I love John’s humour. I love listening to his show. He plays – i’d guess – to mixed audiences – some of who have experience of mental health problems and some who don’t. The first time I heard his show he asked if there were any service users in the audience – I think I was the only person to put up my hand. So the amazing thing is that what John does crosses huge boundaries. And it’s a testament to his humanity that you always feel like you’re in safe hands. There’s never a point in the show where you’re laughing ‘at’ someone – you’re always laughing ‘with’. This is very important.
John will have far more formed thoughts than me on the matter, but I think that laughter is very precious. I think it happens at a point where barriers have been dissolved – even if only for a moment. When you’re laughing with someone, you’re sharing. (When you’re laughing ‘at’ someone you’re building barriers instead…..). For me, this is why I do ‘you-tube comedy therapy’ when I’m depressed. Because what disappears when you’re depressed is the sense that you share anything with anyone – and laughter brings back that feeling of sharing.
Living with a mental illness or two is demanding and serious. That’s not more obvious than when you’re on the ward. But in those most demanding times people reach out to share. When I worked in Accident and Emergency, a stressful and demanding job, the dark humour was what we shared at times when we struggled most. On the ward this also rang true. If I shot my mouth off and said something stupid because I was high I never minded the embarassment – the best thing was the feeling of people around me laughing with me. We laughed that first morning on the ward about having starey eyes, and we laughed when I was filmed for a training video, and watched a bit of the footage back, then arrived back on the ward hollering about how ‘I look like a fucking psychiatric patient!‘……. When we were having a good laugh that didn’t involve staff we felt even more strength and support from each other.
I danced for 6 weeks on the ward, and people smiled on their way down the corridor. But the evening I couldn’t cope and sat curled up on the floor they stopped on the way past to check I was ok. It’s fine to laugh with abandon and then change to a different mode of being when it’s necessary to be serious. It would be a shame not to laugh at all because you assume that a ‘difficult’ life should be serious the whole time. Those stolen moments of laughter keep us going.