Recently, I was standing at the check out line at my not necessarily so friendly local 7-11. I usually giggle at the Hollywood tabloid headlines: ‘Oprah Delivers North America’s First Alien Baby’ or ‘Brad Pitt Is Really a Girl’. But what happens? Nothing. Instead, I cop an attitude; surreptitiously buy 4 jumbo-sized Snickers bars and a family sized bag of Doritos so I can lay into a self-induced carbohydrate coma.
Then worse: I’m watching my favorite rerun of ‘Friends’ – the one where Joey screams and scrams because Monica’s dancing with a frozen turkey on her head. And I don’t laugh. I always laugh when Monica has her head in a frozen turkey. Crap…I laugh if anyone has their head in a turkey. Or I thought I would.
My shrinking sense of humor is the canary in the coalmine – the alarm signaling clinical depression is slithering around me.
I have to get to work. Find humor in something, anything or risk falling into the ‘no laugh, no color, everything tastes like cardboard, not just chicken and who cares anyway’ kind of zone. Because humor is my lifeline to my vitality, to hope, to the idea tomorrow will be better or at least not worse.
Interestingly, it’s the foraging and fighting for my sense of humor that’s the remedy. Not necessarily finding it. Rediscovering my sense of humor is a by-product of my willingness to look for it. Something about looking for ‘the funny’, that act of faith there is some, somewhere, though I can’t sense it, expels bits of cemented depression from within. The rummaging around allows a little light in, and slowly, very slowly, my funny bone moves back into place.
First? Seek out what I call ‘memory or phantom laughs’. Those times when I know normally I’d be giggling but instead, I’m just remembering I would; that ‘if I weren’t so depressed I’d be laughing’ feeling. Bittersweet insights, but helpful ones. Memories of laughing are better than no laughing at all.
Second? Size doesn’t matter. I don’t worry about the BIG guffaws. I’m on the lookout for anything making me remotely smile, just want to smile. What makes the corners of my mouth stir slightly; my cheeks subtly lift?
That’s my body telling me I’m near my funny bone. And bones don’t disappear; they just get weak. The solution? Fortify them, anyway I can.
So I rent my favorite movie: ‘Big’, watch ‘Two and a Half Men’, flip through People magazine’s issue of ‘Worst Dressed Stars in Hollywood’. (How can anybody with that much money, dress badly – don’t they all have stylists?)
When I do this, it doesn’t mean things all of a sudden seem hilarious, but it’s a distinct advantage over curling up on the sofa, listening to weepy Vince Gill songs about a cowboy who looses his woman, job and dog. That’s definitely not a humor ‘honer’.
When I feel inklings of depression or even when I’m deep in its clutches, I set aside time every couple days to give myself a chance not to laugh outright, but to witness things I know are funny to me. Eventually the lighter side gets the better of me. Not right away, not for long, but it’s a start.
Implementing this ‘laugh-able’ strategy doesn’t eradicate depression of course; I’m not that naïve but it can make it more bearable.
Once I’m out of the darkness, I fortify that funny bone with some kind of humor every day. It may sound simplistic. But to this day, my relentless pursuit to find something, even marginally humorous everyday is one of my best coping tools to date. My sense of humor is as valuable to me as the medication I take and the therapy I do to stay well.