A Drink of Laughter

Anybody who knew Lee Rogers knows how he laughed. He had a ready chuckle for everyday, but he also had a loud, unreserved guffaw he busted out for special. That was one of his best qualities, actually. Not just his sense of humor, but his laugh.

Dad liked jokes. And teasing. And goofing around. He had stupid wigs and fake teeth and thought it was reasonable to recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee” at a church talent show or make a joke in the middle of a prayer. He was the “funny” sixth grade teacher. He loved M*A*S*H and Barney Miller and claimed to hate “The Odd Couple,” but if we put it on TV, he watched it with us and laughed more than anyone.

2002
Lee Rogers. Dad to me. On the edge of a joke. Always.

Every time he ran into an acquaintance (literally everywhere we went) he would part with a joke and walk away chuckling. My quintessential memory of Dad has him exiting the corner store (you know, Eastman at Monroe, next to the old ball diamond), still laughing to himself, reaching for the car door where I’m waiting.

About it being his best quality–Mom would not have agreed, probably. She didn’t seem to care for it when Dad was booming at all the inappropriate goings-on at Porky’s. (How’d we end up at that movie, anyway?) He later claimed she bruised his ribs with her elbowing…

porkys
That’s good clean American fun right there.

But that laugh was a good way to locate him at a big gathering. Wait… listen… there it is! Unmistakable. That direction.

Every once in awhile I hear a little bit of Dad in my own voice. Something funny catches me the right way and I bark a laugh just similar enough to his that I can’t doubt we’re related. It’s not the same, but close.

I kinda like it.

Even at my lowest ebb, way back when, and even on the not-entirely-rare bad days ever since then, I could always still laugh at funny movies and standup comedians. (Not sitcoms. Apparently, I can only laugh at things that are funny.) Al Swearengen used to make me laugh more than any comic; I’m not sure why. But then I ask myself a bigger question: how is it I–or anyone–could feel low, despondent, dipping painfully close to desperate, and yet laugh right out loud?

I Don't know
Idunno

Part of the answer, though, is that laughter and depression are not natural enemies. Some people believe it’s a cure, but nuh uh.

Depression has as many non-cures as any illness ever invented by a neutrally-cruel universe. There are hundreds of mostly bad ideas that sufferers have tried and many others that their friends have suggested–in good faith, generally–and among these are the numbing forgetfulness of alcohol bingeing, the sweet pleasure of a Friday night date, the transformative miracle of sleep, the healing love of the right person, the restorative power of vacations, the simple warmth of hugs, the brain-altering mind-wipe of illegal drugs, and on and on… to the supposed healing power of laughter.

Wars
Negative. It didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface.

Many of the non-cures are fun things, but they have no more impact on mental illness (in my experience) than a festively colored water balloon against an army tank.

After Robin Williams died (a man I considered the funniest human for a many years) he was remembered by some with a quote from “Watchmen”:

williams

(Perhaps the best response to this pairing was made by the writer John Scalzi on his blog. It’s worth looking at.)

If only humor were the cure…

Just questions. No answers. Except here’s another partial answer–if you’re hungry, and you’re thirsty, and you’re cold, and your dog is loose, aren’t you a little pleased to catch your dog? You may still be cold, and hungry, and thirsty, but you’ve solved one problem.

That’s laughter. Not a magic cure-all. Just a simple pleasure.

And sometimes a treasured memory.

 

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Side effects include…

I don’t think most people are eager to take prescriptions. This is not unreasonable. You’ve gotta see a doctor (more than once), you’ve got the cost, and you’ve got all the “extra benefits” that come with drugs. Before it all, you must be willing to say that something’s broke. That takes some internal persuasion.

Luna-Moth
Do not walk upright or handle pointy objects while using Mothrexa®. Ask your doctor if night sweats, bleeding gums, unprovoked rage, foot rot, and anal leakage are right for you.

“I’m fine,” you say. “I am well-built and whole. Other people”–losery people–“might have something mashed up or misaligned in them, but not me.”

If you eventually resolve the cognitive dissonance between the belief in your inherent awesomeness and the fact that you feel like hammered shit most of the time, you may decide to try a prescription.

So… I took me a whole bunch of different meds. Not all at once; it wasn’t a spree or anything. They were prescribed by a competent medical professional, one at a time, stretching across a fair chunk of the Bush presidency.

dealer
“Dr. Jones,” competent medical professional.

