Laughter as Medicine: How Humor Helps With a Chronic ConditionAuthor: Lissy Anger Date: May 13, 2020
Lissy Anger was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 7. She shares her journey in the hope of helping others to find support and a little humor as they work to with their doctors to find the right therapy.
With a chronic condition, it’s easy to get buried in the seriousness of it all. Managing medications, appointments, and doctors can be overwhelming — this stress could even make your condition worse. Most of the time it’s no laughing matter; however, I’m here to tell you that sometimes laughter is the best medication.
When I was 7, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called ulcerative colitis (UC), and it has influenced almost every aspect of my life — from big life decisions like picking a career path that would provide health insurance, to everyday things like ensuring there’s a restroom nearby when I go out with friends. While this sounds intense, it’s the life I know — and there’s no way I would have gotten through it without having a sense of humor.
Humor Takes Down Barriers
Explaining UC to new people who enter my life can be difficult, not to mention uncomfortable, embarrassing... and a little... gross. Nothing is worse than having to explain that my restricted diet helps me manage the bouts of uncontrollable diarrhea and stomach pain my condition can cause. People react with shock, sympathy, and sometimes disgust — but, when you explain it with a sense of humor, and are able to laugh at your condition and yourself, it takes away the barrier and the labels. It helps people see you as someone who is a person, and not someone who is sick or someone who can’t eat popcorn at the movies. I enjoy being able to make others laugh and feel comfortable. When you’re comfortable, it makes others comfortable.
Know Your Audience
Humor can make people feel more comfortable, but too many details can make someone squeamish. By the time you’re ready to share this kind of personal information, you’ll feel comfortable with that person already, but even so, it’s important to know your audience. Not everyone will appreciate my story about flying a “special (stool) sample” across the country for testing in a FedEx box as the waiter brings a gooey lava cake to the table.
If you know your audience will appreciate your humor, though, it can make you more relatable. When visiting doctors and nurses, I’ve found humor actually helps. I don’t downplay the severity of my symptoms, but I’m able to joke about them. Some doctors actually end up spending a bit more time with me and have a kinder attitude with me. If you can make them laugh a little, it can go a long way. Our nurses and doctors are surrounded by seriousness, sickness, and illness all day — it doesn’t hurt to make them smile and laugh. It helps take the edge off for me, too.
Check in With Yourself
I know myself, and sometimes I get bogged down by the frustration and heaviness of it all. I’m fortunate to have family and friends who understand and can help pick me up whenever I get down by making things a little lighter. My family has been through every part of this disease with me, from that trial medication that gave me facial hair to the Prometheus stool samples that I had to collect in a disposable pie tin. If you don’t laugh, you cry.
Even though going through this as a kid was horrible, my family helped me to have a sense of humor about it and now I can embrace adulthood with frank talk of poop. There’s nothing better than finding a way to laugh, even though moments ago you thought you were at your worst.
Without being able to laugh at myself and laugh with others about the things I am stuck doing for this illness, I’m not really sure how I would have gotten through it. I’m not saying to not take your condition seriously or to treat it as a joke; just try to keep it light — for you, for your health, and for your sanity. It's just easier to get through when you laugh a little — and let’s face it, at the end of the day, my disease deals a lot with poop. So, I choose to embrace it.