Make 'Em Laugh
Comedy has always been an integral part of my life. From the early days of staying up late to watch "Saturday Night Live" with my dad to high school nights spent doing weird bits with my best friends, I’ve always leaned toward the more sarcastic side of life.
Sometimes jokes are just for fun, but they’ve also always been a great coping mechanism for me. Some people might call it a crutch, but those people are just well-adjusted assholes who can’t be trusted. Whether it was a fight with a friend or my parent’s divorce, joking about it has always made the bad stuff feel a little bit more manageable. If you can take something that hurts you and use it to make other people laugh, you’re turning it into something kind of beautiful.
When it comes to chronic illness, arming myself with a good sense of humor has been the greatest tool in my arsenal. Don’t get me wrong–– I have bad days where I just want to sit and wallow about how shitty things might be at that particular moment, no jokes allowed. And conversely, there are people who deal with their illness with unending positivity about silver linings and how things could be worse. But on most days, I opt for a different approach: making a joke out of the seriousness. And with Crohn’s, it’s easy to do–– doctors have literally stuck a camera up my butt on multiple occasions. If that doesn’t lend itself to comedy, I don’t know what does.
Disclaimer: this approach probably isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, joking about a serious illness can offend, which is totally fair. But there’s a really great quote from the movie “Garden State” said by Natalie Portman’s character, who suffers from epilepsy, and it’s always stuck with me:
“What do you do? You laugh. I’m not saying I don’t cry but in between I laugh and I realize how silly it is to take anything too seriously.”
I’ve always tried to take this same approach. Let yourself feel your feelings–– if what you need that day is a good cry, do it. It feels great sometimes. But if you feel the need to make light of something heavy, lean into that feeling. It can be really cathartic.
I have been blessed with a group of wonderful weirdos that I have called my best friends since about the age of ten. Nothing is really off limits for us to joke about, which has made my Crohn’s experience so much lighter and easier to handle. I don’t have to worry about burdening them, or grossing them out because they’re the first ones to crack a joke about my messed up colon. During this most recent flare, one of my best friends sent me toilet paper with Donald Trump’s face on it. Best “get well soon” gift ever.
Being able to joke around with the people you love makes talking about your symptoms a lot less alienating. That’s why it’s important to set the tone with the people in your life. It’s hard to know what to say when someone tells you about their medical problems. Do you say you’re sorry? Do you say it’ll get better? Do you ask questions, or respect their privacy? It honestly all depends on the person, so it’s up to us (the sick persons involved) to lead the way. I like answering questions about my disease because it raises awareness, and I like joking about it because it helps me and others cope. So I always try to set that tone early, so people know it’s okay to ask, and that it’s okay to joke.
So when you see me making light of something like hand tremors or painsomnia, I promise I’m not just being a terrible human being, or feeling sorry for myself. I’m trying to come to terms with some no-fun stuff by making it fun in any way I can. I’m not looking for pity, or a reassuring platitude about how it gets better. I’m just looking for some understanding, and maybe some more friends who can get down with a poop joke.