My life after my TBI has been shaped by humor, to the point that my cognitive therapist thought I was making too many jokes and she tried to teach me how not to be funny.
I felt as though she was trying to take away an essential part of me…
TBI Humor Is…
We are all familiar with Brain Injury humor. BI humor is that self-deprecating humor we use to make light of something that happened so we don’t get upset at ourselves, or so other people don’t feel uncomfortable. Using BI humor is our way of defusing, what can be, an awkward situation with laughter, and it is also useful in building relationships when we feel may not be part of what’s going on.
TBI humor comes naturally to us right after our injury when we are trying to deal with all the changes we have undergone, and it is partly an extension of how different we feel from everybody else. We use this humor to point out the irony of our current status in life after such sudden and dramatic changes.
BI humor is one way we can face these changes with a smile, be with other people, and learn about ourselves at the same time. It is self-deprecating humor at its finest, and it works very well at putting others at ease, while it also keeps us from taking events in our life too seriously and beating ourselves up when we hit rough patches.
The Essence of Brain Injury Humor
We use BI humor as our protection; it is the winter overcoat that protects us against the reality of the cold, cruel world around us. When we use it to make light of ourselves and our situation, it keeps the serious, angry and depressed monkeys off our backs; you know, those monkeys that cause us to rage at ourselves and doubt ourselves when we mess up.
Our humor lets others know we can poke fun at ourselves and our predicament, and that we are facing the challenges in front of us, undaunted by how difficult they are.
In some ways this is great, but in other ways it is harmful. While BI humor allows us to deal with situations in the short run by being funny and lighthearted, the long term costs are: the loss of our dignity because we make ourselves the butt of all the jokes, and the increased focus we put on our brain injury by making these jokes. The reality of BI Humor is that we are beating ourselves up with laughter. This work against us as we try to move forward with our lives.
Focusing on our deficits, whether by being angry or by using humor, doesn’t work. Brain Injury humor is only valuable up to a certain point.
Is Brain Injury Humor a Crutch?
We do need TBI humor to help establish our identity after brain injury and to cope with the changes that have occurred in our life. Humor acts as a cushion as we learn about ourselves, find a way to accept ourselves and attempt to reintegrate ourselves back into society.
Often times though, we continue to look at BI humor as a saving grace when, in my opinion, it is not. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase,”If I didn’t laugh, I would cry.” This statement reveals something about the darkness and sadness that is behind the humor, and shows what we are trying to escape from by making these jokes.
This statement doesn’t have to be true. It all depends on how you deal with your life and how you relate to your brain injury.
How do we move on?
Over time, as we, hopefully, are able to put our injury in the rearview mirror, we can develop ways to deal with situations other than to make ourselves the butt of jokes. As we learn to adapt to our new status in the world, we need to find a way to accept ourselves and move beyond the Brain Injury humor which may make us feel better right now, but shows other people we don’t treat ourselves with respect.
Our goal in life is to move beyond our injury, yet when we rely on BI humor we sabotage ourselves and get in a rut by making fun of ourselves and our situation. Why is it okay for us to treat ourselves like that when we don’t want others to treat us like that? Eventually, as time passes after our brain injury, we need to consider ourselves a person in the world, deserving of respect from others and from ourselves.
The importance of Brain Injury humor to a TBI survivor is clear, but so should be the idea that we need to learn how to deal with our life, not escape it by making fun of ourselves. Cracking jokes about how you do things and your inabilities is a reflection of how you value yourself.
We need to learn how to treat ourselves with dignity and respect because that is the only way others will, and because we deserve it.