A Sense of Humor Is Vital to Living With ALS
Recently, a journalist and author from New York contacted me about a book he’s working on. His theme is the role that humor plays in helping people cope with a wide variety of diseases, disabilities, and physical conditions. He wanted to include my ALS-related experiences, and I gladly agreed to share my perspective.
One of his questions, however, triggered a flood of memories. He asked, “How do you find anything to laugh about when dealing with such a horrible diagnosis?”
“Oh, there’s plenty to laugh at,” I replied. “But for me, just learning to laugh again took time and effort.”
Searching for my funny bone
I spent the weeks following my ALS diagnosis in a dark funk, dragging my emotional knuckles on the floor. At the time, laughing at anything seemed impossible.
From my many years of teaching health and wellness, I knew I was mentally “stuck” and needed to process my grief and loss. Anger, sadness, denial, and self-isolation are natural responses to receiving a diagnosis like ALS. But while I was dealing with my thoughts and feelings, I slowly added in the great emotional equalizer: laughter.
I began by watching funny, old-time videos and movies — Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, even Abbott and Costello. Their simple slapstick humor distracted me from my sad thoughts, and more importantly, gave me permission to laugh.
Then, I took a look around and found that I was surrounded by examples of life’s absurdities.
People, places, and situations
I found humor in anything from automatic push pad door openers that required many pushes to work, to the timer on the door itself that was set to shut before I could push my rollator through. Hotel rooms that were advertised as accessible, but weren’t. The physical therapist’s office where I was issued my ankle-foot othoses (AFOs), which was located at the very end of a long hallway on the top floor of the building.
Interactions with people also made for humorous moments. There was the acquaintance who thought she needed to speak to me very slowly in a loud voice and over-exaggerate her words. Should I tell her my hearing is just fine, or maybe ask if she has a speech problem?
Would you laugh or cry?
Last week, I went to my optometrist for an annual eye exam. Wanting to avoid potential tight-squeeze situations at the office, I opted not to ride my mobility scooter and to use my AFOs and rollator instead.
The full work-up included blurring and dilating eye drops, but I was pleased when the doctor gave my vision a positive report.
The real fun began when it came time to leave. In order to protect my dilated eyes from the bright Arizona sun, the nurse plunked a flimsy plastic shade protector onto my glasses, leaving me peering through a muddy windshield, shuffling along in my AFOs, pushing a rollator, and wearing a mask that muffles my voice — all with blurry vision!
I felt like I was 10 again, back in Iowa, in a full snowsuit tromping through deep snow in a blizzard. Ahead of me, already at our van, my husband hollered over his shoulder, “How ya doing?”
Eyes watering, trying to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk, I muffle-shouted through the layers of my mask, “I can’t see!”
Obviously missing the gist of what I said, he simply said, “OK. Sounds good.”
What would you do? Laugh or cry?
I choose to laugh.
Find the funny and polish your sense of humor. It’s one of the many ways we can learn how to live well while living with ALS.
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.