After decades of trying to keep the “Black Dogs of Depression” at bay, I realized it wasn’t the dogs that were the problem. It was me. Depression wasn’t some outside force hounding and terrorizing me. It was part of me. And when I accepted that, it gave me more control and understanding. My choices, my reactions, and my emotions were mine.
My opportunity came when a chance meeting with a young doctor gave me the foothold I needed to create an upward spiral that undoubtedly saved my life.
And the dogs? I think of them more like the “Black Cats of Depression.” I’ve learned how to co-exist with them. They come and go as they please, I don’t provoke them, and if they curl up on my lap, they tell me I need to take a break. Then they usually want to play.
That’s where the laughter comes in.
1. Please Fail
Whenever you say or write something to create humour, you take a risk. When a joke falls flat, there’s an opportunity. You can rid yourself of the need to succeed 100% of the time and relieve much self-imposed pressure. No one really cares or remembers a lame joke, so why should you? Treat using humour like golf.
When you start, you’re terrible; balls are flying every which way, other players are in mortal danger, and there’s so much cursing. But the next hole, you hit that perfect drive, a thing of beauty. That’s the shot you remember and a reason to keep playing. As you hit more and more good shots, your confidence grows. Humour is precisely the same. Focus on success and learn how to improve.
Try this: Listen to comedians tell stories of their own failures. Watch their audiences and notice that even they can’t make everyone laugh all the time.
2. That’s one way of looking at it.
Much humour is rooted in observation; you see what is odd and a little different and how unexpected connections can create comedy moments. Practicing adopting a slightly different perspective of everyday events can help break mindsets and thinking patterns that keep us rooted in unhealthy places.
Consider it similar to creative problem-solving or lateral thinking. Once you start using your ability to see what’s funny about the world around you, you’ve also taken an essential step towards creating a compelling new way of communicating. Judiciously used humour can enhance every one of your talks, presentations and conversations.
Try this: Sit and watch people in a public space (safely, of course). What animal do they move and sound like? Imagine them as the animal trying to interact with everyone around them. Or change one letter in-store signs to change their meaning altogether.
3. Be a tool
When we have a mental health challenge, we risk becoming dangerously inwardly focused. Creating humour of any sort can help you engage more if you think of creating comedy, like being a craftsperson.
Humour is often taking the raw materials of everyday life, reshaping and combining them in surprising and delightful ways and presenting them for others to enjoy.
Try this: Listen to a comedian’s routine and imagine what they saw through their eyes that inspired their story.
4. Write it down, write it down, write it down
As you start seeing the world a little differently, there’s one thing you MUST do. Whatever device you have handy has a way for you to make quick and accessible notes. Was there a misprint on a menu, a snippet of crazy-sounding conversation you caught or did you make a funny slip of the tongue? Write it down. Accumulate material. Refer to it often.
Build anecdotes and stories from those notes. I’m frequently asked where my material comes from; the answer is always “my notes.” Collecting and creating humorous material means that you almost always have a story, idea or funny phrase to use when needed.
Try this: Write it down.
5. Well, we can laugh, or we can cry
You’ve heard this said before. When it’s bleak, and you’ve been knocked down by life yet again, it’s worth saying it out loud. Humour is often grounded in life’s absurdity and pain, so when you feel powerless in the face of what life has thrown at you, you might be amazed at how ready you are to laugh. Laughter is a release of tension and a way to regain some degree of control. Find anything that will induce a giggle, and you could end up cackling cathartically. It’s a healthy choice you can make.
My wife and I were heavily involved in a family wedding, and things were coming to a head as we rushed to purchase last-minute items. We passed a toy store with a monkey that rolled around and let out a horrendous-sounding chuckle when I touched it. We laughed so hard that we had people staring at us as tears rolled down our cheeks. Fifteen years later, we still have that monkey.
Try this: Imagine a very trying time in your life. If it was a movie, what comic relief moment could you create?
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