“I laugh because I must not cry, that is all, that is all. ”
― Abraham Lincoln
Of all the famous quotes that one is rather unexpected. However, I often have said the one coping mechanism I developed to deal with chronic pain long ago was humor. It wasn’t like I didn’t have a sense of humor. It was just that I was a very sarcastic, cynical young person. I think maybe because I was aware of my limitations when I was young and I didn’t like that fact. Nor did I like feeling tired and in pain all the time or how that affected me. It did affect how I viewed the world in general and how I looked at my options in life. How I looked at those options. I took things too seriously. I didn’t let myself laugh at the simple things or act foolishly for the fun of it. And I let the pain be a heavy burden on my shoulders.Which I thought about. I am a very introspective person. I think about a lot of things. Reflect on them deeply. Which is fine. But pain is one of those things that should never be reflected on for significant amounts of time. Not if you also have a melancholy type personality where thoughts begin to turn downhill, twist and turn against you with the pain. I knew I had to break that habitual thought pattern. I had read about it and it said for every negative thought you needed to replace it with three positive ones to retrain your brain. Because your brain is a broken record, it plays what it has been taught. But I wasn’t one for fluffy positive reinforcement. I don’t lie to myself very well. Fluffy positive thoughts are false in all their fluffiness. Pain is a fact. Can’t lie about that. But you can dim the truth a little. Be a little less brutally honest with yourself. I found ways to trick myself about the reality I was in. Any brutally harsh negative thing I said I would then tell myself something more… realistic. The thing about depression isn’t that it lies per se, it is that it is always the darkest scenario of our existence, a shard of our reality that is harsh and brutal, unvarnished and cruel. But it isn’t the whole truth or even realistic. And the reason we have a hard time thinking through it is that there are some very well thought out rational points in it that are very truthful. So it is a mistake to go that way. No, you have to look for the subtle other truths that are less harsh to add in there. Pain and depression are brutal because pain is brutal. Of course, it is. Of course, pain without end is brutal. Of course, reflecting on that is brutal. So I would say well I cannot do this or that, but I can still think… I can still go to class and do very well. I can still achieve my goals. And small things like I may be in pain and moving slowly but it is a beautiful day and I aced that essay.
But beyond everything, the most powerful thing was just letting myself be goofy. Laughing at silly things, dancing in silly ways because I felt like it and it makes people laugh, which makes me laugh. Making jokes about my illness is very common. My horrible memory. My word errors. My lack of balance. And laughter… eased my burden. I could just let myself be it seemed. And eventually, it became part of who I was. Then it became part of my facade because it was better to hide the pain with laughter than to feel it more intensely.
And I knew the day I could not cope anymore precisely. While I have always known laughter has been vital in my coping. And I have always known it has been part of my facade that hides the level of pain I feel. I knew when my level of pain began to exceed my coping when I would be laughing hard at some joke… a good hearty laugh and I would at the very same time feel deep despair and have to choke back tears. I would have to stop laughing because I knew I was close to crying. You see laughter is a powerful emotion and simmering beneath the surface of me, all the time, was the despair from all the uncontrolled pain I could not manage. That I knew intuitively I could not manage. That I was having extreme problems with and doing my damnedest to pretend I could function through; more often than not, failing. But that had been the clearest sign to me before I ever admitted it. Because it is true. I laugh because I must not cry. I laugh because it was how I lifted my spirits. How I masked the pain. How I chose to distract myself from the pain. How I chose to distract others from my pain. And laughter is a very good medicine. Very good for the brain. But I knew it was failing when other emotions wanted to burst out instead.