I didn’t know I had lost it. Or that I needed it so badly.
But as the season of COVID went into its second year I discovered that I was missing something other than just social gatherings and travel. There was an element of fun and laughter that had been misplaced.
The last few years have not been fun – and I think most would agree when we look back upon 2020 and 2021 in particular. The pandemic continued. Changed social interactions and work/school environments had challenges. The longer it went on, the more it became harder to use humor to manage the ongoing stress. I just couldn’t muster the energy.
Added to the worldly challenges we faced, my mom passed away from stage four esophageal cancer in 2021. And since the Fall of 2020 I have been out of my clinical work due to vestibular migraines and an esoteric condition called persistent postural-perceptual dizziness, or 3PD, which leaves me with headaches, dizziness and disequilibrium.
In a nutshell: not fun.
While navigating the tidal wave of change I have been fortunate to have lots of support – both from my family & friends, from my vestibular cognitive behavioral therapist (yes, there is such a thing!), and also, from my own physician life coach.
But being an OBGYN physician and delivering babies has been my identity for the better part of my adult life.
So when these neurological conditions arose and that identity was challenged – while in the midst of a world-wide pandemic no less – well, my very human brain had a lot of thoughts about it. And I had lots of emotions as well.
I could not control these circumstances. They just were. But, the way I was thinking about these new life circumstances was NOT making me happy or joyous – rather, the thoughts I was having filled me with fear, despair, and utter sadness.
On the one hand, I was grateful it was nothing more serious (the lesion on my head MRI was benign and not likely related to my symptoms) – and I finally found my medical team which was going to get me well.
On the other hand, my world as I knew it had changed so dramatically overnight that I was not finding anything – or anyone – fun, funny or light. Not by a long shot.
My world as I knew it had changed so dramatically overnight that I was not finding anything - or anyone - fun, funny or light. Not by a long shot. Click To Tweet
And that is saying a lot, because my husband is probably one of the funniest humans on the planet. Without trying. I was not depressed; but humor and laughter did not come as easily like they once did amidst all the ick of that time. There was an air of seriousness that was pervasive.
So if I did not want to feel like a victim of these circumstances anymore, what could I do? How could I look at this differently?
My human brain is with me all the time. And because I can have upwards of 70,000 thoughts per day – give or take – I wanted to optimize them so that they were working in my favor. Helping me out. Control the things I could control.
Recognize and remember I do have some choice and agency amongst the external chaos.
My coach challenged me to come up with 3 simple things I could do each day – just for me – before I put my head on the pillow each night.
Whittle them down to mantra-like statements. A self-care baby step.
At that point, I struggled to come up with one.
I contemplated and then arrived at just one.
What did I choose, you ask?
“Find the Funny.” She looked at me – and I’m not sure she thought I was serious. She asked me to explain.
I wanted to find something every day to make me laugh or smile amidst the absurdity of my current circumstances.
Because it made me feel good.
It made me feel more like myself.
It helped me be right there in that very moment.
Simple. That was it.
But it wasn’t necessarily easy and I didn’t always want to do it.
But it was my minimum baseline for my day.
So that was my homework: Find the Funny.
And what I found was SO interesting.
I resisted it at first. My brain offered up lots of reasons why I shouldn’t find things funny. Why things were so serious that I just should not be laughing, I should be serious. Hmmmm….Really?
Was that true?
My husband and daughter are absolutely hysterical – and I even initially resisted giving in to the humor of their ridiculousness.
But eventually, my mirror neurons could not resist the urge to conform – and together we were giggling at some silliness.
Initially, I had to consciously allow myself to be free to laugh when they said or did things that were funny, rather than choosing to view them as irritating or annoying.
That’s right, it was a choice I was making.
And when I chose to allow the funny, to embrace it, it felt WONDERFUL.
And soon, the funny became easier to find. It became easier to feel. It became easier to allow.
There were days, especially when I started the exercise, when the funny was not readily available. I could NOT find it, conjure it, will it to be – no matter what I tried.
So I found Dan Levy & the crew on Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso, and I Found the Funny there on my TV, grateful for the opportunity to smile and laugh out loud. Serotonin. Dopamine. All the neurotransmitters working their magic.
Turns out when I started to Find the Funny, I noticed my mood lightened, softened…
Soon I found my brain looking for the funny each day, excited to find it in places big and small. My shoulders relaxed. I smiled more. Deep exhalations then followed.
And each week, I also found that I was giddy recounting how I found the funny and shared the highlights with my coach. Even after the fact, I found the funny even funnier.
The unexpected delight was how it became a family habit, so my daughter and husband also now look to “Find the Funny”, my daughter delighting in my dry sense of humor that cracks her up.
Finding the funny doesn’t mean poking fun or minimizing the suffering of very real pains we experience in the world. It doesn’t mean masking our pain or putting on a happy face. No toxic positivity.
Finding the Funny is a way of retraining our brains to delight in the joy and laughter of the little quirky things in life all the way to the full on, fall-to-the-ground-in-tears-laughing, hysterical things we do that we can view with perspective and some distance.
When we give ourselves permission to be human. And we delight in our humanity.
It helps us to remind ourselves to delight in ALL of the emotions we have the privilege of experiencing. And that it is OK to find the funny even when it may seem lost or a bit harder to find.
