A Geek Walks Into a Bar: How Humor Helps You Cope with Stress

Laughing people

English actor and writer Peter Ustinov once said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” I’d take it a step farther and say that comedy is a funny way of handling something serious, of finding a way to make sense of our troubles and not letting them drive us over the edge of madness.

This week’s post is made up of a few stories of people using humor in just that way: to make sense of tragedy and deal with the stresses of daily life. A couple of these stories deal with tragedy, but I think more importantly, they deal with living through tragedy. With finding your defense mechanism and using it to keep you sane, no matter the pressures life deals you.

I’ve enlisted a couple of my humorist friends from the old An Army of Ermas days to help me with this post. Please, leave a comment and give them a warm welcome to TranquiliGeek!

First up is Janna Qualman, who talks about how her family used humor to get through a particularly painful time.

 You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it. — Bill Cosby

We Laughed

By the time they found it, that Big C, it was stage four, spread from an esophageal mass to his lymph nodes to the marrow of his bones. My dad’s body, which had already been fighting multiple sclerosis for twenty years, was too weak to withstand any treatments. The prognosis devastated our family.

My nose burns now with emotion, as I write and remember.

But yet I can wipe the tears and dig up a smile, even find reasons to chuckle. That’s how we cope, my family. What in large part got us through years of hospital stays and medical anomalies, and the short months after his cancer diagnosis, was humor. We laughed.

We laughed!

At each other, with each other, dishing sass and cracking jokes. Even if for only moments at a time, we were lifted.

It was the same at his memorial service, that for moments we were lifted. Everyone celebrated his goofy self, sweet heart, strength of character. It was the most sincere way to honor him, by remembering the good and funny times. Humor gave us release from the sorrow.

“A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing,” said Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was right.

It’s not always easy, finding the laughter. But it’s a quality approach for powering against stress, for staying upbeat, whatever life gives us.

Next up is a slice of life from the very funny Amy Mullis. Take it away, Amy…

 Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment. — Grenville Kleiser

Carrots to Commodes

Stress varies from job to job. The events leading up to office machine abuse in one job might skip along like an afternoon break in others. Every day was a long week when I worked in manufacturing, and I often got stuck tight in red tape when I dealt with Government Contracts. But it was all a walk in the canteen compared to the things that push me over the edge these days.

I work in a church.

I’m there part-time, which means that between the hours of 9 and 3, I’m expected not to spit, swear, or hurl the telephone through the stained glass portal into another dimension.  It’s not my coworkers who expect Eden in the workplace; they’ve been there long enough to call a snake a snake.  But the General Public expects certain standards even when they berate me in the name of a good cause. I still bear scars from the tongue-lashing I got for failure to yield the gym for yard sale drop-off, and I’m tempted to join the Witness Protection Program when I skip someone in the Happy Birthday notices. And that’s trivial stuff compared to the trauma that comes from trying to help local people meet basic standard of living needs every day.

So we take stress-relief where we find it, even if we have to dress it up in its Sunday best.

For instance, there’s the toilet seat thing.  It’s not that I take an unladylike interest in bathroom maintenance, but the single most replaced items in the church are toilet seats. This fact alone leads to much speculation and tittering on the part of the staff.  While we’ve stopped short of wagering, we’re not shy of venturing to guess the activity or identity of the guilty party, and we stand ready to name names if guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The leading guess to date has to do with the Golden Agers group staging a polar bear plunge.

Then there was the time an anonymous donor dropped off 48 cases of carrots overnight – in the handicapped parking spot next to the church.  Sure, it could have been Bugs Bunny looking for a safe house to store his goodies, but there was no “Albuquerque” sign to give him away. The Great Carrot Giveaway of 2012 trumped any stress that day, and while none of us repented from a life of pork chop gluttony to take up our carrot and follow the path that leads to terrific triglyceride levels, the idea of ninjas stealthily unloading case after case of veggie goodness in the dark of night gave us the laugh we needed to face the wrath of the folks we left off the birthday list.

But I still want to know why the carrot caper took place in the handicapped spot. That’s an automatic fine in these parts.  And figuring out how the authorities would go about ticketing the culprit takes the cake. The carrot cake.

And finally, my own piece. This story is how I’ve chosen to remember my uncle…which will probably seem odd, but is fairly par for the course for my family.

 Humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully. — Max Eastman

That Monkey Did What?

My uncle was a funny man. Even while cancer ate away at his body, he was a funny man. An alcoholic, yes, and deeply flawed (aren’t we all?). But his sense of humor, dark though it may often have been, was always there.

So it’s not really a surprise that he had us laughing, even while the medication cocktail addled his brain. Perhaps partly because the medication cocktail addled his brain.

A lifetime drinker and smoker, he wasn’t exactly vigilant about getting his yearly checkups. So, by the time he felt miserable enough to go to the doctor, the cancer had seeded itself in most of the important parts of his body. He had a choice: face painful radiation and chemotherapy, in order to extend his life perhaps a few months, if he was lucky.

Or, he could go with a load of pain meds to keep him as comfortable as possible while the cancer did its thing.

He opted for Plan B.

We visited him in the hospital, shortly after the diagnosis and after he’d made his choice. Already heavily medicated, he fidgeted almost constantly with the network of tubes and wires hooked up to various parts of him. As my mother, grandmother, and I sat in awkward quiet, his frustration became more and more palpable.

Finally, my mother asked him if she could help. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Yeah. I feel like a monkey f***ing a football.”

It was crude, and it wasn’t a particularly good joke…but my mother and I lost it.

I still don’t think my grandmother entirely understood what was so funny, but for my mother and me it was a brief, welcome break from the tension. In fact, my grandmother’s confused, “What? What did he say?” only fueled our giggle fit.

Thanks, Uncle. Now we have a story to tell and re-tell about you…and I’m sure it would amuse you no end to know that’s the one we remember you by.


A Geek Walks Into a Bar: How Humor Helps You Cope with Stress — 9 Comments

    • Thanks for visiting, Karen!

      Humor’s a big part of my family’s coping mechanism. I think it’s that way for most families. 🙂

  1. Hi Angie:

    Love this blog and the idea behind it! Nice to catch up w/ Army of Erma folks and inestimable Ms. Mullis.

    I think I need a carrot now…

  2. Karen, thanks for swinging by to read our post!

    Angie, thanks for letting me tell my story. 🙂

    And Amy IS inestimable, isn’t she? Love that lady.

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