The Benefits of Humour in Living with Chronic IllnessApr 18, 2023
Living with a chronic illness can be challenging, draining, and emotionally exhausting.
It can feel like a full-time job with little room for anything else. Constantly managing symptoms, attending medical appointments, and dealing with the emotional impact of your condition can leave little time or energy for fun and happiness. Let alone humour!
However, finding moments to laugh and be lighthearted can have significant benefits in living with chronic illness.
As someone who lives with MS and stage 4 breast cancer, I’ve found that humour has unintentionally become a powerful tool in helping me cope and keep moving forward. But it's important to note that incorporating humour into your life doesn't mean denying the complex emotions that come with living with a chronic illness.
When I received a phone call from my surgeon, informing me that my mastectomy was cancelled due to the cancer spreading, I was terrified. I could hardly breathe. The tears were free-flowing. However, later that night, still in shock, we inadvertently found a moment of humour. We realised that my boobs had actually been on death row (we’re so into true crime shows) and that phone call was a last-minute stay to fight another day.
In my life with MS, I discovered that using humour can have several benefits, including building a connection with healthcare practitioners, improving personal relationships, and helping you cope with the challenges of the illness. And I know that’s why this has become a default approach in trying to cope with cancer as well.
So let me share the benefits of humour when living with chronic illness.
Three Key Benefits of Humor When Living with Chronic Illness
Benefit #1 Connection with healthcare practitioners.
The first benefit of using humour in living with chronic illness is building a connection with healthcare practitioners. Medical appointments and interactions can be stressful and intimidating, but using humour can help break down barriers and create a more relaxed atmosphere. Sharing a laugh with your doctor can help build trust and rapport, making the whole experience a little less scary. It can also help doctors see you as more than just a disease to be treated.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my local doctor was so sensitive and lovely in breaking the news. As we were leaving, she said that she would bulk bill the appointment (no out-of-pocket charge). Andrew said, "Thanks for nothing”. After such a heavy conversation, we all shared a laugh. This moment not only provided some much-needed relief but also helped to establish a more personal connection in the appointments that followed. Although the ride back home in the car was still filled with tears.
Benefit #2 Improving personal relationships
The second benefit of using humour in living with chronic illness is improving personal relationships. Living with a chronic illness changes the dynamics with your partner, family, and friends. It can be challenging to explain what you're going through, especially if you look the same. You can start to feel isolated and alone. But using humour can help bridge the gap and bring you closer together. Sharing a funny story or making a joke can help ease tension and remind everyone that there's still room for laughter and fun in life. It's a reminder that even though you have a life-changing illness, you are still you.
When I was 25, an MS relapse meant I spent months in hospital. Initially bed bound and paralysed, then in a wheelchair, having to learn how to walk again. Some friends came to visit. It was quite confronting for them to see me so unwell. During a moment of silence, a friend tapped my knee, my leg flew up in the air. He’d remembered I’d mentioned my heightened reflexes during a relapse. We all couldn’t stop laughing. The ice was broken, and it was back to friends in their 20s having fun.
Benefit #3 A coping strategy for you
The third and perhaps most important benefit of using humour in living with chronic illness is helping you cope with the challenges of your illness. Living with a chronic illness is relentless, and if making jokes or being lighthearted at times helps you cope, then do it! It's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day struggles and forget to find moments of laughter and happiness. But by making a conscious effort to find humour in your situation, you can lift your spirits and give yourself a mental break from the stress and anxiety.
It's not about denying the seriousness of your condition but about finding a way to navigate it with a little more ease. Incorporating humour into your life, you may find that you're better able to manage your symptoms, cope with stress, and improve your overall quality of life.
Of course, everyone's experience with chronic illness is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. I love to laugh. And it’s no surprise that I have been attracted to a partner that feels the same way. We’re always laughing.
If you're looking for a way to cope with the challenges of living with a chronic illness, I encourage you to try incorporating a little bit of humour and lightheartedness into your life.
Whether it's making a joke with your doctor, sharing a laugh with a friend, or simply finding a way to see the funny side of your situation, humour can be a powerful tool for lifting your spirits and helping you keep moving forward.
So, don't be afraid to laugh a little, even in the midst of difficult times. As the saying goes, laughter really can be the best medicine.