A couple I only took for a month or two and rejected; others lasted for two or three years. Sometimes I had one for this and one for that, trying to see if they worked in combo, because your brain uses more than one chemical to do its braining, which means it can have more than one way of shorting out.

Mostly, they worked. That is to say, they were more good than bad, on the balance.

However, it was one particular drug… let’s call it “Memeron,” so I don’t get their enforcers involved… that demanded the greatest payment. I guess that’s fair, since it’s the one that worked the best for the longest.

capone
The Memeron people has axed me to inform you how it is unfortunate you seen fit to publish certain injurious and calumnious statements that wasn’t to their taste…

The doc warned me that some people gained weight while taking it. I shrugged. (Inwardly, I shrugged. I wasn’t emoting too much those days.) I started taking it, and it helped some, then helped some more.

I went back to the doctor after a month or so. I weighed more than I had previously, which he asked me about. “I like to remind my patients that there are no calories in the pill,” he says. Pleasant smile. Good one, doc. 

weight gain
Left to right: sad me to happy me (artist’s rendering)

He says it more than once over the next two years and forty pounds. (Fifty?) It gets less amusing every time.

Bite me, funny man.

But he’s right. It wasn’t the pill that made me get fat. It was eating all that food–that the pill told me I would really, really like to have. “I’d rather feel better and get fat than feel bad and be skinny,” you argue. This argument wins for quite some time.

Until it doesn’t.

Why does the existential dilemma have to be so damn bleak?

Did you ever look at a syllabus for a college course and think, “Holy shit, is this per person?”

That’ll teach you to look ahead.

cartoon-dentist-007
Welcome back! This is your 100th cleaning. Free floss!

I once calculated the number of times I’d need to get my teeth cleaned between now and the date of my likely demise. (I don’t know why. Shut up.) Kinda freaked me out.

The people who don’t look ahead and worry about stuff–paying the bills or going to the doctor or getting to work on time–they have the right idea. They seem relaxed and happy. Except for the repossessing of their stuff. And the health problems. And the angry ex-bosses. Otherwise, fine.

At certain points in your life–the loss of a loved one, a big birthday, changing jobs–you’re supposed to reflect on your life. That’s when you ask yourself some big questions: Am I where I want to be? Am I going where I want to go? Am I as happy as I should be?

meh
Inner demon says: set joy level to “meh.”

However, if your brain is twisted on sideways because of anxiety or depression, you get stuck in the big questions. You think about them all the time. You are constantly aware of the big picture… the long run… the bird’s-eye-view.

(Partly, this is because the demons which animate these mental illnesses convince you that how you feel right now is how you will always feel.)

WHY try to enjoy a book today? Monday’s still coming, whether I make the effort or not. WHY try to achieve anything, or learn anything? In forty years, I’m gone, along with everything I ever worked for. WHY create anything? It won’t last, and it won’t change anything. A hundred years from now, everything I ever made and everyone who knew me will be gone.

But that’s the wrong scale for looking at life. It’s like giving this as your address:

earth
I live here with 6 billion of my closest friends.

The joys and pleasures at a human level are swallowed up and made invisible when you scale it up to a lifetime. Or even if you think of a month or week at a time. We exist in a day. That’s where everything worth caring about happens.

I just think dogs have got it right. They live in the moment. They don’t look back. And they sure don’t look ahead.

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Three legs and a spare. (Not available on this model.)

They’re always up for a good time. They can lose a leg; their hips can be shot; their sight can be gone; they can be deaf; their muzzle can be gray up to their eyes… and they still just get on with it, tail wagging. No moping.

You know why? They’re only thinking about what’s fun right now.

Plus–no bills.

The Animal in the Mirror

This New Year’s, we had more fireworks in our neighborhood than I ever remember. Loud. Continuous. Extended. I woulda slept through it, probably, but the fireworks terrified the dogs. They jumped up on the bed–the dogs did, not the fireworks–and whined and freaked out.

SCTV0858-vi
That blowed up real good!

Well, that’s what dogs are supposed to do when they’re scared, especially when the neighbors are blowing things up in the middle of the night. So we petted them (the dogs, not the neighbors) and talked to them (still the dogs) and got’em to chill out.

You want to explain it to them, but there’s no point. They’re never gonna get it. Even if they understood you perfectly, they’re still gonna freak out. They’re not rational. They’re animals.

Funny story. We’re animals, too.

raccoon
I’m good enough…. I’m smart enough… 

The most “animal” part of the day is first waking up. Maybe it’s different for you, but for me, if I’m gonna stress out, if I’m gonna feel like getting through life is like trying to swim the ocean, it’ll be while I’m lying there in the dark “anticipating” the coming day.

