Guest opinion: Giggles are good for you

5.29.18

Patient advocate and guest blog author Yvonne deSousa believes laughter is the best medicine. Her unique perspective on coping with chronic disease has led her to start a blog, write and publish a book and help chronic patients through difficult times. You can read her patient advocate spotlight here.

After my multiple sclerosis diagnosis, it didn’t take long to realize that life with a chronic illness was going to be so insane, I would go insane if I didn’t learn to laugh at it. I had MS in addition to anxiety, germ-a-phobia, OCD, and one of the thyroid conditions. I always forget if it’s hyper or hypo, but it’s the one where I can blame it for not losing weight. Anyway, I didn’t need to add insanity to the mix.

And trust me, insanity was the right wording. Immediately I learned I was going to have to give myself injections made from Chinese hamster ovary cells! Seriously! You can’t make this stuff up. It’s right on the box. How does that even happen? What scientist was hanging out in his lab and thinking, “Hmmmm, we need something to slow down MS, what’s good? Portuguese goldfish liver cells? No…  Russian rabbit lung cells? No….. Bolivian garter snake kidney cells?  No….. I got it, Chinese hamster ovary cells, that should do it!”

If that wasn’t crazy enough, my insurance co-pay was so outrageous it would’ve been cheaper to fly to China, steal some of their hamsters, smuggle them into the United States and start breeding them for the good of the MS community!

Speaking of medicine and crazy, for years I’d had the same pharmacist, a nice elderly gentleman. He filled my “prescription stimulant,” or what I like to call “legal speed,” without any concern. But when it came to my prescription vitamin D he freaked out. He worried that the dosage was so high it was a fraud and refused to give me more than two pills at once. It was just vitamin D. The pills were shaped like the Flintstones for crying out loud.

On Monday he said, “Here’s Fred and Barney – I’ll give you Betty and Wilma on Wednesday.”

On Wednesday I thought we might have made some progress and so I said, “Um, Mr. Pharmacist, I seem to be doing OK with these, can you maybe throw in Pebbles too?”

“WHAT? I told you I’m not comfortable giving you more than two at a time! I’ll give you Pebbles on Friday when you get BamBam. And don’t even THINK about asking for Dino – you get the dinosaur when I say you get the dinosaur!”

There was also the crazy way my illness was making me feel not only like an old lady, but like a little girl at the same time. I understood the old lady part. I had been feeling older than my years for a while. It started in my 30s when suddenly I could no longer go out with my friends, party all night, get two hours of alcohol-infused sleep and still function at work the next day. Oh, the horror. Ten years later I was diagnosed with MS so there you go. But there were other things. For example, everywhere I went I felt a draft. And I liked my afternoon tea made just so. And me, who loved kids, suddenly started getting ornery around them. These damn kids are cute but can’t they sit still for 10 minutes!

But suddenly feeling like a child came up when my dad was driving me to the neurologist. We hit unexpected traffic. My bladder started whining but I figured I could make it. Then I realized I couldn’t. What I thought was, “Sorry, Dad, but with this traffic I don’t think I can wait to use the bathroom.” But what I actually said was, “Daddy! I have to go potty RIGHT NOW! Really, Really BAD!”

Multiple sclerosis must have made my dad revert to his younger self as well because I swear he thought about just pulling over to the side of the expressway, opening the passenger side door and telling me to do my business outside the car. Luckily, we were no longer in the ‘70s and he wanted coffee, so he took an exit and found a McDonald’s.

Maybe it’s silly, but when I can make fun of the crazy it makes me giggle. Giggling cheers me up and I feel better. There’s a ton of medical evidence that supports the fact that laughter releases endorphins that can help reduce pain, boost immunity, improve memory, strengthen the heart and lessen anxiety. But more importantly than all of that, feeling better, even for just a bit, is a total win.  And in this vicious game of life with a chronic illness, I’m in it to win!

Yvonne deSousa is the author of her memoir, MS Madness! A “Giggle More, Cry Less” Story of Multiple Sclerosis. You can contact her through her website, yvonnedesousa.com, where you can also read her chronic illness humor blog and add your own amusing health story on her giggle page.