Friday, 15 June 2012

Finding funnies and understanding them

Over the years a few people have commented that one of the early signals that all it not well with me has been my inability to laugh at anything when stressed, how my humour or I start to laugh at strange things.

When meeting anyone new, I find it helps to find out what their sense of humour is and if they are able to laugh at themselves. I've developed a wariness and mistrust towards those who can't do the latter as they are often the same people who are so quick to ridicule others when getting angry and upset by people laughing at them. My feeling is that if we cannot laugh at ourselves, do we have the right to laugh at others?

I believe that demonstrating that you can laugh at yourself helps people trust you, warm to you and relax with you. It can even earn you respect, although not if you are continually putting yourself down as 'hairbrained, scatty or crazy'. People from the world of theatre told me of a couple of examples of just how powerful humour can be to put people at their ease about disabilities.

An amputee was wheeling himself about on a stage in a rehearsal for a show he was in. He had lost both his legs and was on a low 'truck' that was like a kid's home-made go-cart. All of a sudden he got stuck and said "I'm terribly sorry, I'm stumped." His friends all sniggered, presumably because they knew what his humour was like, but the regular stage crew who'd not met him before just didn't know how to react at all except to leap up on stage to his aid! Then there was a blind sound engineer who was always complaining that he didn't understand why he wasn't allowed to do lighting.

These are powerful examples of how to turn an obvious disability into something that people need not be so tense about. Certainly learning not to take ourselves or the situations we find ourselves in too seriously can greatly help to reduce stress and anxiety and thereby serve as a preventative to mental illness.

I recommend doing so as possible for ourselves and by ourselves but I also advocate caution about sharing that light hearted approach with others. Other people might not be in a place where they can see the funny side to things even over the same or similar things. This might be due to their personal history, personality or simply down to timing. Any professional comedian will tell you that humour is always down to timing and reading the mood of your audience first, it can take years for them to perfect their art so don't expect to have everyone rolling on the floor in fits of giggles yourself straight off, or indeed at any time.

A friend of mine came over to visit me by train one day, but the train got cancelled so a replacement bus service was provided. When he got on the bus he offered the driver a cigarette instead of his ticket saying (while grinning mischievously) "here's a replacement ticket service!" The driver wasn't at all amused, so my friend let it drop and handed him his ticket. Perhaps the driver had just been in an argument with someone, or was annoyed at having to do a driving shift at short notice when he'd had other plans, or perhaps he wasn't a smoker so was offended by being offered a cigarette - who knows? The simple truth was he wasn't in the mood for that type or humour at that precise moment.

A different type of funny
Humour itself varies from person to person and comes in a myriad of forms. Some people prefer situational comedy, others slapstick and others still may prefer word play and/or spontaneous humour. In Britain irony and sarcasm are used quite widely, but in America it is less popular and often not understood at all. There's zany, off the wall and funny peculiar too. The point is that we each have our own preferences about what we think of as being funny and even then our ability to laugh depends on whatever else is going on in our lives at the time. Losing a job is something few find funny and in those types circumstances our ability to laugh at anything at all can get severely diminished. This can help explain the absence of a sense of humour in others who would otherwise find the same things you do, funny.

It can be even more complicated than that though as a good friend who would normally share your humour could be simply thinking about something else. They might be remembering a happy event, working out a maths problem or thinking about how to arrange a business meeting at short notice. Reading people's body language and facial expressions before sharing a joke can help us decide whether or not it is worth saying at that moment. Sometimes it is better to save it until later.

Perhaps the most useful form of humour is also the form that is most likely to be offensive - dark humour. How many TV shows and films can you name where there is a funeral scene which goes wrong? How much humour is about the difference between men and woman or sexist? Richard Pryor, a black Amercian comedian was ground-breaking when he started to use the word 'nigger'. What he was doing was reclaiming the word so that it could no longer be so offensive.

Comedy of this kind works as a release valve for things we would otherwise find uncomfortable to face or accept in real life. When it comes to the mentally ill, people are often surprised when they encounter sufferers laughing about their illness, but it shouldn't be assumed that all sufferers can or will. Some will be deeply offended by humour of that kind simply because of they've been stigmatised all their lives.

I cannot count up how many times finding the funny side of things has saved me from crashing into despair or helped to rescue me from stress and anxiety. It can be a real asset to be able to draw upon humour to help us through our darkest moments.

A couple of months ago I was having a terrible time. Nothing seemed to be going right at all and problems of all kinds seemed to be hitting me from all directions and then one morning walked into my bathroom and noticed water dripping from the ceiling. In that instant it felt like the last straw, but within a couple of days I found myself joking about it by saying "I didn't have a shower in my bathroom before. I do now. Shame I hadn't got it fitted over the bath itself, but at least it didn't cost me anything."

If we want to release the tension, then we should always strive to look for the funny side and to do that we simply need to see things from a different angle. As a reminder to myself to always do so I bought a fridge magnet which says "This would be funny if it was happening to someone else."

