Laughter is the Best Medicine

About eight years ago it all kind of hit the fan for me and climbing my way out of it took me on a strange and unconventional path. Two of my kids were diagnosed with severe autism, one had endured a month-long coma we weren’t sure he would come out of, and that’s when Viktor’s injury left him with cerebral palsy and epilepsy...all at once!  I was drowning in therapy appointments, in one lawsuit with a doctor and another with a hospital, trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered expectations, all while still adjusting to my new and sudden enormous family.   

Trying to cope, I’m going to support groups for parents of children with disabilities… And the leader is telling us, “It’s OK to be sad. Let me guide you to go into your pain.”  But every night was the same.  We went around the circle and each parent, mostly mothers, are taking turns saying, “I’m not sleeping, I only had one pleasure, watching SVU, until my son threw his remote controlled car into the TV. I’m SOOOO unhappy.”

And then, the women would get competitive with their misery. They had to one up each other.  "Oh, your son, threw something at the TV? Well… when I drive my daughter to school, she takes the lunch I made her and, from the back seat of the car, she throws it all at my head. I no longer give her cans.”

And I’m listening to this, and all I’m thinking is about how I have them all beat. But, the problem is that I’m just focusing on what’s wrong and being miserable and it’s making me sink deeper into depression.

So, I’m telling my teenage daughter about the “misery competition” at these group sessions, and she’s laughing.  Then she says to me, “This is hilarious. You should do comedy.”

Me, comedy? With my miserable life? Who’d pay to see that? I can’t do that… I’m busy, I’m have a million kids… and I’m NOT funny.”

And my daughter says, “Dad is from Pakistan… you have an act.”

So, there I am in comedy class with a motley assortment of characters. There’s the older cat lady, the night shift Denny’s waitress with tattoos, the gay guy whose day job was dressing up as Goofy at Disneyland and me, mega mom.

I’m thinking, these people are funny. I’m not. I’m so scared. So, when the class started, rather than asking us what was “funny” about our lives,” our comedy teacher asked, “What are your problems?” We got up, one by one.  One had rude customers; next problem was having a cat with diabetes; And…  and certainly it was problematic that the Goofy outfit was hot. Then it was my turn. I got up and said, “I have 11 children.” The room gasped. I went on. “And... a disabled kid. And two autistic kids.” More gasps.” “And I’m in a huge lawsuit with a doctor and a hospital.” More gasps. And… wait for it… wait for it… my husband is Pakistani. Well, in that moment, I became the envy of the class. Our teacher said, “Oh My God! You have won the comedy jackpot!”

I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. These were real, serious problems. But, I learned that unlike the support group where we were stuck in our problems, in this class we transformed them into punch lines.

No, actually my husband doesn’t work at 7/11. He’s not an Uber driver.  I wish he was bus driver.  11 kids, are you kidding?? At least he’d be useful.  He runs a busy company.  But, there are advantages… He’s never home…

And the class kept laughing. And in that laughter, the pain went away. I discovered when we can laugh at a problem it becomes manageable.

Then after practicing in the class, we had to invite our friends and family to the a graduation showcase. I was scared to death. I invited my husband to come and then got worried that he’s paying a cover charge to hear jokes about him.

So, I’m in a little room sitting next to cat lady. Goofy guy is scared saying, “I’ve never performed out of the costume.” “Well, I’ve never performed ever.”

Then it’s my turn. I’m now standing in the back of the room. My legs are shaking. I’m thinking, I don’t want to do this. And the emcee says my name. And I think I just jumped on stage. I got to the mic. And I said:

Hi I’m Brenda, a little about me is I have 11 kids and I’m married to a Pakistani guy.  And everyone was cracking up. And I hadn’t even gotten to my jokes yet.

Afterwards, everyone applauded and I saw my husband’s face in the audience, and I hadn’t seen him so happy in a long time. We had drinks afterwards, and my husband told me, “I’m so proud of you.”

Everything changed for me and my family. Before, I would tell my sorrows to people and I was addicted to their sympathy. Now, I was addicted to getting laughs. My life became better. And I became better to be around.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

PersonalBrenda Hastings