Saturday, 18 January 2014

Don't forget your laughter muscle...

I'm a bubbly character.

For years, this was a handicap in terms of helping people understand my struggles with Mental Health. I mean, when you suffer from mental illness you're supposed to be 100% miserable all the time - right? Wrong. Just because life is a struggle doesn't mean that we lose our capacity to smile altogether - although there are periods of time when it feels as if life is drained of all colour and enjoyment. And there are moments when it FEELS as if the darkness that envelopes us will never lift. However, the reality of depression and distressing emotions is that they come and go in waves, some are more powerful and overwhelming, others are ripples on the surface of our lives.

Even at my lowest points I have found that I have never lost my wry view of the world and I have found myself laughing my way through therapy sessions focused on some of the most painful experiences of my life. It's a survival technique, one that kept me going through years when I was struggling without any diagnosis or support. Other people's perceptions of Mental Health is such that, due to my propensity to be able to laugh at myself and even the darkest of situations, most people who had contact with me at work or in other social situations would find it hard to accept that I suffered from periods of really black moods, brought on by my struggles with BPD and Clinical Depression. In fact, I lost a number of friends who thought I had taken some bizarre turn in my life when I shared my diagnosis with them. They couldn't reconcile the person they knew with their preconceptions of mental health conditions.

So, now that I'm recovering and am more on an 'even keel' emotionally, do I neglect my sense of humour because I no longer need a mask? My feeling is that my laughter muscle has always been there, it is a part of who I am, but now, rather than being part of my 'armour', it is anchored more and more in my enjoyment of life as it is. I have added it to my DBT skills and use it as opposite action - I mean really, how can I be angry (it used to be white hot and last for hours, if not days on end)when I see myself in the mirror in full flow? Laughter, releases so much tension, in so many situations (caveat: well chosen humour takes account of the needs and feelings of others). Laughing with others, too becomes opposite emotion, so my library of comedy programmes is extensive - an essential part of my 'recovery kit'.

Ultimately, I think that those of us who have seen the world through the prism of mental illness, have the ability to see the quirky and unusual in the world around us. How many comedians struggle with darker emotions? Those of us with BPD are also creative and dramatic, so we are able to see some nuances in life that others miss. When you're in the depths, don't forget your laughter muscle and if something makes you laugh, enjoy the feeling for that moment and observe how your laughter affects you physically as well as your emotions.

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