Three seconds after receiving my official diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), my involuntary defense mechanism kicked in.
I have MS? Well, how bad can it be, Doc? They named a state after it, didn't they?
The neurologist didn't quite understand or appreciate my joke that day. But frankly, it wasn't meant for him—it was meant for me. Humor can be a powerful coping tool.
It was a skill I learned to use in elementary school. It kept me out of schoolyard brawls and allowed me to make friends easily. It also helped the teachers give me a second chance instead of a trip to the principal's office (not that there were any shortage of those).
It wasn't until my marriage had fallen apart and I began a 10-year custody fiasco that I really learned the power of being able to laugh when times are really tough. Hearty laughter, having a good cry, and the therapy of getting out for a few hours kept me sane—and probably saved my life. There is truly something special or magical about laughing. The harder you laugh, the sooner you stop thinking about the pain.
The day I was diagnosed with MS, I was relieved. I found out I was not going insane, and I had a name for what was happening to me. I also knew I had already survived quite an ordeal in my life fighting for my kids, so I knew I would be able to deal with this as well, as long as I could find something to laugh about. It is not always easy, but I try to find something funny to say or do, and laugh every single day.
Using humor in my daily life helps relieve tension, stress, frustration, anger, and fear, and it even takes my mind off some of my MS symptoms. If I am tired and my leg starts to drag a bit or buckle under, I find something goofy to explain it.
"Wow, did you feel the earth move just then?"
When the stumble is actually my inability to create a fluid sentence or find the right word, I try to replace it with something ridiculous. It sure beats the dreaded silence. After the laugh, I usually can retrieve whatever word I was looking for, or I just pull out my favorite excuse: "I actually have a doctor's note."
Are you tired of people staring or asking what is wrong with your weak leg or arm? Make up an incredible silly story that can't possibly be true. Instead of being reminded of the pain and limitations caused by your latest relapse, or permanent MS symptoms, maybe the look of bewilderment on their face will give you a laugh and a chuckle, and allow you to leave the conversation with a big fat smile.
Try it! It sure beats the alternative for me, every single time.
However (and take this from someone who has some experience), when you go to see your neurologist for a checkup or to ask about a new symptom, do not say, " I was struck by lightning while standing on my head on the wing of a biplane in France." In fact, I would strongly urge you to use humor sparingly and always tell your doctor the truth.
Making light of your disease or cracking jokes is not for everybody, I understand that. The good news is there are professionals out there. Lots of them. I strongly suggest getting out to see a live comedy show or renting a very silly movie, especially when you are feeling blue, or when the disease is taking its toll. Do not stifle the urge to giggle, laugh, or even howl. When your face hurts from smiling, your shirt’s damp from spilling your drink, and your eyes are glistening from happy tears, you will have received a decent dose of treatment. Refill as needed.
When you are busy laughing, you'll forget for little while that you even have MS.