Humor is my go-to, my safety net, and my comfort zone. When in doubt, I laugh it out and make fun of myself because otherwise life will hurt. Ugh.
Some may see right through my attempts, but making jokes is my coping mechanism. It’s my survival tool and the barrier between me and a full mental breakdown. It’s an area of daylight and happiness where you and I can both be comfortable when you ask me if I’m okay. Outside of the humor in a bad situation are the facts, and sometimes I’m not ready to face them. Sometimes, I’d rather stay in my happy place, where I use humor to cope with my depression and all the other worries in my life. Where I use humor to try to make you smile and myself smile because, well, it brings me joy. *shrug* I hate to point it out because I know there are moments when I should be more serious. I’m working on it.
Recently I ran into an old family friend that I haven’t seen in almost 10 years. A friend I haven’t talked to since before my little sister passed away in 2010. This old friend lit up when she saw me. She wanted to know how I was and how my mom is, and to share old memories about my little sister. She went on about how my sister was inspirational and strong and as she spoke I saw flashes of memories that I, emotionally, couldn’t handle. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as she spoke to me, my eyes started to well up. Even though I was happy that she was excited to share this moment with me, she caught me off guard, and I was approaching a very public breakdown. The alarms started going off inside my head and I knew I was starting to panic. I was in flight mode and in that moment, instead of fully feeling the sadness of those memories, I decided that I didn’t want to show vulnerability to this person and chose to keep the conversation light, crack a joke, and rush back off to my “busy” day. I wasn’t busy, I was panicking, and in case of emergency, I always use humor.
The truth is, talking about my late sister is still hard for me. I don’t even like to think about her because it makes me sad, maybe it’s unhealthy, but it’s how I’m getting by. The other truth is my mom isn’t doing that well, and when people ask about her I say, “she’s good”, and then crack a joke or change the subject to save me from actually thinking about her health. To avoid me getting tunnel vision about the inevitable future and making the conversation uncomfortable for both me and the other person. The last truth is, I’m fine. But, being “fine” involves me having a hard time reliving the past, having a hard time dealing with the sad parts of life, and, occasionally, pretending everything is okay. I like to laugh, it makes me happy, and it makes me feel like, even if it’s not right now, everything will be okay. Because it will, it really will be okay.
In another world maybe I could be sad about the memories of my sister and sad about her loss and it would be okay. I would be able to talk about her without fearing that it will make people uncomfortable and cause them to avoid me. I would be able to have thoughts about the past without going to the darkest places. My sadness is avoided and brushed off to avoid the depression spiral I go to if I think about the sad stuff too much or too long. But, of course, it catches up to me sometimes because I never want to deal with it. I’m afraid to make you sad, so I lesson my problems and cover up my worries with a joke and lighthearted conversation. I even do this with my closest friends, because I know they are going through their own shit too…but doesn’t that mean we are all out here struggling alone?
The best thing I ever did was start talking about my life and my thoughts to my friends. All of it, good and bad. Most of my life I was afraid to make people uncomfortable or make people worry about me, so I kept my pain to myself and tried to deal with it alone, but it became suffocating. Then, I opened up, started to talk to the people I trusted, and I could breathe again. Not everyone has earned the right to your vulnerability, but if they have, let them know when you are not okay, they will want to hear it.
If you have ever felt like you had to go through something alone to spare someone else feeling the same way you do, know that we have all been there. A time and place exists for the tough conversations. I am not going to unleash my fury to the person taking my order at the coffee shop when they ask, “how are you today?” In those moments, I will say that I’m fine, even if I’m not, because my goal is not to make a stranger super uncomfortable. BUT, when my close friends, spouse, and family ask me how I am doing, I will be honest with them because I know that I would want them to be honest with me. I know I wouldn’t want them to suffer through anything alone. I will speak up if I am having a tough time and vent when necessary. It’s perfectly okay to choose who you tell to your story to. To say you’re fine to those in passing, or to those who you don’t trust or know well. But don’t forget, like I do often do, that it’s okay to feel. It’s okay to open up to those you love and trust and say that you are sad or that you are going though something difficult. It is absolutely okay to use humor to save yourself. And when you have had enough with the jokes, maybe your people will surprise you, like mine did. Maybe they will suck at giving advice or give you advice that you haven’t asked for, maybe they will be uncomfortable. But maybe, they will sit down in that dark hole with you. You don’t have to do the sucky parts of life alone, and even though you may want to, it’s not your job to make everyone around you comfortable. Let people know that, you too, are human and that your feelings are valid and REAL. Start talking.