“If one day I have to stop working, maybe I can still get a job at Home Depot doubling as the paint stirring machine?” I am not sure where I heard this joke, but it was one of the first one’s I heard after my diagnosis. Every time I repeat that joke, I get a look from people, and in that look, they are not quite sure if they should laugh or be shocked.
Quite honestly, that is the reaction I get from most of my jokes. Very early in our relationship, my wife learned to never to be surprised by what came out of my mouth. My jokes are often lame, shocking, out of place or, at the very least, a little off beat. Having dealt with chronic health issues since he age 15, and being a young man trapped in an old man’s body, I had to learn how to laugh.
How many 15-year-olds use a cane? How many 39-year-olds have had three hip replacements? Almost every doctor visit I went to began with “If you were 60, this would not really surprise me…” If you didn’t laugh, you cried (which I did do on occasion). I learned very early on that laughter has a healing effect. When you can make light of the situation, it helps to bring things into perspective.
Why, then, should my Parkinson’s diagnosis be any different? Don’t get me wrong; there were/are plenty of tears shed, and many very hard days, days I want to give up, but I can’t live there. So very quickly after my diagnosis the jokes began. “Kids, if you want a milkshake, just give me a glass of milk and let me hold it for little while, or better yet, maybe I can replace the milk shake machine at Chick-fil-A?” Whenever somebody would ask me to get them a Coke, I would hand it to them with a warning “You may not want to open that for little while, unless you want a soda shower.”
On and on the jokes went, and I found it was a wonderful way, not only to help keep things in perspective, but also to help my children, family, and those around me cope. You see, for them, this was just as much of a life sentence. In many ways they were hurting and just as discouraged as I was. In our darkest hours, laughter reminded us that life will go on and helped us take the next step that we needed to take.
One day my daughter and I were driving in the car, and I said to her, “I need a theme song. What do you think about ‘Shake it Off,’ by Taylor Swift?” We both laughed, and then started thinking of other songs that might fit. Below are some of the ones we came up with:
“Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift (still my daughters favorite)
“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley
“Shake” by Sam Cooke
“Shake, Rattle, and Roll” by Bill Hailey & the Comets
“Shake, Shake, Shake, Senora” by Harry Belafonte
“Shake Me, Wake Me” by Four Tops
“(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” by KC & the Sunshine Band
The list could go on and on (by the way, vote for your favorite song in the comments below). As we thought of more and more songs, the harder we laughed, and I think it was something we both needed. You see, this is not overwhelming just for me, but also for an 18-year-old, and a 16-year-old, and a young wife (by the way, she did not laugh so much as roll her eyes at my lame sense of humor).
In these simple moments of laughter and silly jokes, it gave us all a peace that we can face this together and make it through. That in spite of sadness, in spite of the challenges, we could still laugh and have joy. It changed our perspective, and helped us to see that the mountain was not so gigantic as we thought. It was the exact medicine that we needed. It gave us the strength to take the next step, and face whatever was sent our way.
The reality is, each of us, in our own ways, face difficulties and challenges that seem insurmountable. It is easy in the midst of these for our joy and laughter to be stolen. In these times, more than any other, we need to find joy and laughter, and find something we can laugh about (and someone we can laugh with). We need to be reminded we will laugh again, because our attitude will greatly affect how we deal with something. I encourage you today, in the midst of your struggle, to find something to laugh about, and when you do, that problem may be put it into perspective, and the difficulty may not be as insurmountable as it once looked.
(Don’t forget to vote for your favorite song!)
Follow this journey on Day By Day: My Journey With Parkinson’s.