This post originally appeared on Damsel in a Dress.
I’m Ardra and I write Tripping on Air, a lippy blog about my life with multiple sclerosis (MS). People tell me it’s funny and I believe them because I’m an egomaniac. Lisa asked me to write a guest post about why I write with humour, about something so effing awful.
Lisa is lazy or she just had surgery or whatever, because she already knows the answer – she writes with humour too and is funny af. I did not have surgery, but I am also lazy, so lucky for me the answer to her question is easy. Mostly because I stole it from the late, and brilliant, personal-calamity writer, Nora Ephron.
“When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.”
Replace “slip on a banana peel” with “pee your pants at the mall” and this pretty much sums up why I write about my life. I control the version. You can’t whisper behind my back about the tragedy that is my life because I’ve decided it’s a rom-com instead. Before I started blogging it felt like everyone had a different version of what it’s like to be me. But I own the rights to my stories, and I want to tell them in my own words. It just so happens that a lot of those words are swear words. I didn’t set out to write a ‘funny’ blog. Humour is just how I tell stories.
When it comes to comedy, science is on my side. Turns out, using jokes to deal with terrible shit is good for you. And while your actual medicine is probably the best medicine, if you have a chronic illness like MS, you already know your medicine is kind of bullshit or you wouldn’t still be sick. The good news is laughter does have some serious health benefits. Some smarty-pants people at Johns Hopkins say laughter can help with things like sleep and memory; it can improve your immune system, relieve pain, curb stress, and help with depression and anxiety. If laughter were an actual drug, we’d be buying it in a back alley from a shady dude named Cheeseburger.
This is near the top of my list because, as I mentioned, lazy. According to science, laughter stimulates organs like your heart and lungs. It can increase circulation and muscle relaxation. It’s like exercise without having to get sweaty. Or put on a bra. Sign me up.
Listening to anyone talk about illness is probably not the way you wanna spend your Friday night. Or any night. It can be sobering. It can be depressing. It can be boring. Laughter is like a
shot of vodka spoonful of sugar to make the difficult information go down. If you can make the darkest message funny, it’s less of a buzz-kill and easier to hear.
Why should I care how you feel when I’m the one with the terrible fucking disease? Well, if you’re sad I’m sad, and if you’re scared I’m scared. Humour is a way to comfort others and let them know I’m okay (and not terrifying to be around). Sometimes it’s in convincing others that I convince myself. Being funny is kind of a survival strategy.
Humour can diffuse an awkward situation. It provides a tension release that says “Oh, thank God. I don’t have to be sad anymore, because the sick girl said I could laugh”. For the one cracking the jokes, comedy can help reinterpret a situation in a way that’s more bearable.
Disease, illness, disability, whatever – it’s all normal. But we don’t treat it that way. People get weird around disease. Be weird on your own time, because when you feel those things around me, I feel them reflected back. And it sucks. Humour can help normalize things, even humanize things, remind you I’m still the same. What’s more, comedy can break taboos, and challenge society’s messed-up ideas about who and what people with illness are.
You could have been executed for telling a joke against the Nazi regime, that’s how much bad guys are threatened by humour. Satire and jokes have always been a form of resistance. Even if MS is technically in charge, making fun of the enemy is a weapon that can make me feel superior, give me a sense of ownership over a situation that was imposed upon me. MS is the evil dictator that needs to be taken down a peg. I’m better than you, MS. You can take my legs but you can’t break me. I will not be compelled to suffer. You’re not the boss of me. And so on.
Laughter forces us to live in the present, and grounds us in a positive moment without having to, like, actually meditate. At its most powerful, laughter is a shared experience that strengthens connections. We like people who make us giggle, and who guffaw at our jokes. It’s like saying “I get you. I know where you’re coming from.” It’s validating.
Like all good drugs, even laughter comes with scary side effects like headaches and hiccups. Additionally, laughter can actually make you pee your pants, and in rare cases – I kid you not – laughter can provoke a fatal reaction. You could literally die laughing. Ever been tickled? You could suffer an abdominal hernia, or inhale foreign bodies and choke to death. And that’s not funny. Or is it?
I can’t tell you to go be funny and all your problems will go away. To be honest, I don’t actually think my disease is funny at all. And not all of my blog posts are funny either; in fact, I’m sure there are some who think none of them are. (They’re wrong.) I spend the overwhelming majority of my time feeling frustrated, sad, or pissed about what’s happening to my body. I scream and cry as much as the next person. It’s exhausting. Finding the literally sick joke in a serious situation is a way to escape those negative feelings. It’s cathartic, it’s healing. If you haven’t already, you should try it.