Bipolar disorder coping tool #1: Have a good sense of humor and the wisdom to laugh at yourself

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Here is #1 in a randomly timed series. The first coping skill is an oldie but a goody, for me second-best, entitled “Laugh at yourself.” One very effective way to put bipolar disorder into perspective.

So things have been rough in my neck of the woods this week. Well, honestly, more like the past few months.   No, more like years.   Well, actually, for my whole life, but what’s the use of complaining? And how do I survive? Coping tools! And I will share them with you! How generous of me.

It sucks when you are under major stress and the powers that be have a video conference and decide to mess with your head. One of them turns to the other and giggles, “Let’s niggle her a bit by adding a sideways, nerve wracking stressor on top of the pile.” And another power nods emphatically in agreement, “She can take it! Let’s sit back and watch! Where’s the popcorn!”

Now for a short comedic interlude. Before I tell my own small story, I am going to refer you to a cartoonist that few people know about, John Callahan. This is the cover of one of his books.

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John Callahan was an alcoholic who ran into a tree, drunk, and became a paraplegic. Now left with very little to work with in order to make a living, he turned his mind to becoming a cartoonist. His sense of humor is not for the faint of heart. As his obituary in the New York Times described:

Like his friend Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side,” Mr. Callahan made drawings with a gleeful appreciation of the macabre that he found in everyday life. He was, however, a man who lived his life with disadvantages, some of them self-wrought, and he viewed the world through a dark and wicked lens.

“This is John, I’m a little too depressed to take your call today,” the message on his answering machine said. “Please leave your message at the gunshot.” 

As I said, not for the faint of heart. But I do find his sense of humor deliciously wicked. And I enjoyed it when he thumbed his nose at political correctness. Some of the funniest times I have had have been in support groups for people with bipolar disorder, making jokes about suicide. That probably does not appear to make rational sense, but we all knew too much about every angle of suicide. Because we knew too much and felt too much about it we were able to find humorous aspects that relieved some of the pressure. If you can’t laugh at something it has power over you. I added a picture to one of Callahan’s cartoons so you can see what I mean.

 

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All of this verbiage is back story for my personal example of laughing at myself in a situation. Nobody can take themselves too seriously when a silly song, tailor made for your situation, runs like Muzak in the background of your mind. Not a good song, but one that aptly began to describe my situation.

Recently I left my decades long abode to move life and belongings to a new place where I knew no one – friends, family, distant acquaintances, nadie! While driving to this new city the “check engine” light went on in my car. This is not what you want to happen on a spliced-together shoestring budget. My economic situation was such that I did not have the opportunity to have it looked over by a mechanic for some time. Instead I had to drive that jeopardized jalopy in heavy rain for hours in a dense forest where there were few rest stops and a cranky dog in the backseat.

My “check engine light” was on. Yes it was on, in my life! It was so apropos, so metaphoric! When the irony drifted down into my subconscious mind, it struck its funnybone and a country western song began forming spontaneously in my mind. [Disclaimer: I am neither musician, composer, nor country-western aficionado, but the subconscious is capricious.] 

Hit it, boys!

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I’m running on empty,
a quart short on oil,
my check engine light
a scary bright red.

The sunlight is failing,    
we’re out here in nowhere,
and rest stops
are nowhere in sight.

I could extend this humorous idea further, maybe even make this rhyme, but this particular muse has mercifully left me.

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