We Laugh to Survive


by Mary Ann Sokolowski, LPC-MHSP

Why yes.....if you were an unfortunate fly that just happened upon one of the walls my office you very well might hear, "So, are you thinking about killing yourself?", "How many panic attacks this week?", "Oh, you got laid off?" or "Have you been cutting?" in the very same breath as......laughter.....me laughing.....us laughing.. together. I am not talking an uncomfortable: Oh crap I can't believe I am saying, this what in the world is happening and I hope the answer is "no" because I don't know what to do if it is a "yes" laugh.....but a roaring laugh, shared with the very people answering those very "scary" questions. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I often feel as I need to apologize to other counselors in our office for the loud, rambunctious laughing that comes from my office spilling into the hallways......and inevitably into other offices.....whoops.....but I don't.....because maybe they won't know its me (until now I guess). So to my colleagues.. sorry... well not sorry... thanks for putting up with me.

This sarcastic, laughing, not truly light heart-ed but wanting things to be more light heart-ed is my authentic self... and I just happen to be a therapist who does a lot of crisis work, and is not generally considered light heart-ed.

I distinctly remember a time in high school when I was laughing. I was laughing hysterically and giving sarcastic answers that were knowingly wrong.....deflecting any semblance of truth. I was not happy, not jovial, not silly.....but I was scared. You see I wasn't cutting up in the lunch room or driving around listening to rap music that I wasn't supposed to with friends-I was laying flat out on the soccer field after a most unfortunate encounter as a goal keeper resulting in a concussion. "How many fingers am I holding up?" asked my coach. "7" I answered, knowing it was 2. I am sarcastic and a bit of a smart ass you may say. I had other coping mechanisms.. but humor kept me present; Sarcasm kept me real; And others kept me safe.

After over 13 years in the mental health field I have developed a firm belief that humor, laughing, and light heart-edness, even in moments of anxiety, even in remembrances of trauma, in the aftermath of rape, in the depths of depression, grief, and stress, is imperative. Just google the benefits of laughter.. I dare you! Numbers have been thrown around that children laugh an average of 300 or more times a day.. while adults... 15-20. Whilst I have not found "true" evidence supporting those numbers I will say that with three toddlers in my home I would say... some days (non whiny days that is)... they absolutely do laugh 300 or more times a day. I laugh more with them in my life. We laugh as a family more, and it is glorious, stress relieving, and fun.

Very often I parent using humor. When my kids are talking and talking and talking and I want a moment of silence... I let them spray whipped cream in their mouths (outside mind you) buying me a moment of silence and them (and in turn us) a great laugh. When my oldest is whiny and "crabby" he is asked to do the crab walk around the house until we are inevitably all laughing... especially if he has on socks on the hardwood floors.

For years I have had a painting/poster hanging up at my house by Mary Anne Radmacher simply saying "We laugh to Survive". Recently that painting has made its way to my office, as I laugh at work... all the time. Any yes I am a therapist, but not your sappy movie therapist. Yes I do trauma work, but, you see, I find no reason to not laugh. There is humor in these moments, even serious moments. Irrational thoughts circle trauma, feed stress, exacerbate depression, and when we isolate and examine those thoughts.. they can be funny. If we can find it, embrace those moments, and allow ourselves to actually breath in the time between the unimaginable conversations... unimaginable healing can occur. Laughter is healing. And that is my purpose.

-Mary Ann