Disability 101: Laughing through the tears
September 19, 2010
I was 35 years old before I learned that it’s possible to cry and laugh at the same time. I mean soul wrenching, gut twisting, hopeless, the most hideous pain I’ve ever felt, my life has been destroyed crying. But I was blessed to have a moment surrounded by friends who were sharing my pain, who understood where I was, who had been there themselves, and one of them cracked a joke.
With tears still streaming down my face, I got a bit of a belly laugh in, which immediately surprised me.
Is that allowed? I was supposed to be miserable. It seemed somehow blasphemous.
I’ve since spent more time exploring this and came to discover that a lot of people simply can’t cry and laugh at the same time. I think it’s a skill critical to survive life. Those that won’t allow themselves to do it are threatening themselves with annihilation.
Take for example, an acquired disability. I have learned that despite my MS, despite the fact I use a wheelchair, despite the fact that on any given day I might be overwhelmed with fatigue, spasms and pain, there is still much beauty in life, much to be thankful for, and lots to laugh about.
Some think I’m too much of a Pollyanna. They think perhaps I’m deceiving myself, playing it a bit too strong, perhaps in denial of reality.
Nope. I just know I can cry and laugh at the same time.
Make no mistake about it. My disability can bring me to my knees in despair. Sometimes I cry because I’m so exhausted I can’t even sit up straight and trying to force my body to move forward is too much to bear.
Sometimes I cry because of what I’ve lost. I can no longer jump in my car, drive to the trailhead, and spend the day hiking through the forest and up above timberline, where I am at home like no other place. I can’t go home anymore.
Sometimes I cry because of an unknown and frightening future with a degenerative disease which has already destroyed every safety net I’ve ever had.
But moments later, I’m laughing. I laugh because I have found the most wonderful group of friends who totally get me (they have disabilities as well), they always understand, and they always provide me with encouragement and ideas for snappy comebacks.
I laugh because I’ve discovered that despite my disability, I still have valuable skills and talents and those are still needed. I laugh because I live with passion. I have a career I love and weekends find me handcycling or monoskiing.
I laugh because life is still funny.
I’ve encountered quite a few able-bodied people who think that because I have a disability, I am doomed to a life of despair. They pity me. They feel so sorry for poor me and imagine my life is horrid every day.
Yes, sometimes my life is tough. But sometimes it’s absolutely beautiful and amazing. I have finally given up the need for my life to be perfect. And I’ve given up my need to be in control. There’s a lot of peace in that.
So please don’t be surprised when you ask how I’m doing and I respond, “I’m fabulous!” And no, I’m not being inspirational. I’m just living my life.
Now you try it. Yes, you have some pretty awful things going on in your life right now. But you also have some pretty wonderful things going on in your life as well. Try laughing at the same time you are crying. It’s allowed.