I learned this skill out of necessity. One night, near Thanksgiving ’11 (relatively early in my recovery), I thought I was ready to read some of Tanpo’s old emails so I started in on one that had flickered across the iPad’s screen. It detailed the visit of DnA to RIO (when I refused to eat anything in front of them bc, “I don’t want anyone to see me like this,”) and at the end Dad wrote how A asked if I had any prayer requests. “Courage and stamina,” I replied.
When I read those two words I burst into tears. I had forgotten that part of the visit but hearing my own concerns reminded me just how scared and tired I had been.
Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, I told Mommy, who had come over. I wiped my tears and then said, I know what to do – I need to look at my babies. And I immediately touched the “Photos” button and laughed at the pictures I saw there. The one that cracked me up the most is above.
Since then, I’ve employed the same strategy often. I know my nieces and nephews make me laugh so I keep a catalog of stories in my head to bring out when I need to focus my attention on something cheerful. The catalog has expanded to include the antics of my friends’ children and other random kids I meet (e.g. “Pirate!”).
Laughing when I feel like crying is another reason I keep Ed around. He does not like crybabies, but sometimes he feels kind of sad himself since he’s a widower and he misses his dearly departed wife. His cooking was actually an outgrowth of his grief and I threatened to send him to food rehab. Ed has since toned the cooking down a bit, and what he does cook I enjoy in my fictional epicurean adventures.
So here’s a summary of how to laugh when you really feel like crying:
1) Don’t look back.
Uncle KC gave me this pointer. He and Aunty M have been friends of our family forever and he had a stroke several years ago. When I saw him for the first time post-AVM I was pleased to find that he immediately understood what I was saying when I was explaining my attempts to walk and how I’d be stepping but my left leg would be “back there” (pointing behind me). I forgot until a couple of weeks ago that I had seen Uncle KC and Aunty M very soon before my bleed – I had just come home from Africa and they stopped by for a visit. The contrast in my situation then and now is a little heartbreaking, but I think the advice to not look back is good. It’s okay to remember, of course, but there’s no need to relive the horror of days gone by. E.g. sometimes I still get anxious when I see a public bathroom stall since that was the last thing I saw before I got sick. I try not to turn the scene over and over in my mind. It occurred to me that the Ladies’ Room at work was the beginning of a lot of Divine intervention in my life – starting with the ladies who helped me.
2) Keep a mental list of funnies.
For me, this means keeping pictures of “my children” handy – on electronic devices or hard copies scattered throughout the house. I also keep the stories about them that make me laugh at the top of my mind so fishing them out is easy. No wonder I remember funny things about kids that their parents have no recollection of.
3) Assume responsibility for changing the subject.
If I have a sad moment, Mommy will often chat with me and then when I’m trying to cheer myself up I’ll either ask her to tell me a favorite story or I’ll bring up Ed. Talking about Ed (e.g. Ed is allergic to marshmallows, Ed is hosting a disco party tonight and you’re invited) makes me laugh and will make Mommy laugh, too, because of its sheer ridiculousness. Practicing the art of deflection (by changing the subject), and making someone laugh is very empowering. I didn’t decide to get sick, but I can decide when and how I’m going to talk about it. And PS I am still amusing. (Or maybe Mommy is just a very obliging audience. I don’t talk about Ed as much with Tanpo since the fact that Ed is my Recovery Buddy is still a little “out there” for him.)
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