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What’s so Funny About Mental Illness?

A lot, when you can find humor in the healing.

My psychiatrist asked me for months, “And how is your sugar?” For months, I answered back, “He’s good. Helpful and very supportive!” I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that he was asking me about my sugar levels. He thought that I was diabetic. I must have accidentally checked a wrong box on my intake form. I laughed all day remembering how I let him know each week how my boyfriend was doing.

Mental illness sounds, and is, so scary. It can be isolating, lonely and painful. That is why I frequently use humor to make light and sense of what I go through. We can see it in the many faces that mental illness takes on. A person may seem outwardly happy and “fine,” while suffering silently on the inside. Look at the countless entertainers who we hear about that suffered with a smile on their face (actor and comedian Robin Williams for example). I make it a point of checking in with my friends who may be externally exuberant, because mental illness can come in any form, shape, color, size or package.

In the many times that I spent catatonic and in the throws of psychosis, laughter — even if just internally — helped me to keep going and fighting through it. I will never forget a psychiatric nurse who made my morning a little brighter when I had to walk daily while experiencing catatonia by singing the song “1, 2 Step” by Ciara to me and getting me to dance in the process. Special medical providers like her always hold a forever place in my heart.

Humor, even if it’s a little dark or morbid, has helped me make sense of the pain and suffering that I went through on the journey of life with mental illness. I laugh sometimes when I read about and watch fictional characters such as DC Comics’ Harley Quinn, because I did a lot of laughing through the often frightening moments of hearing voices (auditory hallucinations) while I was in active psychosis. Maybe humor creates meaning out of chaotic situations. Or at the very least it makes it more bearable.

I said to my mom one day when she visited me in the psychiatric hospital, “I hate your genes.” She asked my sister, “Why does she hate my mom jeans?” And my sister had to translate to her, “No, she means that she hates the genetics that she inherited.” I am lucky to be able to laugh about this with my family now. Mental illness is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Laughter can scientifically release chemicals such as endorphins, like dopamine and serotonin. It is no replacement for prescriber medical treatment, but it may lighten the tense load.

I don’t want to sugarcoat any of it — mental illness sucks. But for me, my personal journey with my mental health struggles includes openness, feelings of gratitude towards the gaining traction surrounding conversations on the importance of caring for our collective mental wellness, and daily laughter about the moments that are difficult to get through. I hope that we continue to normalize talking about mental illness and begin to heal with a little bit of humor.

And my sugar? He’s doing just fine; thanks for asking.

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