Thursday, September 19, 2019

Laugh or Cry, Your Choice

This post was originally written and posted in September 2019, but in so many ways it is still applicable. This has been such a challenging ten months for so many of us since the first wave of the Corona virus brought us COVID 19, and now we're bracing for the second wave. How do we stay positive and upbeat through all the ways it impacts our lives?

It was easier, I think, to deal with the challenges and limitations back in the spring when we thought they were short term.  We were positive. We were strong. We girded our loins and covered our faces and said we would get through this. We had no idea the pandemic would drag on this long and certainly didn't envision celebrating winter holidays without the usual family gatherings. For many of us, Thanksgiving was a bust, and the Winter Solstice Holidays, Christmas for me, aren't shaping up much better.  

So, what do we do? Like I said back in September 2019, we can laugh or we can cry.

I'll do my best to follow the advice I offered back then.

So, this month is all about humor here at the Blood Red Pencil. For those of us who are struggling with health and other personal issues, finding humor can be difficult on some days. Yet, that is what I spent many years doing while raising my five kids. I used to joke that it was either write the humorous columns for a Dallas Suburban newspaper, or check myself into the mental hospital at Terrill, Texas. Five kids, ranging in age from nine to three; the youngest being a set of twins, could challenge the emotional equilibrium of many a woman. (If not you, just keep it to yourself, thank you very much. :-) )

All through our married life my husband and I used humor as a coping mechanism when things became difficult. Not always, but often, because we realized it was easier, and perhaps better, to laugh than to cry. We enjoyed reading humor columns and books, primarily from Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. While I enjoyed both, I was drawn more to Erma. Probably because I truly believe that we women, especially mothers, have a special connection that draws us together – some female hormonal magnet maybe. 😊

I loved Erma’s columns in the newspapers, and her books; especially If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits. I read that so often, I swear I wore the ink off the words, so you can imagine how thrilled and humbled I was to be sometimes called “the Erma Bombeck of Plano.” And I had to stop wearing ratty shorts to go to the grocery store in case someone recognized me. My mugshot ran with the weekly column, so I could no longer wander through the cereal aisle incognito.

The one time that humor wasn’t our friend was when our middle son, Michael, was in the hospital, with what we later found out was a mild occurrence of Guillain Barre Syndrome. Before the full diagnosis came through, the doctor wanted a psych evaluation to rule out some kind of dissociative disorder. Michael was a junior in high school, under a lot of stress, so it was possible that his brain had just checked out, so to speak, and that’s why his legs were not working. There was some logic to that, so we agreed to the consult.

The psychiatrist walked into Michael’s room and saw the bunny slippers, that had been a gift from his girlfriend, and all of the posters tacked up around his room from his theater friends. And then Michael handed the psychiatrist a cartoon that I'd clipped out of the newspaper. It was a joke about seeing a shrink, and we were hoping it would elicit a chuckle and make the moment less serious for Michael. He was already scared enough, and it was primarily the humor that was keeping him afloat.

The psychiatrist didn’t find any of what he saw amusing. He considered it totally inappropriate that Michael was laughing. That Michael was joking around. That our whole family was joking. And definitely not the cartoon. He immediately started a process to have Michael admitted to the psych ward. Luckily, I intervened before the transfer, and we were able to bring our son home. Unfortunately, once the humor balloon had been popped, he lost much of his coping skills, and his recovery took a bit of a downward turn. (By the way, we later had a different psych doctor evaluate Michael, and he came out just fine. And we still laugh about the uptight psychiatrist who had no sense of humor.)

Many of us have a humor balloon that buoys us up when we are about to go deep into that ocean of despair and depression, and now I cling desperately to mine as I deal with the severe head pain left to me from my bout with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. It’s been difficult for me and my kids to find the humor in some of the health challenges that I have. When we do joke and laugh about Mister Ramsay Hunt, that humor takes a real dark side, and there are things said that cannot be published on a family-friendly blog.

But we do laugh, and laughter is the best medicine.

Like so many other writers I know who are struggling with chronic pain and health issues, it has been difficult for me to work at anything close to my previous productivity these past four years. When I have a bit of reprieve from the severe pain, so I can actually focus, I work on projects that don’t require a lot of brain power, which is why any serious writing has taken such a long time to complete. It took three years to finish my latest novel, Evelyn Evolving, which is the only thing I’ve written in the last four years from beginning to end.

Which is why I decided that I should work on other projects that didn't need that kind of  focus. One of those projects involved taking my humor columns and compiling them into a book, A Dead Tomato Plant and A Paycheck. Since I only had to organize previously written material and write transitions, that could be accomplished in small increments of time, and I had great fun revisiting those crazy days of parenting.

We all face different life challenges and have different coping skills. Do you use humor as a primary coping mechanism? Do you believe that “laughter is the best medicine”?

Posted by Maryann Miller  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE


  1. Oh, Maryann, I'm absolutely appalled to hear about the way that "humorless" psychiatrist (mis)treated your son. How traumatizing to have a perfectly valid and safe coping mechanism bulldozed like that!

    1. Thanks, Elle, and thank goodness I've not met a doctor like that since. That experience made me very picky about doctors, and I'm lucky that my current doctors are all great. They listen. They like a good joke. And most of them are open to a hug at the end of a visit. Hugs are up there with humor as being good for you.

  2. I agree with Elle. That was a horrible way for a psychiatrist to act.

    And yes, I do believe laughter is one of the best medicines we have against physical and emotional pain. Erma Bombeck is one of my favorites.

    I'm so sorry you're still suffering from so much pain, Maryann. It makes focus hard and sitting still even harder.

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Pat. Actually, sitting still, especially in a dark quiet place eases the pain in my head. :-)

  3. Humor most definitely can lighten a painfully difficult day. I'm so sorry you're going through hard times, Maryann; age is not our friend when our so-called golden years turn out to be fool's gold. Hang in there, my friend. I love your idea of creating a book from your stash of humor columns. We all need to hear from Plano's Erma Bombeck.

    1. Thanks Linda, while I don't put myself in the same league as Erma, I did get a lot of response from readers of that suburban newspaper. It was always very positive. :-)

      Another thing we of a certain age have a hard time with - besides bodies falling apart like cheap suits - is tooting our own horns. :-)

  4. All I can say is it's a good thing you were able to use humor to get you through those difficult times. I agree with the others about that shrink. It's so important to find the right doctors to meld with different personalities. Good that you found another more fitted to your son's situation and sense of humor. This is a column worth reading. I hope you include it in your book of antidotes.

  5. I think that doctors now are more apt to not be practicing from that belief that they are one step removed from God. Or maybe God himself. LOL Since that book is already written, I won't be able to include this column, but thanks so much for believing it is worth being included.

  6. Sorry for your experience. I am a smartass with an unlimited supply of gallows humor and doctors don't always appreciate that I can crack jokes with level 9 pain. I figure you can laugh or cry and crying just gives me a sinus infection.


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