Four layers of a cupcake with a cherry on top. There are hearts radiating out from inside.

Coping with MS Using Laughter, Sarcasm, Humility, and Empathy

One of the most important keys to living with a chronic illness is finding out what allows you to keep moving forward. Finding the thing that keeps you fighting and getting back up when you’re knocked down. Whatever that thing is, it’s probably not the same thing that someone else uses to keep on keepin’ on, but nonetheless, it’s vital that you find it. For me, I attribute making it as far as I have and my ability to continue fighting to four main things:

  1. Laughter
  2. Sarcasm
  3. Humility
  4. Empathy

Together, they have been one of my greatest allies in my ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Sometimes, all you can do is laugh

MS, like any other chronic illness, is without a doubt a serious matter. However, I would not go as far as to say that you can’t ever laugh about it. OK, I probably should elaborate on that...

Laughing at a situation instead of getting angry

When I say that you can laugh at MS, I don’t mean that you can laugh that someone has MS or at the idea that MS can have such a devastating impact on their life. That’s obviously not funny. What I mean is that MS can cause you a lot of “trouble” that you have no control over, and that sometimes it’s better to laugh at a situation than it is to get angry at it.

Sometimes, my frustration gets the best of me

Don’t get me wrong, I get really frustrated at many of my own limitations and mistakes caused by my MS. Sometimes, it all (as I’m sure you can understand) just gets the best of me. This disease has introduced me to levels of stress, anxiety, and depression that I probably would have never experienced was it not for MS. Even still, I know how to laugh at my MS and some of the things it makes me do. Let me tell you why I think that’s important.

Laughter can be power over a foe

Laughter can be a form of control and personal defense. When you can laugh at something, you take away some of its power over you, be it a political dictator, an internet troll, or an uncontrollable mishap due to MS. I’ll give you an example.

Mishaps while doing yard work

Yesterday morning, after doing some minor yard work, a sprinkler valve exploded, covering me in muddy water. After shutting off the artificial geyser that had erupted in the yard, I went inside to clean myself up. Afterward, I wanted to show someone the broken valve, and while leaning over the edge of the porch to point out the problem in our now underwater planter, I lost my balance and rolled over right into the mess of muddy water.

MS can't take away my sense of humor

I was now even muddier than I was before. I was so mad! I couldn’t believe it! But what could I do? MS happens. So I lay there in about three inches of gross water, did a little cursing, and then just laughed. I wasn’t going to let this ruin my day. MS has taken so much from me and arguably robbed me of a life I could have had, but it will never be able to take away my sense of humor. Even when I’ve been at my worst in the hospital, I can still manage to crack a joke. I will always have that. Always. So, nice try MS, maybe next time.

Sarcasm is part of me

I love sarcasm. I know it’s not for everyone, but I love how sarcasm can help you make a point, express a feeling, or even an idea. It comes so naturally to me that I don’t even have to try to be sarcastic or even realize that I am! Being sarcastic is like breathing to me; it’s pretty much just another autonomic part of life that I don’t have to think about.

It's hard to be sarcastic when writing

Sarcasm is basically the lens through which I see life. You might not always be able to tell through my writing (because so much of sarcasm relies on tone), but I literally have to try to not be sarcastic all the time since it can definitely be misinterpreted. I mean, without me telling you that I’m being sarcastic, would you know if I’m being serious or not if I were to write, “the nurse I spoke to on the phone yesterday was really helpful”?

Sarcasm helps me take things less seriously

When it comes to material for my sarcastic sense of humor to work with, MS definitely delivers. If laughter helps you take power away from something, I would argue that sarcasm helps you take something less seriously, making it less of a threat. Again, this is just me and the way I see life. You might completely disagree, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just like medication, what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. If you ask me, sarcasm is an excellent defense mechanism and has definitely helped me make it through many tough times.

You won’t get far without humility

Because I always have some kind of analogy to describe something, we’ll look at laughter is a gift, sarcasm is the wrapping paper, and humility is the bow that completes the present. You see, without humility, you can’t laugh at yourself. This means that the line between sarcasm and pessimism can quickly start to blur and cause the people around you to perceive you as a black hole of cynicism and hopelessness.

A negative outlook can impact mental health

Not only might this cause others to perceive you as a negative Nancy (resulting in them understandably wanting to avoid you as to not be “brought down” by the things you say), but you might actually end up causing more harm to yourself. I believe that having a negative attitude in life will greatly affect your mental health, general mood, and outlook on life. Basically? You’ll bring yourself down.

We can only control our reactions

You can’t beat yourself up when MS makes you screw up or when MS makes something in life more difficult because it’s literally out of your control. Sometimes, all you can control in any given situation is how you react to it. This merely requires you to learn how to overcome your pride and instead be humble. It’s really simple but not always very easy, but I do feel it’s essential. I believe this because, again, sometimes the only thing you can actually do is laugh, even if it’s at your own expense. Like I said, MS can’t take away my sense of humor. Humility has definitely allowed me to not let MS overpower my will to keep fighting the fight.

The cherry on top: empathy

I’m not one hundred percent sure how this last one is influenced by everything I just brought up, but it is, without a doubt, one of the qualities I value most in myself and others. A quality that has had one of the most significant impacts on my life with MS. If we think about this all as a cupcake instead of a present, laughter would be the cake, sarcasm would be the frosting, humility would be the sprinkles, and empathy would be the cherry on top. I’m not sure how cherries became a “staple” of cupcakes, but much like empathy and all the forms of humor I’ve brought up, they just go together.

Understanding people better

Perhaps being able to recognize what I think is funny and what others don’t has helped me get into people’s heads and understand them better? Regardless, my ability to be empathetic and try to understand what someone is feeling and why they are feeling that way has allowed me to better understand myself. As a result, I’ve also learned how to better express my own thoughts, feelings, and struggles with MS in a way that people can more easily relate to. In my opinion, I’ve become much better at understanding others and their unique journey with MS (or any other struggle in life) since the time that I was diagnosed.

Everyone has their unique struggles

Understanding how everyone’s experience with MS, and life in general, isn’t the same has definitely helped me see my own situation differently. More importantly, learning to empathize with others and their unique struggles has given me a valuable perspective on my MS and my life as a whole. It has shown me that even when MS has me feeling like everything in life is just terrible and I can’t catch a break, I’m actually really fortunate to have everything I have in life. That things maybe aren’t always as bad as they might seem.

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