Perhaps hardest of all for the mentally ill is to find the humour about the treatments they undergo. It can feel like you are forever a guinea pig to a mental health team and forever under a microscope to be analysed, so I leave you with an example of humour which I hope you will find as funny as I did and hope it will offend no one.


Monday, 4 June 2012

Attack can be the best form of defence

It may surprise readers to learn that, in certain circumstances, I believe attack can be the best form of defence, in that it's fine to flag up mistakes made by others, but we stand a better chance of getting a lot further if we use our anger and frustration constructively and channel it into something productive.

Following on from my last two posts, no one can learn from mistakes if they are not aware that they have made them. Good business practise is to learn from complaints to improve things as I hope I made clear in Instances to Stigma. So those Human Resources and Occupational Health Departments and the individuals concerned that gave me such a hard time have just such an opportunity as do the enterprises concerned. It's also a few years since all that happened, so maybe they already have. Remember it's best not assume when we don't have enough facts.Whether they choose or chose to do so is up to them and indeed the same applies to the Department of Work and Pensions.

As I commented at the end of that article, no one minds too much if mistakes are corrected quickly, however if anyone is rude or abusive, dismissive or insulting from the outset, none of us will want to help sort a problem. The impression we instantly get and the assumption we immediately form is that nothing will satisfy such a person, so we are inclined to do the minimum to get shot of such people rather than the maximum to assist to resolve things.

This, I believe, applies to all forms of situations, circumstances and relationships, even our personal ones. I believe it applies to our beliefs too - it is all very well to get annoyed about politics or religion (those emotional initial reactions are true and honest to have), but if we want our own views to be heard and considered, we are better off learning to understand opposite views and why they exist. We stand a better chance of reaching a compromise by learning to listen, hearing facts from as other people see them and adjusting our communication to reflect their language so that our  own opinions are more clearly understood. Letting rip and launching into endless criticism is hardly going to work, is it?

An example
When reading one of my followers blogs I became deeply concerned about their safety and well-being. So concerned in fact that, I decided to approach the Time to Change team to see if they could alert whoever to keep an eye on her. It was all I could think of, as I knew full well that I could not and should not get involved. Not only was I considering my own health, but more importantly I felt she needed the security of absolute confidentiality that can only come from professionals sources of help. I simply do not want to risk getting things wrong by trying to advise when I don't know what I am doing - I could compound the problems further by doing so and make them worse.

It turned out that the Time to Change team has much the same view. They suggested contacting Mind or Rethink but again there is little they can do unless we, ourselves turn to them for help. I became extremely angry by this though, because I feel there ought to be more we can do to help. I started thinking along the lines of "Can we not devise a system whereby the police, mental health teams and social services can be alerted to people at risk more easily? Can we not, at the beginning of the 21st Century start to devise a register of vulnerable people to keep an eye on? Can not our intelligence services help in that regard by monitoring discreetly and unobtrusively to prevent people coming to harm?" And then another thought hit me... should we be asking for that?

The opposite of empowerment in my mind is debilitation, restriction, loss of self esteem, self worth, self belief and control of our own lives. Do we want that?  When we consider the risks (dictators, abusers, cruelty, harmful power-mongers), I would say we have to be extremely careful in that regard, even though I believe there is such a thing as safety in numbers. We need to safeguard our rights, liberties and freedoms at all times so a nanny state (one that has rules for everything) is never a wise route to follow to it's ultimate extreme.

My readers retain the right of choice, the right to refuse help unless they are at high risk and, for me that's as it should be. They also retain to right to their privacy so that even professional agencies should not have all details on every aspect of their lives - they only ever need them at all to prevent risk of harm and to be of assistance during times of difficulty.

I ended up attacking the Time to Change team, when in fact they are only doing as I am... their bit toward helping the world edge ever closer to better levels of humanity. This doesn't preclude that other agencies from offering services that are of direct help all those that are vulnerable (thankfully there are lots of them that do just that), but the Time to Change team's aim and role is to do with educating all away from the mindset of stigma and prejudice - for that I remain a staunch supporter of it. What a great sadness it is and a damning indictment on us as human beings, that it should be necessary at all.

I confess I went on the attack due to the level of my passion and concern. But that's fine, because out of it has come a challenge to think about more solutions. I don't have a monopoly on ideas or solutions - far from it - but by putting our heads together, by communicating more, perhaps one day we will collectively find them to be able to collectively put them in action.

One thing seems very clear to me - we each have to work hard to look for the things that can help us through whatever difficulties life chucks at us. We each can help with that and I feel, should help even if it is just acting as signposts to where those vital professional services are. That I think is the  absolute minimum level of support that each of us is could commit to.

Attack is an extremely emotive word, but in a way it is appropriate to use it because injustice and unfairness of any kind can feel like a war against inhumanity - in my opinion our best way to attack is by challenging but to do it in a respectful way and if possible with ideas for solutions. That is something we can all try to do in all our relationships - it's a far less stressful way of approaching differences and the one that is most likely to result in things improving.

With apologies to the Time to Change team and thoughts and best wishes to Nikky44 I can only hope you find the professional help you need asap.