It’s Christmas morning and I am up FAR too early, so I thought about responding to the wonderful piece that was published on SoMeDocs by Dr. Dympna Weil (Find the Funny).
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…
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 Click To Tweet
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, called Anxiety Rx – A New Prescription for Anxiety Relief From the Doctor Who Created It), 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”.
“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.”
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. (We did it for you readers! Take a look here)
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)