Depression: No Laughing Matter - Or Is It?

Standing at the check out line at my ever so friendly local 7-11, where I normally stop and giggle at the Hollywood tabloid headlines: 'Oprah Delivers North America's First Alien Baby' or 'Brad Pitt Is Really A Girl'. What happens? Nothing. I cop an attitude, surreptitiously buy several jumbo-sized Kit Kat bars and a family sized box of Old Dutch potato chips and realize I'm still depressed. Very depressed.

Clinical depression is a whole body illness that is significant and severe, needing medical attention. It is not ‘the blues' or ‘in the dumps'. It is an illness characterized by dramatic changes in sleeping and eating patterns, a pervasive sense of hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness and lack of enjoyment in normally pleasurable activities. Depression, unlike normal sadness, lasts not a few days, but for no less than two weeks. Even months. And sometimes: years.

It is not something you can just ‘get over'. (For more information, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association's website at www.cmhanational.org)

Suffering from clinical depression often feels like the Universe is a big joke and I'm the punch line. I normally have a rather good sense of humor, but when depression strikes its' nasty blow- my funny bone takes more than just a bruising. It feels dead.

But I believe unearthing our sense of humor, is essential to healing.

Looking for the funny doesn't mean putting on a 'Polly-Anna-grin-and-bear-it' demeanor. One of those 'I'll just force myself to laugh, and fake it 'til I make it', kind of thing. That just makes me feel worse, if not stupid.

It is the looking for the lighter side that is key. Not finding it, necessarily. Rediscovering my sense of humor is a by-product of my willingness to look for it. The proactive search for humor is the magical, alchemical ingredient. Something about the looking seems to allow a little light in, and slowly, slowly, very slowly, I begin to excavate my funny bone.

A proactive stance however demands that I be unflinchingly honest with myself. I can not pretend to be willing, when I am not. I need to admit to myself, without passing moral judgment, if in any way, I am deliberately digging my heels in, crossing my arms and resolutely declaring 'I refused to be amused!' Because, sometimes, I'm just so damned angry that I'm depressed, I won't let myself laugh and I don't want any help. That's not a crime. In fact, to me it's understandable. But I do need to know this. Otherwise, I'm trying to climb a greased pole.

It's not easy seeing even a glimmer of humor when depressed. My ability to laugh, like all of us, is at best, decimated during the dark periods of depression.

Finding your sense of humor when you're depressed is like asking someone to find water in the desert. It's possible, but mighty tough.

Here are some tips that help retrieve my sense of humor when it's evaporating or evaporated, as the case may be:

Take Your Humor History:
Sometimes the only way to find what makes you laugh, is looking at the past when you did. It may be a few month ago, a few years or even a few decades. When you're not depressed, what T.V. shows or films make you laugh - slapstick, romantic comedy, action comedy? What kind of jokes? Political satire, practical jokes, puns, innuendoes? What made you laugh as a child? Cartoon characters, your brother making funny faces, the neighbor's new puppy?

Check for what I call 'memory or phantom laughs'. Those times when I know normally I would be giggling, but instead, I'm just remembering that I would. Often very bittersweet moments.

It's that 'if I wasn't so depressed I'd be laughing' feeling. But almost laughing is better than no laughing at all. It can often be the beginning to actually doing it. Keep mental notes or a journal of your phantom laughs and your humor history. It gives you valuable information you can use later.

Size Doesn't Matter. Start small.
Don't worry about the big guffaws, instead be on the lookout for anything that makes you remotely smile, even just want to smile.

Notice what makes the corners of your mouth even just slightly move upwards, your cheeks begin to lift or a stunted kind of laugh emerge. This is all good. It's your body's way of telling you you're near your funny bone. And bones don't disappear, they just get weak. The solution: you do what you can to fortify them. Your funny bone is exactly the same.

Go Ahead Make Yourself Laugh
Take your humor history and those things that nudge your funny bone and create a 'laugh-able' strategy.

When I do this, it doesn't mean that things, all of a sudden, seem comical, but it gives me a distinct advantage over staying curled up on the couch listening to weepy, country, love songs about loosing everything including the kitchen sink.

So I rent the movie 'Big', watch re-runs of Friends and Mary Tyler Moore. I call up that girlfriend who shares my frequently irreverent humor. I flip through the People magazine issue of the 'Worst Dressed Celebrities in Hollywood'. I read 'Herman' or 'Better or for Worse' comics.

When deep in the clutches of depression, I methodically set aside time every couple days to give my soul a chance to if not laugh outright, witness things I know are funny to me. Eventually my lighter side gets the better of me. Not always for long, but at least for awhile.

Implementing a 'laugh-able' strategy doesn't eradicate depression of course, but it can make it more bearable.

Once I'm out of the darkness, I make sure I fortify my funny bone with some kind of humor every day. It may sound simplistic, even na•ve. But to this day, my relentless pursuit to find something, anything, even marginally humorous everyday is one of my best coping tools to date. My sense of humor is as valuable to me as the medication I take to stay well.