Yes, it’s irrational, and exaggerated. And yet I can dread the day with greater fervor than my dogs fear BANG BANG BOOM. I know I should feel fine. I should be cool. After all, it’s just a normal day.

be cool

I know it’s some bull shit in my brain tricking me. I still feel crappy. Unfortunately, knowing why you feel the way you do does not help you stop feeling that way.

PMS

(And having it pointed out is annoying.)

It’s not hopeless or anything. I just have to hold out for a few natural mood-enhancers, the things that de-stress the animal in my brain:

  • Hot shower. There’s something deeply comforting about heat. I’m still analyzing this phenomenon.
  • Shaving. Somehow, the guy in the mirror looks like he’s got his shit together way better than the guy inside my skin. I trust my lying eyes. A little bit.
  • The sun coming up. This sparks even more positive vibes, a free high. Pro tip–don’t stare. The sun gets stabby real quick.
  • The right music. Something chill. Not rock music. (That’s for the drive home.) Rock music in the morning feels like I’m marinading in caffeinated red Kool Aid–more jittery, not less. Tingly in a bad way. Morning is why guys in wigs invented baroque music.

There are a few more little remedies for the animal in my brain. It’s good to discover non-chemical things that, over time, help take the edge off.

But none of these things fix the problem, I’m sorry to say. Not yet.

It puts me in mind of the advice I got from a doctor once–a health issue that has a whole bunch of different remedies really doesn’t have any remedies.

Hey, Let’s See What Happens

I tried an experiment today. A kitchen experiment. I made a Keurig hot chocolate, and (adventurously!) dropped a few mint chocolate M&M’s in the cup. Then I stirred it around real good, letting the hot water melt that chocolatey, minty goodness.

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How I imagine it will turn out (approx.)

“Melt,”I learned, is probably too strong a word. After enjoying my lovely holiday drink, I discovered a sludge clinging to the bottom of my cup.

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How it actually turns out (artist’s rendering)

The M&M’s had not joined the party at all. No joy.

To be fair, my little experiment didn’t actually hurt the hot chocolate any. But it didn’t help, either. I had to try it; I had to find out. Because how else does science progress?

Aaaannd…. this is how meds are prescribed.

prescription_medicine_000017696353
Note: I am pro-meds. I believe they can save lives. If you have never battled depression, your opinion for the purposes of this discussion is STFU–ed.

Scene: doctor’s office; patient in comfy chair; doctor sporting humanlike smile.

Doctor: So, how are you feeling?

Patient: Um… well… depressital, doctor. Just a bit downified, I guess.

Doctor: I see. [Takes notes] Excellent. Okay, then, please rank your depressitation for me, on a scale of Everything is Awesome to Adele.

Patient: Oh, okay. Well, about four bads, I’d say. See, I used to be only three bads, but now it’s four, ever since…

Doctor: [whistling] That’s a lot of bads, that is. Let’s try 100 Mg. of Prozaxiloftapro. [Writes script] Twice a day, probatus voluptatum mei cu, an usu graeco iisque civibus.

Patient: Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t…

Doctor: We’ll shoot for about a month out, see how it’s working, and then exerci qualisque iudicabit et has.

Patient: See, it’s that last bit…

Doctor: [Shakes hand] Great. Speak with the receptionist on your way out.

Patient: Seriously, I don’t…

Doctor: Be well!

Exit doctor. Fade to black.


 

So you go back after a month, and see how it’s working. Then you change the dose. A month or two later, you add a second prescription. See how you do. Ditch the first, go with the second. Drop that, try a third. Change the dose. Up, up. Down, down, change, shift. See you in a month… three months… six months..Be well.

Is this the best system? Try and see?

Run it up the flagpole–see who salutes.

Throw it against the wall–see what sticks.

Take it for a month–see if you get worse.

I thought there’d be something a little more scientific in this “doctor” business. Something less like my vegetable stew recipe.

Star-Trek-The-Original-Series-Dr-McCoy-s-Hypospray-Mk-II-2
I’m a doctor, not a scientist!

What I’m dreaming of is some kind of test–you know, draw blood or something–a bobopsy, maybe–and then have a technician measure the amount of this or that… and then the doctor prescribes pills for whatever essential compound you’re missing. Instead of this “shooting in the dark” system.

It’s a pretty dream. I’m clinging to it.

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