Why I Choose to Laugh About My Illness


“Congratulations! You’ve won the genetic lottery.”

“Chronic illnesses are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.”

“You’re a cupcake! The cake is physical illness, the frosting is mental illness, and then you just sprinkle in a few deficiencies.”

These are just a few of my favorite comments about my health. Yes, they’re a bit silly, and it may seem like they’re laughing at my health challenges, but I’d argue that they most certainly are not. In fact, all of those comments were made by someone who either has chronic illness themselves, or has a close family member who does. They understand the struggle firsthand, which is why they’ve said those things.

You see, I’m what the doctors call “interesting.” That’s one word you never want to hear a doctor use to describe your case. First of all, I have multiple chronic illnesses, one of which is pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS), which causes neuropsychiatric symptoms (that’ll be important in a second). I also have multiple mental health conditions, which are complicated by the PANS.

One of my mental health conditions is post traumatic stress disorder, which, of course, throws a situational difficulty aspect into it as well. So, basically, no one ever knows what’s causing any given symptom. For example, if I have a headache. It could be because I get migraines, it could be somatic due to depression, or because I’ve gotten sick again, thanks to my common variable immune deficiency. Or it could be that the encephalitis caused by PANS is pushing on other areas of the brain, causing a headache. Or it could be a result of chronic stress, a side effect of my medication, a reaction to my medication causing meningitis, or due to remnants of Lyme disease. Now you see why they call me interesting. By the way, I’m also a teenager – so go ahead and factor in typical teenage development and hormones into this chaos.

Of course, all of this has impacted my life significantly. I’ve learned that I have two choices in this situation: I can go hide in a dark, sterile room with no neurological stimulus, being fed only through a feeding tube, or I can choose to actually have a life and accept that life is going to come with some risks for me that most people don’t have. For me, typical daily tasks have additional challenges and risks that others don’t even need to consider and sometimes that gets very overwhelming. For me, humor is a coping mechanism. If all I do is spend my time thinking through all of the risks I’m taking with every breath, I’m just going to make myself feel even worse. Or, I can laugh about the ridiculousness that is my life, and find ways to laugh about it. Like being a cupcake.

Sometimes I make jokes about my health that are not well understood or received. Some people think that I’m either not really that sick, making fun of something that is “no laughing matter” (as soon as I hear those three words, I want to laugh), or have a very twisted sense of humor. But it’s a risk, just like every other aspect of my life. Joking around risks misunderstanding, dismissal, or exclusion. But it gives me enjoyment, smiles, laughter, and so much more.

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