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Laughter Isn't Always the Best Medicine for Bipolar Depression

By: Janet Coburn

You often hear it said that a good belly laugh is as effective as a dose of antidepressants. You read author Allie Brosh's account of her depression breaking when she couldn't stop laughing at a piece of corn she noticed under the refrigerator.

But for a lot of us with bipolar depression, laughter is not only not the cure, it simply isn't attainable. It would be great if it were, because of that whole dose-of-antidepressants thing, but practically speaking, it just isn't.

One of the first ways that I know I am heading down into a spell of depression is that my sense of humor flies out the window. My husband has learned this, too, though it took him a little while. On one memorable occasion, he told me a joke – a pretty good one – only to be met with stony silence and a blank affect. He then told me the same joke again – the same one that had gotten absolutely no response immediately before. He's learned, though, that jokes are no way to "cheer me up" when I'm wrestling with the black dog. There are things that can get through to me, like hugs, but not humor.

When I'm not depressed, my sense of humor is robust, if a little weird. I love jokes and puns, funny memes, cat videos, silly movies like Chicken Run and Young Frankenstein, Weird Al Yankovic's song parodies, and assorted stand-up comedy. When I am depressed, none of those can touch me. And if they can't reach me, they can't help me.

In fact, when I'm depressed, humor can actually make me feel worse. I realize that I've been presented with something I'd ordinarily think is hysterical, but it bounces right off my surface. When that happens, it just rubs in the fact that I am not a normally functioning human being – not even a normally functioning version of myself. Whatever circuits in the brain transmit humor, mine aren't working.

Perhaps this is why positive thinking statements and affirmations and memes don't work for me either. Instead of picking me up, they remind me of how far down I am. I'm not knocking positive thinking if it works for you, I'm just saying that I know what works for me, and positive thinking isn't it.

I wish humor and positive thinking did work for me. It would be great to know that I was still capable of enjoying things I normally do even while depressed. But that's one of the hallmarks of depression – it makes you unable to enjoy things you did before. It's so well known that nowadays it even appears in antidepressant commercials on television.

About the only things that can get through depression and touch my sense of humor are funny things about depression. Those are hard to find, but they're out there. Jenny Lawson's Furiously Happy is the prime example, and Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half is great too. There's even a book called Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor, with contributions from many writers and bloggers who have found ways to tap into their senses of humor to alleviate – or at least make fun of – their conditions.

I have all of them on my eReader for when I need them.

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