There are data to support that laughter really is good medicine because it can help: muscle relaxation, improve mood, boost immunity, and increase resilience. It improves an overall sense of well-being.
And here are a couple of links in case you are curious:
Finding the funny has elevated the quality of my life, from the tiniest giggle to the heartiest guffaw.
So, as we are in the holiday season, I offer the “FIND THE FUNNY” challenge to you.
Allow yourself to find the humor in the ordinary things, the absurdities. Give yourself permission.
When it seems to be a stretch, let the humor professionals help and watch some funny on TV (Ted Lasso, anyone?)
However you get your mirthful laughter on, I invite you to give it a try.
Find Your Funny. Daily.
No Rx required.
It’s Christmas morning and I am up FAR too early, so I thought about responding to this wonderful piece by Dr Dympna.
So i did.
As a physician and neuroscientist that specializes in anxiety issues, (I won’t call them disorders) I can say that humor changed the momentum of my life and the vast majority of my patients’..For 15 years I was doctor by day in an urgent care clinic in Vancouver and stand up comedian in comedy clubs by night, touring with the Yuk Yuks Comedy Chain here in Canada.
But more on that in a minute…
We humans were all born with an evolutionary fear bias, and one of the tenets of neuroscience is “Whatever you focus on (consciously or unconsciously) you will get more of”. As a result, it does not take long for that bias towards fear to keep us trapped in the “dark side” when one is faced with medical school, residency, and the seemingly endless stresses of running a medical practice. In contrast, we are also born with the ability to laugh, but as Dr Dympna points out, we should probably lean on humor and laughter much more than we do.
I myself didn’t laugh enough when I was a full time doc (unless I had a few drinks in me, but that’s another issue) and I struggled with crippling anxiety for most of my life. Recovering from anxiety and writing about it has been my life’s work. Frankly I don’t know how anyone living in our current world in our current role as doctors could NOT be anxious.
“It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” -Krishnamurti
Nobody is up yet, so I’ll go on…. Through no fault of his own and much of his own childhood trauma, my father acquired an extremely confusing combination of bipolar illness and schizophrenia. There were many times in my young life I didn’t know if my dad was very happy, very sad or Just Plain Nuts.(“JPN types A and B” are now listed in DSM 5) My mother was a very dutiful and organized Scottish registered nurse who came to Canada in 1958 with the gift of a brilliant sense of British humor, measured in equal parts with the neuroticism and anxiety of being raised in a family of 5 kids with very little affection and compassion for each other. I know this wasn’t unlike many British families, you know, stiff upper lip, you’ll do, no time for feeling sorry for yourself, carry on and get on with it Sergeant Major and all that…
So my father was psychotic and my mother was neurotic, so my own psyche didn’t stand much of a chance, and of course my destiny would be to become a physician.
Psychosis+Neurosis+Desire to avoid helplessness = MD
I won’t make this a book (I already wrote one of those), but when I was burning out of medicine many years ago in 2000, I was looking for a way to balance the pain of endless family practice, with something… ANYTHING. I had a good friend named Brad Muise who was a drug rep and brilliant stand up comic who would often MC shows at my local downtown comedy club in Victoria BC (Canada) called the COMEDY CELLAR. As for my own “stand up” experiences, I would often be the host of my local Pharma sponsored events for my fellow docs like Golf tournaments and “Drug Dinners” (back when this was not punishable by death) and my job would be to entertain the medical staff on the front lines. After a decent performance as MC at our yearly Physician’s Golf extravaganza, Brad said I should come down to the club to do a “spot”.
The next Saturday night, after 7 shots of Cuervo I got up and did a 10 minute set (I was only supposed to have 5, and I learned it’s a cardinal sin to go over your allotted time. If you look at the back wall of any comedy club you will see a red light bulb in clear view of the stage. When you “Get the light” it means “get off the stage”… If the light is flashing* it means “get the f off the stage”!. My first night went really well, so I got invited back very week for over a year, and once I got a solid 30 minutes I moved to Vancouver to pursue stand up more full time. Doctor by day, stand up by night was my life for more than 10 years as a comic based out of Vancouver.
Bottom line: I was hooked on stand up and I did sets 3-5 times a week for almost 15 years. Comedy, writing it, hanging with comedians (I hosted or was on shows in Vancouver with Robin Williams (many times) , Dane Cook, and Brent Butt) and looking for humor in my own life became a way of life, and it’s made a massive difference in my general outlook to (internally) make fun of serious stuff. (If you search Youtube for “A doctor does stand up comedy” you can see a short clip of a set I did late in 2018 at YukYuks Vancouver, I am a little out of my rhythm and practice, but the jokes are still good)
Laughter is a profoundly Parasympathetic action and has a brilliant way of offsetting the often overwhelming hyperactivity of the Sympathetic Nervous System that goes along with being a busy MD… So because whatever you focus on grows, humor is a great way of bringing you back into a more parasympathetic tone to your nervous system in general.
Oh! The gang is getting up now, so I’ll sign off and say Merry Christmas to all of us SOMEDOCS, I hope you have lots of laughs because LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE
……unless you have Chlamydia and then Doxycycline is the best medicine by a long shot, laughing will just make it hurt so much more when you pee)