Joy to the World: Building Resiliency this Christmas

One afternoon, in the midst of a very frank conversation with my daughter about the weird things that BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and drive people, like herself, to do the conversation took an even stranger, but ultimately delightful turn.  Imagining how BPD might be portrayed in a comedy sketch;

[Scene: A young woman sits at desk at a BPD telephone helpline. On the desk is a phone and a fishbowl filed with slips of paper. Phone Rings]

Young Woman: BPD helpline, what’s your emergency? Family coming over for your birthday? Lets see what we’ve got in the bowl.

[Digs in fishbowl. Unfolds a slip]
Young Woman: Ahh. Get a face tattoo. Yes, your mom will love that! Enjoy your special day!

[Phone rings]

Young Woman: BPD Helpline,. What’s your emergency?  Worried about not being able to buy people gifts for the holidays? Lets see what we’ve got for you….
[Digs in fishbowl]: Here we go dear. Max out your credit cards, mostly on yourself, then change banks.  You’re welcome dear.

And on and on we went laughing together until tears streamed down our faces and our bellies were sore. We hadn’t felt that good about mental health issues in a long time.

Mark Twain wrote once that “The human race has one really effective weapon and that is laughter”. We will often bandy the phrase about that laughter is the best medicine, and we recognize that, however uncomfortable it might make those on the outside, dark ‘gallows humour’ seems to be, in many high-stress environments, an almost instinctive coping mechanism.  New research is starting to indicate that humour seems to play an important role in building and maintaining resiliency, the ability to cope with and manage challenging physical and emotional situations.

Discovering and recognizing the often ridiculous places mental health challenges can take us, has helped to tame what can often be a vicious beast. Having removed some of it’s teeth, mental illness becomes a less haunting and threatening presence in all of our lives.

Several empirical studies have indicated that humour can increase positive mood experiences, increase life satisfaction, and increase stable positive moods while decreasing stable negative moods.  As a coping mechanism for negative life experiences, a 2014 study by Samson, Glassco, Lee and Gross found the use of humour increased positive emotional experience both in at it’s immediate use and in the long-term.

For our family, humour has always had a special place at family gatherings and in our daily interpersonal relationships, but the experience I shared above was the first time I discovered it’s specific value in coping with mental health challenges in the home.  It’s not merely that in that particular moment, we were able to laugh at something which has often been a source of pain. Discovering and recognizing the often ridiculous places mental health challenges can take us, has helped to tame what can often be a vicious beast. Having removed some of it’s teeth, mental illness becomes a less haunting and threatening presence in all of our lives.

The Holidays can be especially difficult for families and individuals living with mental illness.  This Christmas, give yourself permission, so long as all are comfortable with it, to be silly, and to laugh out loud in the face of what can often seem like an intimidating monster.  Laughter is not only one of the best medicines we have, it can also be, as Mark Twain identified, a most powerful, reliable, and enjoyable weapon.

Merry Christmas!

Deacon Eric Gurash 

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