Sunday, September 19, 2010

As a Matter of Fact it is a Laughing Matter

Recently I got an email from a dear old-new friend. In it, she told me about all the life challenges she’s currently facing. It was a long list of serious problems, so long in fact, it would have been more than understandable if most days, she stayed in bed with the covers pulled over her head.

But she doesn’t. Instead, she gets up every day and goes to work in a human service organization where she strives to improve the quality of people’s lives. Her email was honest and painful and poignant and funny. She commented on the latter noting “Well at least I still have my sense of humor.”

I would venture to say that her gift for laughter plays an important role in her ability to get up every day and make the world a better place. This realization confirmed what I had already felt . My friend and I resonate on the same frequency.

Those of you who know me, know that laughter is a key component of my strategy for dealing with the too often unavoidable painful realities in life. In a motivational speech I give entitled “Building a Life You Like Even When It’s Not the One You Wanted”, I talk about the importance of humor.

If you’ve ever taken Psychology 101 you may remember that there are a number of Schools Of Thought within psychology, Psychoanalytical, Behavioral and Cognitive, to name a few. Each provides a framework through which we are suppose to see our world, our fellow humans and ourselves.

In the past 15 post brain injury years, I’ve developed my own School of Thought. I’ve kept it simple; I do have a brain injury ya know. :) I call mine the Bumper Sticker Approach to Life. One of the cornerstones of my framework, one of my favorite bumper stickers is Find the Funny.

Finding the humorous anicdote in life's most embarrasing moments can completely eliminate their ability to shame us.

I have to confess that when it comes to this particular principle of my philosophy, I have a distinct tactical advantage. First, I come from a long line of Irish story tellers who have refined sarcasm to an art form, so I have both nature and nurture on my side. Plus, when you have a brain injury and when everywhere you go you bring a large dog, (and I do mean everywhere), if you are looking the “right” way, funny stuff happens to you all the time.

For example, there was the time at the grocery when an older woman in a very, very short skirt was choosing apples to buy. As Stone and I walked past, she leaned in, reaching for the apples in the back of the bin and my sweet, innocent, brilliant, well trained, impeccably behaved service dog stuck his snoot right up her skirt

She was not amused. Clearly, the rest of us sure were.

Public restrooms are a routine source of laughter for me. There’s nothing quite like the reaction of a woman who’s using the restroom when a large dog snoot suddenly appears poking in from the stall next to hers. Heck, he’s just trying to be friendly.

The deficits form my brain injury are often a great source of amusement for me. Frequently, I have “word finding” problems. Sometimes I draw a blank and stumble and stutter ‘till the word I’m seeking finally comes to mind. But sometimes, while I’m talking, without my even realizing my brain couldn’t come up with the word I intended to say, the completely wrong word comes out of my mouth. Often, I don’t notice I’ve said the wrong word, no matter how non-sensical my sentence has become because of it.

This vocabulary mix-up is a very common symptom for people with brain injuries. When it happens to me, most of the time, the word that comes out of my mouth sounds similar to the word I meant to say, even when their meanings aren’t remotely the same. So, for example, if I meant to say “hat” I might instead say “bat”, then I’d just go right on talking without noticing my mistake. As you might imagine, this deficit can lead to some pretty entertaining conversations.

There was the time a few years ago when I was talking with a small group of acquaintances about the advice an Arborist had given us to ensure our old growth trees survived the summer of draught. It’s important to note here that these were only acquaintances, not friends. By now, many of my friends are quite used to helping me find the funny in my vocabulary mistakes. I was talking for probably several minutes about what the tree specialist had told us, when it occurred to me that no one else was participating in the conversation. I looked around and saw that every single one of them stood in stunned silence looking at me, jaws hanging open. One woman had gone quite pale. A brave gentleman cleared his throat uncomfortably and then asked “You had an abortionist come to your house to look at your trees?”


Reading is often another source of amusement at my house. Since my injury, when I’m reading, my eyes and brain are often out of synch. My eyes move faster than my brain can read. To compensate, my brain will often read the first part of a word and in it’s struggle to keep pace with my eyes, it then makes an educated guess about what the rest of the word is. Basically, without my even being aware, my brain simply makes stuff up. Typically, when I get to the end of the paragraph I realize something does not compute. As I write this, I’m suddenly seeing visions of Lucy and Ethel trying to keep pace with the assembly line conveyer belt at the candy factory. In either case, laughter ensues.

Just last week I was reading an email from a Rehabilitation on-line discussion group/ list-serve to which I subscribe. Rehab. Psychologists use the group to seek advice and share resources and expertise. A group member sent an email requesting recommendations for treatment strategies when working with a client with Capgras Syndrome, a serious and rare disorder in which an individual believes his spouse has been replaced by an identical imposter. I read the opening sentence of the email and this time it took me only seconds to realize something definitely did not compute. I stopped mid sentence and asked myself out loud “When on earth did Crap-Gas become a psychiatric disorder?”

When I realized my mistake I have to admit I wished there were a 12 year old boy in the house who would fully appreciate the humor.

But, my all time favorite opportunity to find the funny, occurred a few years ago at a health club. I was recovering from a stress fracture in my leg. (It turns out if your brain doesn’t have complete control over one of your legs, jogging isn’t a good idea. Who knew?) I decided swimming would be great exercise while I was recuperating. Since my brain injury, I hadn’t been in a pool except with a Physical Therapist and I hadn’t even done that since the first two years after my accident. Even with a Therapist by my side, the experience was… well… let’s just say challenging.

As Stone and I rode the bus to the health club, I began to get nervous, wondering if perhaps this time my eyes really were too big for my stomach, figuratively speaking of course. I assured myself I would be fine, after all the pool had a lifeguard. The battle between my nervous self and my I can do this self lasted the entire ride. In the end, the knowledge a lifeguard would be there if I had a problem, convinced me to ignore my nervous inner voice who wanted to delay my swimming debut until someone could go with me to the pool.

Naturally, when I got to the pool the first thing I looked for was the lifeguard. He was there all right, but not only did he look as if he were nearly 70 years old, he was asleep. I was, shall we say, somewhat discombobulated.

I was so stunned in fact, I didn’t notice the sign outside the locker room door I entered. I wish I had, because it said “Men’s ”. (Yes, as a matter of fact, the word “Oops” is a regular part of my daily life.) I walked in past the unnoticed sign, turned the corner and right in front of my eyes was an 82 year old gentleman sitting naked in the hot tub. We were both surprised.

I mumbled a hurried apology and quickly made my escape. Can you imagine the conversation that poor man had when he got home? “You’re telling me a woman and a dog walked in on you when you were naked in the locker room. Henry, you promised you’d stop drinking during the day.”

Yes, my life is rich with opportunities to find the funny, happily so.

And so, my dear friend who’s email inspired this entry, my wish for you is that you continue to laugh when you can and cry when you have to. Please know, I will be right here handing you virtual Kleenex whether your tears are from laughter or pain.


  1. The morning after I posted this entry, I got a reply from my friend Debbie to an email I'd sent her about a puppet show I was hoping we could take her daughter to. While reading her response I glanced down at the email I'd sent her. I had intended to write "The pupeteer is my niece Ryan's husband." Instead I had written, "The puppeteet is my niece Ryan's birthday."


  2. Thanks for putting things in perspective and helping us all to laugh Tina! I think the only thing that's more amazing than the fact that you've kept your incredible sense of humor is that you've managed to find a service dog with an even better sense of humor ;)