the very thing that keeps me and you and all of us from being flung off into the enormity of space, was also responsible for causing my body to perform in a way that very well could have killed me dead.
A collapsed lung
It was funny that the woman who shoved a tube into my chest kept walking in and out of my room, flipping her face from a nervous frown to a placating smile, at the door.
It was funny when she transformed into a dozen specialists, who flooded into the room like my blood did into my chest.
It was funny how seriously they took it. I am grateful for their concern, don’t get me wrong. I would not recommend they take a different approach.
It was even more funny, however, that a group of six adults then hoisted me, naked, into the air, while asking me to sign a waiver, which I did, feebly. It was the worse signature of my life.
It was funny to have to use a stock standard ballpoint pen to write my name on two flimsy pieces of paper, with no clipboard for support, scribbling on limp paper that hovered lazily above my exposed navel.
It was funny to be concerned about where my shoes went. They were not even good shoes. They had holes in the heels that let water seep in whenever I so much as looked at wet grass. My lung had a hole too, of course. That’s what landed me in the emergency room in the first place, but that was only a passing concern, comparatively. New shoes are expensive. Besides, I only had the one pair, and I knew I had a second lung (which also collapsed, by the way).
It was funny to ask my surgeon how his day was going, as he tried to explain what was happening to me.
It was funny to try to tell a joke to the anesthesiologist, and extra-funny to fight through the knockout gas to do so.
I woke to nausea and pain, as is to be expected, and then hung around the hospital for a week or so. I did not know it then, but this would be the first of many visits for the year. I will save those stories for another day.
Replacing tears with laughter
The important thing is this: I had been able to find everything funny.
Was it a terrible experience? Yes.
Would I do it again? Unfortunately, it did happen to me again, several times, but no, I would not wish to add another to the tally.
Did laughter help? Unequivocally. I would not be alive today without it.
I have never considered myself to be a happy person, but I have taught myself how to find the humour in the most miserable of places. Living with lifelong anxiety and depression has taught me that relief techniques such as focused breathing are not always enough.
I wish not only for the absence of the negative, but also the energy that comes with the positive, and laughter is not so far a step from tears as you might think. It has been a decades-long practice of mine to not just remove my stress, but to replace it with something I can appreciate.
I know this might sound a bit reductive, so I encourage everyone to apply this in whatever way fits their own circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that this is a solution to problems. Everything should be treated with the weight it requires, and emotions, even the negative ones, still need to be processed. But while doing that, try saying this:
Just because I’m sad, it doesn’t mean that I can’t have some fun.
Sometimes the humour can only be found in retrospect, or not at all, but that’s OK! I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not, but it has been worthwhile for me, and is simple enough to start.
In moments of stress, try to remind yourself to look around to see what doesn’t belong. There might just be something there, waiting for you to notice and laugh at it.
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